On November 12, 2008, the Colorado Rockies dealt arguably their greatest slugger of all time in Matt Holliday to the Oakland A's for two prospects and a deposed closer. Rockies fans were understandably upset.
But the reality is that Holliday, represented by Scott Boras, would not fit into the mid-market budget of Denver once he hit free agency after the 2009 season.
While Rockies fans were disappointed, there was still hope that the team could be good with Todd Helton returning to form after back surgery and a resurgence from shortstop Troy Tulowitzki after an injury-plagued sophomore season.
Those two players, combined with the steady slugging of third baseman Garrett Atkins, gave the Rockies some hope of contending in '09, even with the loss of Holliday.
Atkins, who has one year of arbitration left before he can become a free agent, is making $7.05 million this year. The Rockies have tried on several occasions to sign Atkins to a long-term deal with no success.
Just like Holliday, it has become clear that Atkins will be playing in a different uniform by 2011.
Because contract negotiations have gone so poorly, the Rockies front office toyed with the idea of trading Atkins after the '08 season. They decided not to because they felt he was the key to a possible run in '09. It was speculated that if the club struggled out of the gate, or was not in the race by the trading deadline on July 31, the Rockies would once again shop Atkins.
The plan seemed to be fool proof for the Rockies, except for how the '09 season has unraveled for the club and Atkins.
Through 41 games, Atkins is the worst hitter on a struggling Colorado club. He is hitting an abysmal .189 with a .270 on-base percentage. He has only three home runs and 14 runs batted in.
While all hitters go through slumps, after 41 games of continuous struggle, there are questions whether this is a slump, or if Atkins' bat is slowing down. On pitches that he normally drives into the gap, he has been rolling over and hitting a ground ball to the left side.
As Atkins continues to struggle, his trade value continues to plummet. At this point, the Rockies would get very little in return and still have to eat quite a bit of his salary.
The door to trade Atkins and get some value for him seemed to be slammed shut until the Mets possibly opened it back up, if not just a little crack. On Tuesday, Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado went down with a hip injury that will require surgery and at least a couple months of rehab.
With the Mets squarely in contention in the National League East, they may be hesitant to look to fill an important roll on the roster from the minor-league ranks.
While Atkins is a third baseman, he was drafted as a first baseman out of UCLA and played there the majority of the second half of 2008 when Helton went out with his back injury.
Some may question Atkins' terrible numbers so far in '09, but it is still early enough for the struggles to be considered an extended slump. Based on that assumption, a team like the Mets may be willing to look beyond the early numbers of '09 and see Atkins for his previous numbers, someone who hits 20-plus home runs and drives in nearly 100 runs year in and year out.
The move would allow the Rockies to have some salary relief in '09, but also in 2010 when Atkins would command at least the same amount that he is paid in '09—most likely more. It would also remove the logjam at third base that has kept Ian Stewart from getting everyday playing time at third base.
The Rockies may have missed the best time to sell Atkins, but they may be able to capitalize on a spike in his demand. If they cannot take advantage of this moment, Atkins' value may drop so far that—with his salary—he may be untradable.
This may be the final opportunity that the Rockies have to save some cash and create a spot for Stewart, but they have to get to work and convince the Mets that Atkins is the player from '06-'08 and that '09 is just a slump.