Reasons the Colorado Rockies should trade Garrett Atkins
To lead this off, I like Garrett Atkins. I do. I don't grouse when he gets playing time, I think he's a nice guy, he has a good swing, and he's a pretty good batter in general.
However, he is right in the middle of a logjam.
He is the established 3B, but Ian Stewart is showing all signs of taking over the position and being far more productive.
He's the backup 1B, but Todd Helton's back surgery sounds like it went well.
The organization has stated that his future with the team is linked to Helton's health.
My opinion? Trade him anyhow.
1. Atkins has a poor glove, and one of the strengths of our organization is our defensive talent. He can make the plays that are within his small zone, but ask him to range to his left, and the ball is going into Left Field unless Tulowitzki comes up with it. He's a converted 1B anyhow, and he wasn't very good at that either. Stewart, however, has an above average glove and will save the team more runs with his glove than Atkins would, and he's showing an incredible amount of power from his bat, as well as a very good eye.
2. Atkins has a declining bat. In 2006, his 2nd year, Atkins looked like he'd be a cornerstone of this organization for years to come. Lock him up long term. But he decided to go year to year, and it's probably helped the organization more in the long run than him. His batting average has dropped, his power numbers have dropped, basically everything about his game has declined. And I fault this specifically: He's getting impatient. His first 3 seasons, he was a very patient hitter, and his OBP showed it. 2006 he was batting .329/.409/.556. Very solid numbers. His next season, he slumped terribly during April/May, but rebounded and caught fire down the stretch to finish at .301/.367/.486 – still pretty solid numbers. 2008 he was borderline worthless, batting .286/.328/.452.
The biggest thing I noticed about this is the IsoD (OBP-AVG). 2006 it was .080, 2007 it dropped to .66, and 2008 it has dwindled to a mere .042. This tells me he's not walking nearly as much, and with the drop in batting average, it suggests he's getting impatient. He wasn't destroying the ball coming out of the gates this year, and Fangraphs.com's plate discipline numbers show me that he is swinging at 19.1% of balls outside of the zone, an increase from 14.7% in 2006. He's swinging at more inside the zone as well. In fact, his swing% has jumped from 40.0% in 2006 to 42.5%. It's not a MASSIVE amount, but when you consider how many pitches they see in a season, it's a lot more swinging, and a lot of it is coming outside of the zone. His strikeout totals have jumped as well, from 76 to 96 to 100. It's still not a MASSIVE amount, but if you look at his declining contact rates, I don't think his AVG and number of K's is going to improve.
3. We don't need him to back up Helton. Atkins may be the guy to play 1B if Helton's out with a sore back, or so it seems, but we're forgetting that we already have a completely viable backup for Helton already on the team. No, I'm not talking about Joe Koshansky, I'm talking about our own Brad Hawpe. Remember that Brad Hawpe played 1B at LSU, so he's not a stranger to the position. You might then say that Hawpe would be a butcher at 1B, and Atkins is more familiar to the infield. Well, true as this may be, Brad Hawpe is one of the worst defensive RF in baseball, Atkins is already bad at 1B, so I'm guessing Hawpe would have far less of an impact on the team's defense if he were at 1B. An IF of Hawpe-Barmes-Tulo-Stewart is strong defensively at 3 of the 4 positions, and getting Hawpe out of the OF might make room to give Smith more playing time. I'm not suggesting Smith is a defensive whiz, but there's no way he's as bad as Hawpe is. (I know Hawpe has a cannon on his left shoulder, but he lets enough balls by him that it just isn't worth it.)
4. Moving Atkins signals that Stewart is the full time 3B, and it could help his production just in terms of not having to think about playing LF or 2B just to get his ABs in.
Should we keep Atkins, the only other option really is to juggle him around between 1B, 3B, and LF – because we should NOT move Stewart for anything at this point. The upside is you keep Atkins' bat, which may be due for a rebound, in the lineup, as well as your other guys, but you suddenly have to deal with more players being pushed out of an optimal defensive position. Stewart ends up playing both 2B and LF, Spilborghs is left in CF (which isn't awful, but he'd be better at a corner with a Sullivan or Gonzalez type in CF), Barmes is booted from the lineup at times (Not awful, offensively, but I like his glove at 2B moreso than Baker or Stewart).
Because of the constantly juggling lineups, it's helpful to have replacement players like Jeff Baker and Omar Quintanilla who can play multiple positions, but defensively, all the movement is not good for the regular players. Were Hawpe the #2 1B, Spills would stay in LF, Stewart at 3B, Barmes at 2B, and because Spills isn't bouncing from LF to CF all the time, we could call up Dexter Fowler, because he'd know that CF is his to roam with no competition for playing time. Also, when Hawpe plays 1B, it'd give Seth Smith significantly more playing time, and we might be able to see his bat develop a bit more.
Factor in the fact that Atkins is due for an arbitration raise, it'd be a cost effective move, and we might just be able to get some sort of pitching help in exchange. If we're gonna be cheap, let's be smart about it at least.
All the Woody Paige's floating around Denver would hate it, but trading Garrett Atkins is simply a smart move for this ballclub.