Monday Rockpile: Beyond the 25th man

USA TODAY Sports

If the Rockies want real pitching depth, they need to ensure that guys like Drew Pomeranz, Jordan Lyles, Chad Bettis, and Christian Friedrich will be starting in Colorado Springs unless they truly earn a spot on the big club.

So far this off season, we've seen the Rockies make three moves of consequence geared towards 2014. They've signed LaTroy Hawkins to a $2.5 million deal, which includes a 2015 option with a $250,000 buyout. They've traded their most obvious bargaining chip in Dexter Fowler away to Houston for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes, and they've inked Justin Morneau to a two year deal worth $12.5 million which should include a 2014 salary of about $6.3 million.

Financially speaking, the Rockies really haven't added much money to the payroll yet. Dexter Fowler is owed $7.35 million next season, so if you couple his departure in last week's trade, which adds Lyles and Barnes at MLB minimum salary, with the Morneau signing ($6.3 million in 2014), it flattens out leaving the LaTroy Hawkins deal as the only real addition to next year's payroll from where we stood at the start of November.

So if we take the $9 million the team reportedly has to spend this winter, we really only need to deduct the $2.25 million LaTroy Hawkins is owed in 2014 from the allotted pool, leaving just a little less than $7 million to play with going forward, and possibly a little more depending on how you tweak the numbers. Unfortunately, that amount of money doesn't go nearly as far as it used to on the free agent market, but it does leave room for a few improvements.

So let's look at the current roster and see where this team still needs help the most. Right now, I'd say that the following names are highly likely to make the opening day roster, or at least have the inside track borrowing injury or trade.

Rotation:

Jhoulys Chacin

Jorge De La Rosa

Tyler Chatwood

Juan Nicasio

Bullpen:

LaTroy Hawkins

Rex Brothers

Adam Ottovino

Wilton Lopez

Matt Belisle

Josh Outman

Outfield:

Carlos Gonzalez

Michael Cuddyer (should also spend some time at first base if used properly)

Corey Dickerson

Charlie Blackmon

Brandon Barnes

Infield:

Troy Tulowitzki

Nolan Arenado

DJ LeMahieu

Justin Morneau

Catcher:

Wilin Rosario

Jordan Pacheco - (Unless another backup is signed or traded for which is still very possible. In that scenario, he would likely fall off the roster, but for now it's just easier to leave him in this role)

I'm sure you could quibble with a couple of these, but that's generally how the roster should look when the Rockies play the Marlins on March 31st (112 more days by the way, but who's counting?) So that's 21 spots largely filled, leaving another starter, another reliever, and a couple of bench pieces (primarily infield) to be sorted out. Here's some of the in house options the Rockies have right now on their 40 man roster.

Pitchers:

Jordan Lyles

Drew Pomeranz

Chad Bettis

Christian Friedrich

Collin McHugh

Rob Scahill

Position Players:

Charlie Culberson

Jonathan Herrera

Josh Rutledge

Ryan Wheeler

Kyle Parker

Looking at this setup, I see two major issues that could severely plague this roster. One, a general lack of guys with proven above average on base percentage skills, and two, a large question mark at the bottom of the rotation. Sadly, starting pitching and guys with a high OBP are both outrageously expensive on the free agent market, so the Rockies are going to have to get creative here.

The on base percentage ship has probably already sailed, and this team is probably going to have to get something along the lines of a breakout from Dickerson or a bounce back from Morneau to prevent this from becoming a fatal issue, but the pitching is a book that may not be closed. Over the weekend, the Rockies were in talks with the A's regarding Brett Anderson, an often injured but very effective arm who is owed $8 million next season and worth taking a risk on, but discussions broke down and have gone quiet for the moment.

While a starting pitcher should remain the goal, I also wouldn't hate targeting another relief arm on the market first while continuing to work the trade phones for a starter. I made this point in the comments section last week, but I think it deserves repeating.

April: .631
May: .669
June: .767
July: .816
August: .688
September: .853

That's the OPS of opposing hitters against the Rockies bullpen in 2013, and with the exception of August, it went up every month. So while the bullpen may look pretty decent on paper right now, it will breakdown under the weight of the marathon. In order to prevent the team's bullpen from collapsing down the stretch with their current alignment of starters, they really need a bullpen that's not only strong seven deep, but also pushes some potentially useful arms into AAA at the start of the season, because they will be needed as the grueling season starts to erode at our staff.

