By Mark Knudson, DENVER DAILY NEWS
As members of the media, we don’t always get the access — or the education — we really need from the teams that we cover and write about. We watch and comment, speculate and decide what the team should and shouldn’t do, but we do so without knowing everything that’s going on. We’re offering only a semi-educated analysis.
Recently, I had a chance to spend some “off the record” time with someone from the Colorado Rockies front office, and I got one heck of an education of what’s going on in Major League Baseball. It’s not pretty.
While everyone around here is excited about the Rockies playing so well the past two-and-a-half months and having such bright prospects for making the playoffs, the reality of it is that the club still stands to lose around $15 million this season. Yes, ticket sales are good — maybe better than even hoped for — but ticket REVENUE is still down. Fans are buying cheaper tickets. Corporate sponsorships are down across the board as well.
Still paying Hampton and Neagle
In fact, while it’s been generally believed that the Rockies were all done paying on the contracts of Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, the fact is that the investment fund that was set up to pay off those two contracts was all but wiped out when Wall Street collapsed last fall. The result is that the Rockies are still paying off Hampton and Neagle. Ouch.
This makes the fact that they’re playing so well and right in the thick of the playoff chase even more remarkable.
It also explained to me — rather bluntly — why my push to bring Roy Halladay back to Colorado was never taken seriously. Yes, the Blue Jays tried like heck to trade Halladay and his $14 million a year salary, and will again over the winter and into next season if they have to, because they too are hemorrhaging money. I was told Toronto could lose almost $35 million this season.
My claim that Halladay would pay for himself with the boost he’d give to attendance was politely dismissed. The Chauncey Effect? Remember that the Nuggets gave up a HIGHER salary with Allen Iverson to bring Billups home. The move saved them money.
This being the case, it’s time to rethink things.
Yes, the Rockies are in the thick of the playoff chase. Still, August still might be a good time for the Colorado Rockies to be a seller. Before you jump to your keyboard to inform me that Major League Baseball’s trading deadline has passed, understand that there’s still the opportunity for trades to be made. July 31 is the deadline for making trades without putting a player through waivers. During the month of August, trades can still be made but the players must clear waivers first, so it CAN happen.
Certainly no great players — the kind that change teams in late July — are going to get moved in August, right? Not always. What if that player has a sky high salary, or injury issues, or something like that that could scare off most teams from making a waiver claim? Then they could be moved.
Such a player could be the Greatest Rockie Ever … Todd Helton.
Am I nuts? Helton is having another great season, and he’s a big reason why the Rockies are in contention, right? Why on earth would Colorado trade him right now?
There are 17 million reasons. Actually 17 million and one, if you count the presence of Garrett Atkins.
A year ago at this time, a lot of people were saying that the Rockies were a better team with Atkins playing first base and Ian Stewart at third. It hasn’t worked that way this season, but the way Atkins has been swinging the bat lately, the Rockies aren’t losing much when he’s in the line-up instead of Helton. And now that Stewart has supplanted Atkins at third base full time, making Atkins a part time player, the Rockies have a quality spare part they would have no trouble turning into a full timer again.
The Rockies are paying Helton $17 million this season. Trade him, and the books get balanced, and the opportunity to make a run at a top notch starting pitcher — like Halladay — becomes a tad more realistic.
Playing like his old self again, Helton will never have higher trade value. Maybe there’s a team out there in playoff contention — like the Angels or the Rangers — that would be willing to take on his mega contract to help themselves get into the postseason?
I’m not going to speculate any further than that. All I know is we should enjoy the way this team is playing and appreciate the job that the front office has done to help get them to this point.
Mark Knudson is a former Major League Baseball pitcher and member of the 1993 Colorado Rockies. He writes sports columns for the Denver Daily News. Respond to Knudson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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