It wasn’t that long ago that the Colorado Rockies looked like a trendy sleeper pick to win what seemed to a mediocre NL West; I believe I picked them to win that division two years ago. Fast forward to today and their best player is a perennial injury risk and their rotation has morphed from interesting, young, and with upside to a mix of question marks and train wrecks.
Colorado should be operating with a multi-year plan in mind, using this season to transition from some veterans, explore various options to acquire pitching talent, and derive definitive opinions on its younger position players.
The questions I’ve posed below are a bit about this year, but they are also about the big picture—what has to happen in 2013 to position the Rockies to re-emerge as contenders in the near future?
What to do about the pitching staff?
While I want to speak big picture, we can’t ignore the present. The first thing that strikes me about the Rockies is their complete lack of a reliable pitching staff. While there are some holes and question marks in the lineup, the factor pushing down the ceiling of this team with phenomenal force is a dearth of pitching skill and depth. Last season, the Rockies abandoned convention and went to an approach in which starting pitchers were capped 75 pitches—not out of a need to protect them, but in an attempt to harvest some modicum of efficacy, even if for only three or four innings. In 2013, they plan to keep this approach, and even refine it, pairing starters with long relievers.
This actually is not far from an interesting strategy I had always wanted to see the Rockies try, except my idea would have been implemented by design and not out of desperation. I always thought building a staff out of middle relievers and swing men, putting most hands on deck each night, constantly playing match-ups, and adding a de facto rotating DH by virtually never allowing the pitcher to hit would be an interesting approach to maximize Colorado’s inherent biases. But they have neither the tools for my Veeck-ian experiment, not a successful outcome from a conventional approach.
Jorge De la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin once held appeal as fantasy sleepers, and Drew Pomeranz boasts youth and impressive stuff, but at this point every pitcher slated in the Rockies’ starting rotation would have to overcome the odds to compile league-average numbers.
Can their young stars stay healthy?
A healthy Troy Tulowitzki is a potential MVP-level player, and not many teams can boast one of those. The problem is that Tulo has played 140 games or more in only three of the previous six seasons. Carlos Gonzalez is also a force to be reckoned with, but he’s missed an average of roughly 30 games per season over his last three. There are some intriguing young bats in the Rockies’ lineup, but without these two sluggers as the backbone of the offense—and defense, in the case of Tulo—the Rockies won’t have the firepower to slug their way to overcome their dreadful pitching staff.
When does the next generation arrive, and will they “arrive?”
Although 2013 looks bleak overall for the Rockies, the season is not without hope, especially on individual levels. Dexter Fowler, Wilin Rosario and Josh Rutledge are all players who, if they continue to take steps forward, can cement themselves as valuable and viable pieces of a playoff-caliber team. These are the types of young, relatively inexpensive producers the team needs to position itself to make noise in the near future.
On the pitching side, Pomeranz and Rex Brothers are potential bright spots, while at age 24, Chacin has the potential to right himself quickly and reclaim the label of a promising young arm with weak two- to solid three-starter potential?
Colvin is slated to begin the season as a back-up, but will likely get ample time as a fourth outfielder and will find his way into the lineup when the annual Todd Helton injury takes place. Arenado will most likely begin the season in the minors, but has been one of the game’s more touted offensive prospects for a while, despite seeing his stock drop a bit after a disappointing 2012. He has a pretty poor defensive rep at third base, but Chris Nelson is penciled in as the team’s starter at the hot corner and he turned in a -2.1 defensive WAR in 2012, so if Arenado can mash, he’s likely no worse with the glove than the status quo.
What will they sell, and what will they get for it?
Ignoring for the moment the rumors of a potential pre- or midseason Tulo trade, the Rockies still have some pieces that I could easily see contenders coming to call for come midseason.
I’ve always liked Michael Cuddyer; his versatility and above-average stick, along with a perfectly tolerable $21 million over two years could make a nice addition to many a contender. This move would make even more sense if Colvin starts to distinguish himself and proves deserving of regular playing time.
By the same token, Rafael Betancourt will draw a ton of interest, as a fully capable closer and overqualified set-up man making $4.25 million in 2013 with an option for 2014. In fact, Betancourt is such a bargain that I think this is the reason why he didn’t get dealt last year or in the offseason. He’s a high-quality player whose departure would not shed much salary. But, realistically, his contract window doesn’t align with the next potential crest of the Rockies, so it would make sense to dangle him as potentially the top reliever prize of the deadline and extract a legitimate asset or two.
What would a successful 2013 look like?
Success looks different for different teams. While anything short of winning a playoff series may be a disappointment for teams like the Dodgers, Yankees or Angels, for a team like the Rockies, a reasonable goal is to be in a better place than they are now come next spring. This will be achieved by seeing young players develop, as well as by exchanging higher paid veterans whose peaks don’t fit the trajectory of the team for younger assets, hopefully of the pitching variety.
Seeing Tulo play a full season, Wilin Rosario prove 2012 was not a fluke, Dexter Fowler become a borderline star, Rex Brothers solidify himself as a fearsome reliever, and Drew Pomeranz show at least consistent glimpses of what made him a top-25 prospect are all things that I’d consider more important than actual final season record. Remember, Tulo and Cargo are locked up long term, the philosophy in 2013 should be to avoid the temptation to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.