Eckstein could fill Rox void at second
Colorado talks to Loretta, might still turn to in-house candidates
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- David Eckstein, the 2006 World Series Most Valuable Player while with the Cardinals, has emerged as a veteran candidate for the Rockies' second-base opening.
Also, veteran Mark Loretta is still interested in the job, even though it would mean walking away from a huge raise he would receive if he accepts arbitration from the Astros. And Tadahito Iguchi, who played for the White Sox and Phillies last season, remains at the top level of targets, although he also has some opportunities at third base for other clubs.
The interest on the part of Eckstein, confirmed by sources with knowledge of the discussions, came to light Thursday morning at the end of the Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. Eckstein, who has World Series rings with the Angels in 2002 and the Cardinals in 2006, batted .309 with three home runs and 31 RBIs for the Cardinals last season. The Cards, Padres and Twins have been mentioned as possibly being interested.
The Rockies and Bob Garber, Loretta's agent, talked on Thursday morning. Colorado had been under the impression that Loretta would accept arbitration from Houston, but the presence of Kazuo Matsui -- who left the Rockies to sign a three-year, $16.5 million contract -- means Loretta has limited playing time prospects with the Astros.
Of course, the Rockies still have a crowd of in-house candidates for the job vacated by Matsui, so the club is only looking at one- or two-year deals for anyone it signs, and insists it may not sign anyone.
The Rockies, however, are looking to trim the number of candidates.
The most experienced of them, Jamey Carroll (the starter much of 2006) and Clint Barmes (the starter at shortstop much of 2005 and 2006), are prime candidates to be traded. The Rockies may have to eat some of Carroll's $2.3 million guarantee for this season to complete a deal. The arbitration-eligible Barmes came up in unsuccessful trade talks with the Astros and has attracted interest from multiple clubs at various times in his career.
Omar Quintanilla and Jayson Nix are true middle infielders and glove men. Ian Stewart and Jeff Baker, two power-hitting corner outfielders, are attempting to switch to take advantage of the opportunity.
The Rockies leave Nashville still attempting to sign a veteran pitcher for either the starting rotation or as one who could either start or swing to the bullpen. Left-hander Mark Redman, who finished last season with the Rockies, and righties Kip Wells, Brett Tomko and Steve Trachsel are at the top of that list, with lefties Glendon Rusch and Brian Anderson possibly looking at coming back from injury with the Rockies.
Negotiations between the Rockies and Aaron Cook on a three-year, $30 million contract extension to cover 2009-2011 are close enough that the club is looking to schedule a physical for Cook. But the exact structure of an option for 2012 is still being discussed.
Also, the Rockies lost right-handed pitcher Steven Register to the Mets in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. Register, 24, who led the Texas League with 37 saves at Double-A Tulsa in 2007, is now a member of the 25-man roster. If the Mets, who pay the Rockies $50,000 for making the pick, decide to remove Register from their 25-man roster at any point this season, they must offer him back to the Rockies for $25,000.
Deals done: The Rockies received righty reliever Jose Capellan from the Tigers for righty reliever Denny Bautista in a swap of talented arms that haven't quite found what it takes to stick in the Majors. It's a classic change-of-scenery deal that could work for both clubs.
Rule 5 activity: The Rockies lost Register but didn't pick up anyone in the Major League phase, and there was no activity in the Minor League phase.
Goals accomplished: By moving close to signing Cook to his extension, the Rockies are in position to solidify their pitching future.
Unfinished business: Clearing the logjam and establishing a first choice at second base, adding a veteran starter (or swing guy), and signing experienced right- and left-handed relievers fall into this category. The Rockies want to re-sign free-agent righty reliever LaTroy Hawkins, and dialogue has been positive even though Hawkins has been looking at other offers. Shawn Chacon and Octavio Dotel are fallback possibilities.
GM's bottom line: Even with the loose ends that need to be tied, the progress toward a deal for Cook made the meetings a success for the Rockies' Dan O'Dowd. "If health plays out -- there are so many factors that go into that -- our rotation has a chance to mature into a pretty good rotation," O'Dowd said.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.