Rox have options at second base

Rox have options at second base

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Second baseman Kazuo Matsui's signing a three-year, $16.5 million deal from the Astros to leave the Rockies, leaves Colorado with a decision that has as much to do with philosophy as it does with personnel.

Matsui's arrival in Houston, which became official Sunday, increases the availability of Chris Burke, a longtime Astros prospect who has been on the Rockies' radar for a long time. According to sources with knowledge of the situation, the teams have not talked since Matsui made his decision, but discussions could occur during the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday.

There's also veteran free agent Mark Loretta, who is considering one-year offers from the Yankees but also has interest in the Rockies.

But the Rockies' stated priority is the players they've developed, rather than trading them for veterans, or signing veterans that block them from reaching the Majors. The philosophy has resulted in a club that made the World Series in 2007 and heads into 2008 with no free-agency decisions involving their homegrown talent.

If the Rockies want, they can simply promote from within at second base.

Jamey Carroll hit .300 in 2006, much of which he spent as the primary second baseman, although he dropped to .225 last season and finished the year as a defensive replacement rather than a part-time starter.

Clint Barmes was the Rockies' primary shortstop for much of 2005 and 2006. Omar Quintanilla is considered a top-notch defender, and his left-handed bat gives the club options. Two power hitters from the system, right-handed swinging Jeff Baker and lefty-hitting Ian Stewart, are willing to change from corner infielders to try to grab the chance.

Of the players not yet seen in the Majors, arguably the most ready could be Jayson Nix, a top-flight defender who had a strong 2007 at Triple-A Colorado Springs and was the Most Valuable Player of the recent World Cup after helping Team USA to the title. Nix is out of Minor League options and in a make-or-break year.

The Rockies also have prospects Corey Wimberly (the Arizona Fall League's leading hitter) and Eric Young Jr. (who volunteered for fall instructional ball to work on his defensive play).

Even if the Rockies don't bring in a player from the outside, there isn't a place for everyone. The Winter Meetings could be an opportunity to reduce the logjam. There has been interest in the past in Carroll, who is headed into the final year of a two-year contract worth $4 million, and teams inquired about Barmes last winter and before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.

But should the Rockies look outside, there are arguments for Burke and Loretta.

Burke, who turns 28 on March 11 and is in his first year of arbitration, was blocked in Houston by longtime star Craig Biggio. Burke came up in talks between the Rockies and the Astros last winter and he has top-of-the order speed. Eventually, the Rockies sent pitchers Jason Jennings and Miguel Asencio to the Astros for center fielder Willy Taveras and pitchers Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsh.

Loretta, 36, is a .298 career hitter and a respected veteran leader. He hit .287 for the Astros last season, and has a .339 batting average and .392 on-base percentage in 44 career games at Coors Field.

Winter Meetings

Even though promoting from within is the Rockies' preferred method, they aren't blindly reserving jobs for prospects.

If they acquire a veteran starting pitcher, left-hander Franklin Morales -- who helped the team when pressed into duty because of injuries -- could begin 2008 at Triple-A Colorado Springs to complete his development. The club tried catching prospect Chris Iannetta at the start of 2007, but his troubles at the plate allowed Yorvit Torrealba to take the job and earn a new two-year contract.

For the Rockies, the question is not only who's on second but what's their philosophy for answering that question.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.