The top five players the Colorado Rockies got rid of too soon -- not including Matt Holliday
Thanks to the Colorado Rockies' decision to send Matt Holliday to the Oakland A's for three players who don't appear to equal the sum of his parts (see "Matt Holliday and the Rockies' Case of Premature Ejaculation" for details), fans will soon have to suffer through something they've experienced all too often: the pain of watching a great player who used to be part of the Rockies organization excel for someone else for years and years to come. And all too often, that sting is magnified by the knowledge that the Rockies wound up with little or nothing to show for the trade.
What are the worst examples of this phenomenon? Here are our picks for the top five.
Counsell was drafted by the Rockies in 1992 and made his Major League debut for the squad in 1995. Then, in July 1997, he was traded to the Florida Marlins for Mark Hutton -- and later that year, Rockies loyalists got the chance to watch him score the winning run in game seven of the World Series. He subsequently skipped from the Marlins to the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Arizona Diamondbacks -- and with the latter, he won the 2001 National League Championship Series MVP and contributed mightily to the Snakes' World Series victory that year. Moreover, he's been an active player through this past season, which he spent with the Milwaukee Brewers, who made the playoffs for the first time in ages. And Hutton? He played his final game in 1998.
4. Joe Girardi
Girardi began his career with the Chicago Cubs before the Rockies chose him in the 1992 expansion draft. He provided a steady hand during the team's early seasons and was a major factor in its first playoff appearance, in 1995. But shortly after the season was over, the Rockies dealt him to the New York Yankees for Mike DeJean, a pitcher who spent the next several years registering decent if hardly spectacular numbers for the team. Girardi made more of a mark, helping the Yankees win the World Series in 1996, 1998 and 1999, playing solid ball for the Cubs (again) and the St. Louis Cardinals after that, and then becoming the manager of the Florida Marlins and the Yankees.
3. Josh Bard
Drafted by the Rockies in 1999, Bard -- a hometown boy who played for Cherry Creek High School -- never even got the chance to play with the big-league club before being shipped to the Cleveland Indians in 2001 along with Jody Gerut in exchange for Jacob Cruz. In the years that followed, Bard made solid contributions to the Indians and the San Diego Padres, with a brief stint as a member of the Boston Red Sox squeezed in between. And Cruz? The Rockies released him mere months after the Bard-Gerut trade, meaning that the team essentially received zero for giving up a very promising young player.
2. Juan Pierre
Throughout the '90s, the Rockies kept searching for their centerfielder of the future -- and Pierre, who the team drafted in 1998, filled the bill perfectly. He was fast, a reliable fielder and hit for an impressive batting average. So, of course, the team gave him the heave-ho, tossing him into a 2002 trade with the Florida Marlins that was motivated primarily by a desire to dump the mammoth salary of pitcher Mike Hampton. In the deal, the Rockies got Charles Johnson, Preston Wilson, Vic Darensbourg and Pablo Ozuna -- and Johnson and Wilson actually did prove to be fairly valuable additions. at least for a while. But that didn't make it any easier to watch Pierre win a 2003 World Series ring with the Marlins, lead the major leagues in hits in 2006 while a member of the Chicago Cubs or march into the playoffs this past season as a key component of the Los Angeles Dodgers. And since he's still relatively young, he's likely to keep rubbing salt into the Rockies' self-inflicted wound well into the next decade.
1. Brad Ausmus
Another 1992 expansion draftee, Ausmus didn't have time to get comfortable in Colorado. He and Andy Ashby were sent to the San Diego Padres the following year for Bruce Hurst (he barely played for the Rockies and went to the Texas Rangers as a free agent later that year) and Greg Harris (he stuck around for one undistinguished season before being ignominiously released). Not that Ausmus did all that much. He just became one of the best and most durable catchers in all of baseball for the Padres, Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros. And while his on-the-field days may be just about over (he played sparingly in 2008 and recently became a free agent), the former All-Star is likely to move into either management or broadcasting in the near future.
When Ausmus looks back on his career, his time with the Colorado Rockies will be little more than a footnote. But it's an agonizing one for Rockies fans. -- Michael Roberts