Bryan Kilpatrick argued yesterday in this space that the Rockies shouldn't make a major move to improve their club this year, making the argument that Colorado simply isn't built to contend this year. Coming into the season, I agreed with him, pegging this vintage of the Rockies for 75 wins. Since then, the Rockies have outstripped my expectations for where they would be at the half-way pole and are playing in an eminently winnable division.
While I don't disagree with the spirit of Bryan's argument (the Rockies have quite a few deficiencies that are too difficult to fix), I think that there's some wiggle room here for Colorado. I'll stop short of saying that the Rockies need to make a move at the trade deadline, but Colorado does have some fixable holes on their roster that can be addressed one way or another:
Improve the offensive depth
Believe it or not, I'm more concerned about the Rockies offense than I am about their pitching. RhodeIslandRoxFan's Monday Rockpile did a great job of showing that, while Colorado's big four of Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, and Dexter Fowler is as good as any foursome in the league, the rest of Colorado has been below average offensively. The bench infielders in particular have been abysmal at providing depth, with Jordan Pacheco being the most culpable in my eyes.
Pacheco is a 27 year-old one-tool player whose ability to hit for average just hasn't been there this year. Pacheco's offensive skillset really only makes sense on the roster if he were playing catcher with regularity, but most of his plate appearances have come by virtue of playing first base (and the two catchers ahead of him have been fine). It just doesn't make sense to keep a .248/.286/.333 (AVG/OBP/SLG) hitter with little defensive utility on the MLB roster when Michael Cuddyer (who is a tough guy), Tyler Colvin, or Corey Dickerson could man the position while giving the team outfield flexibility (though Colvin has struggled thus far).
When Tulo returns from his injury (if not sooner), Colorado should send Pacheco down to AAA and have him play catcher on a regular basis to be prepared to fulfill that role should an injury arise. Meanwhile, Colorado is better off having five outfielders (including some nice power off the bench), maybe switching out Colvin for Charlie Blackmon, with a couple of players in DJ LeMahieu and Josh Rutledge who can cover 2B/SS/3B if need be.
Rutledge is an interesting case to me as well - he's been a net negative to the Rockies with his play this year, but he's the kind of young player you can dream on given his speed and power. Personally, I prefer him to Jonathan Herrera on the roster, but I think both belong over Pacheco. Tulo returning from injury will obviously give the team a boost, as will the improvement of Wilin Rosario, Nolan Arenado, and LeMahieu.
Still, if Colorado wanted to make a more serious move for some offense, they might be well served in doing so. Dave Cameron has a list of potential trade targets sorted by production this year.
Colorado has a plethora of outfielders in the higher levels who profile as reserves in the big leagues - why not package one or two of them with maybe a bottom half PuRP to a team that really needs them (like the Mets) and get a reliable infield bat like Daniel Murphy, a player with two-plus years of team control remaining? It's the kind of low cost rental that will improve Colorado's offense by getting another major league hitter in the lineup on a regular basis. Kevin Frandsen on the Phillies might be worth a look as well.
Shore up the bullpen
Colorado's strategy of adhering pretty closely to a 100 pitch limit for their starters has the effect of putting a lot more responsibility on the shoulders of their bullpen. The Rockies bullpen is 3rd in MLB in innings pitched, and while Rafael Betancourt's return from injury will help, it wouldn't hurt to add in another reliable relief arm into the picture at the cost of a back-end PuRP (like the Rockies did when they traded PuRP 15 Connor Graham for Betancourt back in 2009).
Here's a list of the relief arms that should be available for Colorado - and a number of the non-closers would make nice additions to the bullpen at what should be a pretty reasonable rate.
Starting pitching - stand pat
In terms of starting pitching, I agree with Bryan in saying that Colorado shouldn't pursue it at the deadline. The kind of pitcher that would markedly improve the rotation is a clear 2/3 starter type, and those guys are going to be more expensive than the production they will give you at the deadline. I'm fine with rolling the dice with this rotation (maybe swapping Juan Nicasio for Drew Pomeranz). In case you were wondering, here's what NL West trade target Ricky Nolasco brings to the table per Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs.
Colorado's got a decent opportunity to win their first NL West title this year with the personnel they have on board right now. So while I agree with Bryan that this team probably isn't built to contend (and shouldn't do anything too rash), that doesn't mean the Rockies can't improve their roster during this year with an eye toward maximizing that chance while not mortgaging the future.