Flashback to the 2010-2011 offseason. The Rockies had gone from a playoff team at 92-70 in 2009 to treading water with a 83-79 record in 2010 as the Giants and Padres leapfrogged them while the Dodgers remained strong. In response, the powers that be attempted to mitigate further dropoff by signing Ty Wigginton and, er, yeah… By the end of 2011, the Rockies had fallen below .500, Ubaldo Jimenez had gone from an All-Star to Jacobs Field, closer Huston Street was dispatched to the Padres and Ty Wigginton was, well, Ty Wigginton. But at least Jim Tracy got a lifetime extension.
Something had to be done for 2012 to bring the Rockies back into contention and the Rockies powers that be, to reverse the slide, acquired Michael Cuddyer (after trading away Seth Smith), Jeremy Guthrie (after trading away Jason Hammell), Ramon Hernandez (after trading away Chris Iannetta), Marco Scutaro and Jamie Moyer. Reflect on that, for a second. In many of those instances, a relatively inexpensive, younger player was discarded for someone more expensive. Even though Smith has regressed a tad moving from the Mile High Confines to whatever’s left of the Oakland Coliseum and Cuddyer had a great 2013, if you adjust for park effects, Smith could’ve provided similar production to Cuddyer in 2012. Hernandez did nothing more than block Rosario for 50 games of a 2 year contract which is something Iannetta could have done for a lot less. Hammell found success in Baltimore while Guthrie didn’t find success until he was sent to the Royals for Jonathan Sanchez. The underlying problem in that set of exchanges in the 2011-2012 offseason, though, was Jamie Moyer. I’ve liked Moyer throughout his career from a young lefty with the Cubs through his journeyman years until he found success with the Mariners and the Phillies. Coming off of 2011 Tommy John surgery at the robust age of 49, the Rockies tagged him for the number 2 slot in their 2012 rotation. At the time, I thought it was odd. Usually, a team that thinks its going to win increases payroll and acquires players they think will put them over the hurdle. The idea that the Rockies could return to contention with Jamie Moyer playing a critical role was, sadly, laughable.
The 2012 season was horrid as injuries on offense and ineffectiveness in the staff took its toll. The slight saving grace was a noble but unorthodox attempt to try a four man, 75-pitch limit staff. It didn’t catch on and caused quite a few complaints as pitchers were pulled before they could qualify for the “win” while Jim Tracy pulled himself from his lifetime extension.
The most noteworthy things that happened last year was that Walt Weiss took over as manager, the Rockies won 10 more games in 2013 than they did in 2012, and the Rockies signed Yorvit Torrealba. Those three things may not be related.
Walt Weiss… the Rockies were third in the National League in intentional walks issued (52), had only one complete game all year and only five games where the opposing team were shutout. Those three things may be related. They also led the league in balks (15), led the league in average walks per game with 3.2 and led the league in WHIP (Walks plus Hits divided by Innings Pitched) so that might be more related to pitching coach Jim Wright. I’d like to think that if I noticed this through a few minutes on baseball-reference that someone in the Rockies front office is already aware of it…
Sure, Cuddyer had a good year, Jhouyls Chacin and Rex Brothers emerged and Jorge De La Rosa returned. On the flipside, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler were hurt again, taking a few games off here and there to watch Todd Helton’s ride into the sunset. Nolan Arenado continued the recent Rockies tradition at third base of being known more for his glove than for his bat. Meanwhile, Wilin Rosario, unlike Chris Iannetta, was able to free himself from Torrealba’s attempts to block him to prove that he can hit the ball better than he can catch it. Thankfully they are both young, so in theory (if not in practice), they can improve.
A Glimpse Forward
So, what has to happen in 2014 to get back to .500?
Let’s get the recurrent, easy ones out of the way.
- Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez need to be healthy.
- The Rockies have to learn to hit on the road (Est. 1993).
- Something offensively is needed to offset Cuddyer’s potential regression.
- Remember to turn on that humidor.
