Meetings quiet, but Rockies still talking

Meetings quiet, but Rockies still talking

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd tried but didn't trade No. 1 starter Jason Jennings, and insists that he never tried to trade first baseman Todd Helton but listened to the Angels' proposal and has an open ear to other clubs wanting to make a deal.

So in a sense, nothing happened during the Winter Meetings. But with free-agent contract numbers rising dramatically throughout baseball this offseason, the Rockies expected the event to be more talk that could lead to action later.

It appeared on Thursday that the Astros, one of the teams interested in Jennings, were off the board. But a deal that could have sent Astros center fielder Willy Taveras and right-hander Taylor Buchholz to the White Sox for righty Jon Garland fizzled not long after it was reported as done on the Houston Chronicle newspaper's Web site.

The Astros, Mariners, Mets, Rangers, Twins, Blue Jays, Cubs, White Sox and Cardinals have been linked to the Rockies and Jennings at various points this week.

If the Rockies trade Jennings, who could leave as a free agent at season's end to test a skyrocketing starting pitching market, O'Dowd said they'll need a younger starter "with some upside" to replace Jennings' ability and durability, and they'd need an eighth-inning setup man. They figured early on that trying to get those two parts and a center fielder was impossible.

O'Dowd insisted that the Angels' inquiry about Helton did not strike him as advanced trade talks. But the Rockies don't mind listening to proposals for Helton, the best player for the franchise through this decade. Any trade would take some arranging, since Helton is owed $90.1 million through 2011, some of which the Rockies will have to pay, and Helton would have to waive his no-trade clause.

When Helton signed a nine-year extension before the 2001 season (it kicked in the following year), it seemed the relationship would last forever. But Helton's $16.6 million in 2007 would occupy nearly 32 percent of the Rockies' payroll this season, and the club has holes it's having trouble filling.

But if this is the beginning of the end, O'Dowd said he does not expect the rest of Helton's time with the Rockies to be wrought with emotional unraveling.

"It's not like he doesn't understand the position we're in," O'Dowd said. "He knows we very much care for him. We'd love to win with him here. If there's a way to make that happen, hopefully that'll happen this year. But he also knows that the contract presents obstacles that are very difficult in this environment to overcome.

"We're not shopping Todd Helton in any way, shape or form. But if somebody presents us something that makes us better and gives us a better chance to win, and hopefully puts him in a better situation where he realistically has a chance to win, that's a win-win situation for everybody."

O'Dowd said talks with the Angels never reached the point where the Rockies seriously considered a trade.

"If so, I would have called Todd up," O'Dowd said, "and said, 'Here, here's the deal. They have interest, here's what we're getting back, and here's why we're interested, and they'd like to talk to you. Do you want to talk to them? All we're asking for is a conversation.'"

Deals done: The Rockies completed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with a mutual option for reliever LaTroy Hawkins, and early next week, will complete left-handed reliever Tom Martin's one-year, $800,000 deal.

Rule 5 activity: No news was good news for the Rockies, who did not draft or lose a player.

Club officials worried about right-handed pitcher Pedro Strop, 21, a converted infielder who displayed a 96 mph fastball and a good slider in his initial outings last season. Strop went 3-1 with a 3.45 ERA in 26 1/3 innings over 22 appearances with Rookie-level Casper and Class A Asheville, and continued to pitch in fall instructional ball.

Strop had batted .208 over two-plus seasons while playing shortstop, but Rockies player development director Marc Gustafson compared Strop's pitching potential to that of Rockies right-handed prospects Ubaldo Jimenez and Juan Morillo -- fellow Dominican Republic products.

"The difficulty is when you have a guy that you've converted, he hasn't pitched a whole lot," Gustafson said. "So it's tough for us to put him on the [40-man Major League roster], yet you're caught in a spot where you hate to lose him. We're very fortunate that he's still a Rockie. It'll give us an opportunity to make a fair evaluation."

O'Dowd said the player the Rockies wanted, right-hander Joakim Soria from the Padres organization, was gone by the time the Rockies' turn came. The Royals took Soria second overall. The Blue Jays took shortstop Jason Smith, who played for the Rockies last season, from the Cubs organization.

Goals accomplished: The Rockies didn't expect to get anything done on the trade or free-agent market until the higher-priced activity settled down.

Unfinished business: In addition to the process with Jennings -- which could be completed soon, or could also extend into the season -- the Rockies also have to make decisions on right-hander Josh Fogg and catcher Yorvit Torrealba, the main concerns as Tuesday's deadline to tender offers to arbitration-eligible players approaches.

O'Dowd said he met with agents for both players. He informed Fogg's agent how high the Rockies were willing to go with their offer. Torrealba is expected in Denver next week so the Rockies can determine how well his right shoulder has healed. He went on the disabled list twice last season with shoulder strains.

Darin Erstad, who missed most of last season with an ankle injury that required surgery, remains a possibility in center field, but the Rockies said they have to work him out before making an offer. The Devil Rays, who have looked at Erstad as a designated hitter and first baseman, also want to assess his health.

Finding a left-handed pinch-hitter with experience will be a project for later in the offseason.

GM's bottom line: "We had some very interesting things come our way late, and we'll regroup and see if there are some fits out there." -- O'Dowd

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