Here's part of one of the comments I made on this front last week.

If the Rockies sign either a Jose Veras or a Jesse Crain, they could open up the season with a seven man pen of (Veras / Crain), Hawkins, Belisle, Brothers, Lopez, Ottavino, and Outman, all of whom had an ERA + last season of 102 or higher. (Not that I love ERA+ as a stat, but it's a nice down and dirty way of saying that there's not going to be anyone in that pen who you would expect to be below average - In fact, most of those guy I would classify as above average to well above average)

This does two very important things. First, it may help you capture more games started by the #5 slot in your rotation, because as long as the Rockies can find someone that doesn't give up seven runs and instead maybe gets through five innings with four runs allowed, there's going to be a decent chance that a deep pen like that holds the opponent to minimal additional runs through the end of the game giving the Rockies a chance to steal a few wins late.

Secondly, it will create a healthy competition between the large group of young pitchers who miss out on the 5th starter job and have to start the year in Colorado Springs. If your bullpen is what I listed above, and the top four in your rotation are Chacin, De La Rosa, Chatwood, and Nicasio, that leaves only one spot for Pomeranz, Bettis, Lyles, Friedrich, etc... with Scahill also serving as extra bullpen depth in the minors. The deeper your pen is, the more you create a safety net for the young starters if they don't pitch well. I think that's part of the Rockies plan.

Ideally, the Rockies will land both a passable starter as well as one more above average relief arm before the spring. This is not just about what those guys do for the opening day roster, in fact, it's more about what they do for the guys beyond the 25 man roster. If this front office can somehow land both of those pieces with the money they've saved, there's a very real chance that the April Colorado Springs rotation includes Jordan Lyles, Drew Pomeranz, Chad Bettis, and Christian Friedrich while the April Tulsa rotation includes Jonathan Gray, Eddie Butler, Tyler Matzek, Dan Winkler and Tyler Anderson.

That's a real pipeline of potential pitching depth with most arms at the level they're supposed to be at. Borrowing a rash of injuries, they'll need to prove they deserve a jump to the next level instead of being rushed to it out of necessity, and that would be a real game changer from what we've had the past few seasons.

Some of these guys are going to get to the major league roster by the summer anyway, because as we know, the grinding baseball season always forces you to make mid season adjustments, but I do believe there's a real potential benefit for both 2014 and beyond if you can stack the rotations at your top three levels the way I described above. In that scenario, guys are not going to be able to move up unless they show results better than their sturdy rotation competition,and that's how you assemble real pitching depth, not just a pile of warm bodies ready to be thrown to the wolves when you have to dip into your reserves.

Last year, the top five starting pitchers on each team across baseball averaged 129 starts per club, meaning that every team should account for having to plug in at least their number six option for a minimum of 33 starts, and in the Rockies case, it should probably be 40 considering where they play. It's very, very important that guys like Pomeranz, Lyles, Bettis and Friedrich go into March seen as depth for those 40 starts and not as guarantees for the top end three quarter starts. If they earn their way onto the roster, that's fine - Actually, that's ideal, but please make them earn it Rockies.

Pitching depth is not having these guys penciled in at the bottom of your 25 man roster entering spring training, pitching depth is having these guys projected as the actual depth once somebody hits the DL. Otherwise, you burn through them real fast and end up with guys like Jeff Manship starting games in the second half of the season.

I think this team is going to get that solid bullpen arm, maybe even this week, but they really, really need that one more passable starter, not just for early 2014, but to really cement their shot at strong pitching depth for the back half of the season.

Links

Patrick Saunders talks about how the Rockies still hope to add some more players.

Roy Halladay has signed a one day contract with the Blue Jays and announced his retirement. It's a sad and abrupt ending to a brilliant career, but when the velocity did not come back following injury last season season the writing was on the wall. It's just amazing how you never know in baseball. At the start of the 2012 season, Halladay was coming off a four year stretch in which he compiled 30.3 rWAR and had 65.6 career rWAR. Now, he's retiring still stuck on that 65.6 number. While he still has a strong case for the Hall of Fame, Cooperstown seems less of a guarantee than it did two years ago.

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