Now, the more difficult ones…
Patience with the Young Padawan Learners
The Rockies have an annoying habit of punitively demoting and/or blocking their rookie position players, going back to Tulowitzki, through Iannetta, Fowler and continuing with Rosario and Josh Rutledge. Ironically, they are much more lenient with their young pitching, almost brutally so. With low expectations for this year, it’s a prime opportunity for the Rockies to figure out exactly what they have. Give Arenado and Rosario a full season and try to squeeze in Corey Dickerson if they can.
Quit Flipping Foully…
The Fowler trade was curious. One habit the Rockies have is trading something like a young position player for a roll-of-the-dice middle reliever (See Smith, Seth). I’d like to think that Jordan Lyles might be some uncovered gem, but it is much harder to find a player like Fowler, even with all his faults, than a player like Lyles. On top of that, the Astros have been hoarding young players since they revamped their scouting department, so some hesitancy akin to dealing with Billy Beane might be warranted. In either case, it would’ve been good if the Rockies had acquired a batch of position players to roll the dice on.
Perhaps it was concerns about the payroll, perhaps it was concerns about his attitude (as unlikely as I am to believe some of the things said on radio), but perhaps Fowler just had to go. Nonetheless, considering what Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner were able to command, I’d like to think the Rockies could’ve gotten something more especially since the Rockies are still sending Houston a Player To Be Named Later…
But Be Ready To Flip
That being said, Cuddyer, LaTroy Hawkins, Justin Morneau and Jorge De La Rosa most likely won’t be a part of the next best Rockies dynasty, especially with how the NL West has Dodgered up the last few years. I am not suggesting a fire sale or a salary dump, but if Hawkins has a few saves or Cuddyer has an All-Star first half and the Rockies aren’t in contention, assuming the Rockies can get useful value at the trade deadline, it might be a good idea to move some of those veterans for prospects.
Infield is The Keymaster
It’s curious that the Rockies have never had a good second baseman since Eric Young. In theory, it should be the easiest place to put a hot prospect that’s not quite good enough to unseat Tulowitzki. The fact that Tulo gets hurt as much as he does should’ve demanded that the Rockies draft more middle infielders in the last decade. Instead, we get these interchangeable Jonathan LeMathieus or Jordan Nelson Jrs. that, if we’re, lucky, can play defense and get a Coors Field bump to make their bat look below average.
Similarly, with how strong Carlos Gonzalez is in left and the Rockies generally being apt at acquiring some sort of player that can handle right field, it’s interesting the Rockies don’t have an ex-outfielder that they could’ve converted to first base instead of paying a Fowler penny to Morneau. Perhaps Morneau will get a boost similar to Cuddyer, but I’d like to think the Rockies could’ve done it internally, for much cheaper.
Strikeouts are The Gatekeeper
The Rockies have done well when they’ve had pitchers who can provide strike outs. Beyond the altitude, which allows a lot of home runs, Coors Field is a huge field to play on providing doubles and triples for friends and foes alike. In the past, the Rockies have been successful when they had a pitcher who would strike batters out, first shown with Pedro Astacio and in later years with Ubaldo Jimenez. Chacin and De La Rosa, as pretty as their ERAs and WHIPs were last year, all things Coors considered, should be in the third and four slots of the rotation, not the first and second.
In some ways, it is similar to the solution Detroit had on defense the last few years with a horrible defense mitigated by a stud strikeout staff. The difference is that the Rockies generally have a good defense (especially when Tulowitzki’s healthy), but the Rockies staff allows so many balls in play that games get out of control quick.
The Rockies have an outside chance at .500 for 2014, given a break here and there, particularly on health and whatever offsets Cuddyer’s potential dropoff in production. The Rockies might be best served looking forward to 2016 as they try to get the next batch of homegrown studs. The biggest issue is that the Rockies do not have a good idea of where they are at as of right now. Are they a World Series team? Are they rebuilding? I know where I think they should be. The trick is the Front Office has to pick one and stick to it across the board. Either add payroll by players that are better than the ones you have, or subtract payroll to build the next best Rocktober. Walking down the middle of the road with the NL West charging up from behind will only get them run over.