Rox acquire Lopez from Astros to bolster 'pen

Club also gets player to be named or cash for White, Gillingham

By Thomas Harding /12/05/12 12:56 AM ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Rockies believe they added durability to their late-innings bullpen by acquiring right-hander Wilton Lopez and a player to be named or cash from the Astros on Tuesday night for righty starter Alex White and Minor League right-hander Alex Gillingham.
Lopez, 29, went 6-3 with a 2.17 ERA and 10 saves in 64 appearances last season, and has thrown 205 innings over the last three seasons.
"He's a high-end strike-thrower and he's got a very good ground-ball percentage -- those are two things that are important to us," said Bill Geivett, the Rockies' senior vice president of Major League operations. "We know he's got the ability to pitch later in games, and for us to strengthen our 'pen we thought this would be a very good move for us. We feel we've got a good bullpen but we feel we can make it stronger."
The Rockies will use Lopez with righty Matt Belisle and lefty Rex Brothers as setup men for closer Rafael Betancourt. In a role in which it is imperative to limit walks and keep low in the strike zone, Lopez brings 169 career strikeouts against 39 walks and 18 home runs in 232 2/3 innings, with 69.2 percent of his outs on ground balls.
"Wilton Lopez has been a part of our organization the last few years, and it's definitely a loss for us from that perspective," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "He was our closer at the end of the year, he's been a very effective reliever. But when we look at where we are as an organization and what we have to accomplish -- to be able to bring a starting pitcher like Alex White."
The Rockies tend to have high bullpen use because of a young starting staff and offense-oriented games in Coors Field, so having relievers who can pitch multiple innings is a priority. However, Lopez will be a one-inning pitcher who will pitch mainly in a setup role but, along with Brothers, can give the Rockies a left-right combination in the ninth when Betancourt needs rest.
"We saw him against us. We really like his stuff in terms of fastball, slider and changeup," Geivett said. "He has a very good sinker in the low-to-mid-90s."
The Rockies gave up White, 24, one of the two young, highly touted starters they received for their onetime ace, Ubaldo Jimenez, at the 2011 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Last season, White bounced between Triple-A Colorado Springs and the Rockies -- going 2-9 with a 5.51 ERA in 23 games, including 20 starts. He finished with 64 strikeouts against 51 walks in 98 innings.
Geivett said the Astros insisted upon receiving White, the Indians' first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
The move could prove risky. Last year, the Rockies went to camp believing they had an adequate number of pitchers, but injuries and poor performances left them lacking as the regular season started and they never fielded an adequate rotation. Before Tuesday's trade, White, who demonstrated his potential and has shown signs of blossoming, figured to be part of a grand Spring Training competition for starting roles.
"It was a very difficult decision, moving Alex, and not what we wanted to do, but he was really the guy that they wanted," Geivett said. "We were looking for reliable, more proven-type pitching, whether it was as a starter or in relief. We felt Wilton provided that for us, but it was not as easy decision as far as moving Alex."
The Rockies continue to look for more experienced arms. Lefty Jeff Francis, who joined the club in June and went 6-7 with a 5.58 ERA in 24 starts, and righty Kevin Correia, who went 12-11 with a 4.21 ERA in 32 games (28 starts) with the Pirates last season, are possible free-agent targets. The Rockies also say they will not deal center fielder Dexter Fowler or corner outfielder-first baseman Michael Cuddyer unless they receive a proven pitcher.
With righty Jhoulys Chacin and lefty Jorge De La Rosa expected healthy after injury-marred 2012 seasons, the Rockies hope to have one or two veteran acquisitions, and leave young pitchers such as Juan Nicasio (also coming back from injury) and lefties Drew Pomeranz, Josh Outman and Christian Friedrich (who finished last season injured) for back-end slots.
Astros-bound Gillingham, 23, went 6-9 with a 3.66 ERA in 123 innings at Class A Asheville in 2012, his first full pro season. The Rockies selected Gillingham out of Loyola Marymount in the 11th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.