|Rockies' young stars reap benefits of remarkable run to World Series|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 14 March 2008 08:37|
Their top target was former Yankees right-hander Luis Vizcaino, whom they gave a two-year, $7.5 million contract, modest by most standards although the biggest ever for a Rockies reliever.
Otherwise, Colorado's major offseason moves consisted of signing young, homegrown talent to long-term deals.
By signing shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, right fielder Brad Hawpe, closer Manny Corpas and right-hander Aaron Cook, the Rockies are hoping the next several seasons will show that last year's NL crown was anything but a fluke.
``The goal is to go to and win a World Series,'' Tulowitzki said. ``We proved we're capable of getting there and showed how close we are, so they stepped up and are showing they want to keep us together.''
Cook started things off with a $34.5 million deal for four years.
``Our big thing is we're still a young team and the experience that we gained last year is sort of our free agency,'' team owner Charlie Monfort said.
The Rockies' unfathomable 21-2 run-up to the World Series has resulted in a 20-percent boost in ticket sales, and the Rockies project their revenues to continue growing, Monfort said.
So, he rolled the dice with two of the team's emerging young stars: Tulowitzki and Corpas.
Tulowitzki's six-year, $31.5 million deal is the biggest contract ever awarded a second-year player in the major leagues, and Corpas signed for $8 million over four years after just half a season as the club's closer. Including escalators and team options for 2012 and 2013, Corpas' deal could be worth nearly $23 million.
Tulowitzki arrived at spring training this year in a spiffy black Maserati GranTurismo.
``A lot can change in a year,'' said the budding, 23-year-old star who was tooling around in an SUV this time last year and just hoping to break camp with the big club.
Now, he's the marquee player on a young team that is coming off its first NL pennant, one fueled by his phenomenal performance in the field, at the plate and in the clubhouse. He became a respected leader among established veterans, including Todd Helton, despite having played barely a year in the minor leagues.
Tulowitzki led big league shortstops in fielding percentage last year, got to many more balls than anyone at his position and even turned an unassisted triple play, just the 13th in major league history. He also set an NL rookie record for home runs by a shortstop (24) and batted .291 with 99 RBIs.
The crowds at Coors Field began a rhythmic chant for Tulowitzki, and Colorado set a big league record for fielding percentage.
``He made some plays that were jaw-dropping, eye-opening, take-your-breath-away,'' manager Clint Hurdle said. ``He showed some leadership traits for a young player that I hadn't seen before on the field in the heat of battle. Some big swings of the bat late in games that you don't count on.
``But about two-thirds of the way through the season, nothing he did after that kind of surprised us. He threw a lot at us in a hurry.''
And the Rockies quickly threw a lot of money his way, too.
Same with Corpas, the 25-year-old Panamanian right-hander who replaced three-time All-Star Brian Fuentes as Colorado's closer on July 7. He saved 19 of 20 games and went 4-2 with a 2.08 ERA, the lowest by a reliever in club history, then starred in the playoffs, going 1-0 with a 0.87 ERA in nine appearances.
There's no precedent for a reliever with just over a year's service in the major leagues receiving a deal of this magnitude. Any hesitation on the club's part, however, was erased by Corpas' performance in the playoffs, where he recorded five saves and held hitters to a .167 batting average.
``As we see it, there's relievers that can close games and there's relievers that can close big games,'' assistant general manager Bill Geivett said.
The Rockies plan on being in many more big games with this nucleus of talent.
Corpas, signed by the Rockies as a 16-year-old in 1999, is among the first wave of players to graduate from the Rockies' fledging but stocked Latin American program.
While providing the Rockies with cost certainty in coming years, the deals provide security for the players at what could be bargain prices should they continue to progress at the same rate.
``You've got to make sacrifices to make things work,'' said Hawpe, who signed for $17.4 million over three years. ``I think the Rockies made some sacrifices and I think the players have made sacrifices instead of going out to find better deals. ... Sometimes you just have to be happy with where you're at and I think we're all happy to be playing with each other.''
Third baseman Garrett Atkins, who signed a one-year, $4.4 million contract to avoid arbitration this year, could be the next in line to cash in, although his situation is complicated by the presence of power prospect Ian Stewart.
The big prize, however, is still out there.
Slugger Matt Holliday's future is ``another animal altogether,'' Monfort said.
Holliday agreed to a $23 million, two-year deal covering his arbitration eligibility over the winter in what the Rockies hope is the first step in a long-term megadeal.
``I think it showed some compromise on both sides, the fact that Matt didn't want to go year-to-year and we didn't want to go year-to-year,'' Monfort said. ``It opened up some communication channels with Matt and Scott (Boras, his agent), and hopefully that will lead to a longer-term contract in the future.''
Holliday said he would love to stay in Colorado for many years but knows that sometimes things just don't work out ``when baseball and business mix.''
The Rockies have been reluctant to sign $100 million-plus deals since their disastrous eight-year, $121 million deal in 2001 with pitcher Mike Hampton.
They're hoping Holliday will want to stick around Denver, where more and more of his teammates are signing long contracts.
The Rockies' opening day lineup could consist of six position players who came up through the organization's farm system if Jayson Nix or Jeff Baker wins the second base job. If Franklin Morales continues his strong spring, their starting rotation might include four homegrown pitchers.
``We've got a lot of talented young guys here who want to stay and contend for a championship for many years,'' Tulowitzki said.