Baseball has always overflown with traditions, some obvious and some much more subtle, but rarely altered by passing years and changing times.
As soon as the Colorado Rockies' pitchers and catchers report Feb. 14 to Tucson, Ariz., for the start of another spring training, one of those truisms will manifest itself once again.
The theorem is simple: Whenever a franchise makes a trade, especially involving a marquee player, the first order of business is to make that trade look as good as possible.
Such is certainly the case now for the Rockies, after dealing All-Star left fielder Matt Holliday to Oakland back in November. In return for the standout who should have been the National League's most valuable player in Colorado's World Series season of 2007, the Rockies obtained relief pitcher Huston Street, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and starting pitcher (maybe) Greg Smith.
None of those three can be expected to have the kind of impact Holliday did after working his way through the Rockies' farm system. But still, it was better for Colorado than eventually losing Holliday to free agency with only a compensatory draft pick to show for it.
The smart play now would be for the Rockies to move on, not put too much needless pressure on those three newcomers, and hope for the best.
Ah, but that wouldn't be baseball.
The unwritten law says Colorado has to justify that Holliday trade, which means giving Street, Gonzalez and Smith every chance not someday, but now, in 2009. Adding to the burden is Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle knowing their jobs are on the line this season. So they don't have much choice but to roll the dice on their futures with the players who came from Oakland.
Luckily for all concerned, those three newcomers happen to fit into Colorado's evident areas of need.
Street, taking the bullpen spot of departed free agent Brian Fuentes, has to be regarded as the most likely to succeed. That primarily means being the setup guy for closer Manny Corpas, but it will also mean stepping in as the closer at times, and perhaps longer stretches if Corpas struggles. Street, who turns 26 this summer, has the kind of stats and background to suggest he will help the Rockies. He might not be quite as good as Fuentes on their best days, but Street should be more consistent over the long haul.
After Street, though, the outlook is less certain.
Gonzalez, only 23, is a centerfielder with excellent speed and defensive ability, but he has yet to prove he's ready to play every day in the majors. Regardless, Colorado gave up on last year's starter in center, Willy Taveras, leaving Gonzalez to compete against Ryan Spilborghs (who ideally would be the fourth or fifth outfielder) this spring.
This is where Don Baylor, back with the Rockies as hitting coach (he was the team's first manager from 1993 through 1998), could make a difference. Baylor's task is to turn Gonzalez into the next Quinton McCracken (1996-97) or Juan Pierre (2000-2002), both of whom blossomed in the middle of Colorado's outfield with similar characteristics and promise to what Gonzalez has shown.
If that were a two-year project, it would make more sense. But that's not the case here, and there's also the legitimate question of whether Gonzalez is better than hot prospect Dexter Fowler, another lanky speedster who probably will start the year in Colorado Springs.
Finally, there's the 25-year-old Smith, one of a handful who will try to make the starting rotation along with the likely top four of Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Ubaldo Jimenez and (oh yeah, another trade-in, this one from the Chicago Cubs) Jason Marquis. The Rockies were concerned enough about their choices that they brought back journeyman Glendon Rusch, who was serviceable at best last year, but rest assured that Marquis and Smith will get the first shots.
Nobody will make Colorado fans forget Matt Holliday. But whether or not Street, Gonzalez and Smith can come through, that old tradition will live on.
Baseball teams have to try to make any trade look good, immediately.
No matter what.
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