In 2010, Ryan Vogelsong was pitching in Japan and in January signed a minor league contract with the Giants. He's gone on to have an All-Star season. Brandon McCarthy didn't pitch at all in 2010, recovering from numerous shoulder injuries in his young career and he was released by the Texas Rangers in November. On December 13, the Oakland Athletics signed McCarthy to a $1 million MLB contract. Almost a year later, McCarthy is the most valuable starter on the Athletics team, a top 20 starter in the MLB overall according to f-WAR.
Meanwhile, when you take a look at the seasons of the starters everybody coveted, with the exception of Cliff Lee, it's been almost a universal disappointment. The Rockies' Jorge De La Rosa had a few starts and then underwent Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers Hiroki Kuroda has been solid, but declining from his typical production and has shown an unwillingness to leave Los Angeles, anyway. Ted Lilly's dropped off even more. One of the Rockies other major targets from last season, Carl Pavano, who's had one of the lowest K rates in the majors this season, a 4.50 ERA and seems to be rolling down the Aaron Cook road of declining production. Another Rockies target last season, Gavin Floyd, has been a bit better in his peripheral stats, but has given up about as many runs as these other pitchers.
So when Troy Renck says that the Rockies need to relentlessly pursue pitching in the off-season, including revisiting the trade for the Astros Wandy Rodriguez, I'm on board with the pursuit of pitching part, not so much with the targeting of only brand named established quality pitchers.
Just as a general rule, when the Rockies go cheap and bargain hunt for pitching, it generally works out much better than when they spend more than they should, either in money or prospects for established starters. It's not just the ancient history of Mike Hampton or Darryl Kile that says as much, but also recent history with a home-grown pitcher like Aaron Cook or closer Huston Street. I'm sure there will come a point where a highly paid pitcher does make good with Colorado, but given the acknowledged needs elsewhere on the roster this winter, I think the Rockies would be far wiser to bundle money into a handful of young (key word here, fans seem to get enamored with older arms like Brandon Webb or Brad Penny, bad idea) but promising arms that have fallen off the radar, than go after somewhat speculative arms that are blipping on it. If the team's not going to be able to afford the cream of the crop (last year it was Lee, this year C.J. Wilson) than I think it's wiser to go after as many of the McCarthy/Vogelsong types as possible, with a Millwood signing thrown in as a back-up.
You look at how the Diamondbacks have done it in 2011, and it's not with older, established pitchers, but young arms that other teams have given up on. Milwaukee would be somewhat of a counterpoint to my argument, but note that both Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum were under 30 at the time of acquisition, and in fact, Marcum fits the type I'd be looking for fairly well, of a young starter that's getting bumped out of his team's current rotation plans because of their depth.
As examples of teams or players I'd personally look to: possibly our frequent trading partners the A's for a Josh Outman, or the Rays for Wade Davis, the point is to find a team with more young starters than space in their rotation and go from there. For minor league or free agent contracts, hopefully the Rockies MLB scouts will be able to identify a couple strong rebound candidates better than us armchair GM's, but there will be some young pitchers with quality stuff made available in free agency, such as the Indians Fausto Carmona, or perhaps the Reds Edinson Volquez.
I guess my major point here is that given a choice between spending starting money on a pitcher or a position player, given that we have needs at both, I'd rather spend it on the position player. The team's history with bargain hunting on the position player front has rarely seen quality results. Not since Kaz Matsui and Jamey Carroll solidified the team's middle infield in 2007, in fact, have we turned backup money spent into starting quality production (Miguel Olivo was only starting valuable for half a season in 2010).
Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, two "energetic young lions" according to pitching coach Bob Apodaca as related in an update of the pair's exploits from a Cleveland perspective, still figure to make low cost impacts to the rotation themselves next season. I know Rockies fans are probably a bit skeptical about White at this point, as it's in our nature to desire immediate satisfactory results or move on, but he's progressing and will eventually be a considerably better pitcher than he's shown to date.