Rockies trade for Astros Wilton Lopez

The Rox believe Lopez can pitch well in Colorado.

On day two of the Winter Meetings the Colorado Rockies made a trade with the Houston Astros to acquire right-handed reliever Wilton Lopez. The Rockies sent starter Alex White and minor leaguer Alex Gillingham to Houston and will also receive a player to be named later or cash considerations. 

Lopez, 29, almost became a member of the Phillies last week before they called the deal off, likely over health concerns. According to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, the Rockies did their due diligence on Lopez’ health situation and clearly they came away confident enough to make a deal.

Lopez, who posted a 2.17 ERA with 54 strikeouts and 6 unintentional walks in 66 ? innings this year, joins the Rockies as a first time arbitration eligible player and is projected to receive $1.4 million by Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors. He will likely take hold of the seventh inning in Colorado as the Rockies have added to a bullpen with Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle, and Rex Brothers all capable of handling high leverage situations.

Perhaps the bullpen isn’t the Rockies most pressing area of need this winter, but there are a few reasons to be encouraged about Lopez’ arrival. He has a propensity to not only miss bats (20.8% strikeout rate), but also induce weak contact by getting the opposition to hit the ball on the ground (55% groundball rate). Those skills coupled with his low walk rate (3.1%) make Lopez an ideal fit for Coors Field. Lopez is a far cry from fly ball pitchers like Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso, who Colorado acquired via trade last winter.

On the other hand, this deal marks the end of the Alex White era in Colorado. White, a former 1st round pick in 2009 (15th overall, he was selected ahead of Mike Trout by the Indians), came to Colorado during the 2011 season along with Drew Pomeranz and Joe Gardner in the trade for Ubaldo Jimenez. Coming into the 2011 season, White was rated by Baseball America as a top 50 prospect and said to have the potential of a number three starter or better. Before White was traded by the Indians, he suffered a ligament strain to the flexor tendon in his right middle finger during his third career start against the Cincinnati Reds on May 20. The injury had White on the shelf for 12 weeks. He was traded to Colorado before he ever made another start with the Indians.

White struggled to locate his pitches and wasn’t able to replicate the break his pitches, especially his splitter and slider, had before the injury. In his second start at Coors Field, White allowed eight hits in five innings and five of the hits cleared the fences. At spring training in 2012, the Rockies and White would admit that the pitcher simply wasn’t completely healthy in the last half of ‘11. White even told me he didn’t pick up a ball for at least two months after the season ended.

The organization was ready to give White a pass for his alarmingly bad results while pitching hurt in ‘11 (8.42 ERA and 1.76 WHIP in seven starts with Colorado). General manager Dan O'Dowd said, "We need to forget what we saw." Unfortunately, he didn’t make it out of spring training without incident as despite a lot of optimism surrounding the young pitcher and the opportunity for a fresh and healthy start this year he was arrested for an “extreme DUI” in Arizona. White was then left off the Rockies opening day roster, which included Jaimie Moyer and Tyler Chatwood, before joining the rotation in May. White started 20 games and pitched to a 5.51 ERA and 1.68 WHIP this year leading many to believe that his future lies somewhere in the bullpen for lack of a third pitch.

The Rockies clearly didn’t see a turnaround coming from White in Colorado’s 2013 rotation and believe that Lopez is more likely to be a good fit in the bullpen, so the struggling organization gave up on the 24-year-old starter in lieu of a nearly 30 reliever who’s about to hit arbitration with a questionable health situation. White will leave Coors Field with a 6.30 ERA in 12 starts at the corner of Blake St. and 20th, so it’s safe to say he won’t miss pitching there.

Alex Gillingham is the third player we know of at the moment in the deal. Gillingham, 23, was an 11th round pick by the Rockies in the 2011 MLB Draft. He pitched the entire 2012 season at Single-A Asheville, where he posted a 3.66 ERA, 6.1 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 1.22 WHIP, and 15 hit batters in 123 innings pitched. He made his professional debut with Casper in ‘11 and was the only pitcher in the Pioneer League to throw a perfect game. He remains a longshot to have an impact in the big leagues.

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