The Colorado Rockies chose not to tender a contract to third baseman Garrett Atkins last night, making him a free agent.
Colorado had been trying to trade Atkins since last summer, but found no suitable, or willing, trade partners.
Over the past four seasons, the 30-year-old Atkins' OPS has continually declined, from .965, to .853, to .780, and finally to .650.
That ultimately led to him being supplanted by third baseman Ian Stewart at midseason.
Atkins made just over $7 million last season, and the Rockies weren't wiling to risk an increase in arbitration for a backup third baseman.
In 2006, when he was just 26, Atkins took the NL by storm, posting a .329 average (fourth in the NL), a .965 OPS, plus a career-high 29 homers and 120 RBIs. He followed that up by batting .301 with 25 homers and 111 RBIs in 2007, and .286 with 21 homers and 99 RBIs in 2008.
Each year, Atkins declined not only in OPS, but also in batting average, home runs, and RBIs. But though his numbers were in retreat, Atkins was still productive—until this year.
In 2009, Atkins' gradual devolution morphed into a massive regression, as he slumped to a .226 average, with nine homers and 48 RBIs in 126 games.
Atkins is known as a patient hitter with good plate discipline. He has a strong arm, though the rest of his defensive skills are questionable (career fielding percentage of .954 at third). However, his experience at first base (105 career games) also gives him some versatility.
Without question, some team will certainly take a flyer on Atkins (who just turned 30 on Saturday), hoping he can regain his previous form. Perhaps a change of scenery would do him good.
Regardless of whether the proposed Mike Lowell-for-Max Ramirez deal is consummated, the Red Sox obviously don't feel comfortable with Lowell as their everyday starting third baseman in 2010.
Though the speculation has been that 31-year-old Adrian Beltre will be Lowell's eventual successor, it's important to remember that his agent is Scott Boras. As such, his contract will be both lengthy and large. Seattle would like to re-sign Beltre, and he will surely have other suitors as well.
Atkins would be a less expensive alternative, and one who will require a much shorter contract to boot. It's likely that Atkins can be had on a one-year deal. He simply needs the opportunity to redeem himself and resurrect his career.
One way or the other, it's a good bet that Atkins will have a new team this week.
After all, Adrian Beltre had an off year in 2009 too. And there is still a developing market for him, though at a much higher price.