Rock mining week 15: Room for improvement?

Justin Edmonds

How can the Rockies get better in 2015?

With this season pretty much over by the All-Star break for the Colorado Rockies, I started wondering how the team could get better for 2015. I started looking at the lineup and realized that, when healthy, there is not a whole lot of room for improvement. As to pitching, there is obviously room for improvement, but the 'when healthy' thing applies to the rotation as well. For that reason I decided to look at the Rockies position by position today and see what is good and what can be improved.

Catcher

This is perhaps the greatest area of need for the Rockies and one of their strongest areas of depth in the minors. However, the help in the minors is all still two plus years away in my opinion. Many have felt that Wilin Rosario's glove was going to push him out of the position but it is his bat that has been even more disappointing this year. Recovering from an illness that may have sapped his power hasn't helped, but his AVG, OBP, and SLG are all at three year lows. His WRC+ is at 80 when his previous full season low for the Rockies was 107. Could he bounce back to his 2012-2013 norms next year? Maybe, but it is much more likely that pitchers have finally learned not to throw him fastballs and that the stress of catching is wearing him down as a hitter. His best bet may be to be a bench bat and backup catcher.

The problem for the Rockies is that there is not going to be a great option out there to replace him.  Unlike last off-season when several key catchers were available, the free agents this fall include only two of the twenty two players ahead of Wilin Rosario in fWAR.  Both of them are over thirty years of age and are having career years right before they become free agents.  Here is a comparison.

Name Age OPS WRC+ fWAR
Russell Martin 31 .815 138 2.4
Kurt Suzuki 30 .762 115 1.4
Wilin Rosario 25 .709 80 0.3
A.J. Pierzynski 37 .634 69 0.0

I threw A.J. Pierzynski in there as well since he is the next closest free agent to Wilin.  Geovany Soto is another option but he is on the 60 day disabled list and is also over thirty.

First Base

I would have never counted on Justin Morneau to give the Rockies the season he is providing in 2014. If Michael Cuddyer was still healthy to platoon with him, it is likely Morneau's numbers would be even better. With Justin signed through 2015 and the free agent market littered with old, overpriced veterans, the Rockies would do well to stay with what they have and look to continuing to develop Kyle Parker and Ben Paulsen as cheaper, future alternatives.

Now, Morneau is only 13th on the list of MLB qualified first baseman in WAR for the year, but the free agent market is going to be mostly glorified designated hitters like David Ortiz, Paul Konerko, and Adam Dunn. There are actually no free agent first basemen that I would take over Justin Morneau when price is considered with Adam LaRoche maybe being the lone exception because he always seems to kill us. Here is a list of who may be available in the off-season if the Rockies trade Morneau away: Billy Butler, Adam Dunn, Corey Hart, Paul Konerko, Adam LaRoche, Adam Lind, Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, Carlos Pena, Kevin Youkilis.

Second Base

DJ LeMahieu's glove covers up for a lot of his weaknesses at the plate and having to bat eighth most of the time has not helped this 25-year old develop batting skills. However, he has not done well when moved up in the order to the number two spot and only the prospect of his bat getting better over the next couple of years keeps me from wanting him replaced this off-season. Second base is where you traditionally get a contact guy that has some speed but the Rockies are getting neither of those from their defensive stalwart at the position the last two years.

The problem is that most of the good/rich teams have realized that second base is a place where they can pay to be better than the competition and there is not much available this coming off-season. Emilio Bonifacio is a glove man like D.J., the Brewers have an option on Rickie Weeks, while Mark Ellis and Nick Punto are both old and getting worse. This is a position that the Rockies need to have their minor league system fill with an offensive tool to make the lineup more dangerous from top to bottom. There are some intriguing possibilities but no one likely to help for another year or two.

Shortstop and Third Base

Nothing to be said here. Troy Tulowitzki is the best player at his position and maybe overall this year. Two or three more years like this and the Hall of Fame will beckon at the end of his career. Nolan Arenado has the glove and bat to be the Rockies third baseman until he retires are the team can no longer afford him.

Outfield

Despite only playing in 69 games, Corey Dickerson is sixth in fWAR of all left fielders. I fully expect Carlos Gonzalez will return to form now that he doesn't have a tumor in his hand. He should quickly take over ownership of right field. Michael Cuddyer, an impending free agent, picked the wrong time to get hurt if he was looking to maximize his value after winning the batting title last year. He is a player that the Rockies' leadership loves, but would find it difficult to find a place on this roster next year.

Charlie Blackmon smoked the first month of the season but has slowed a bit since then. He is an exciting player but I don't know if he is the center fielder the team needs. I am not convinced that it is Drew Stubbs or Brandon Barnes either. There are players with better bats than Charlie and a lot of players that play better defense. However, a normal outfield of Dickerson, Blackmon, and Cargo with right-handers like Stubbs, Barnes, and eventually Parker if he is not at first would be a pretty decent group of hitters.

Overall

As far as the starting eight position players, this team really does not have much room for actual improvement based on what is available on the open market. Trades are an option I did not look at and would be the best way to shore up catcher and possibly either center field or second base. The team should look at any offer for Justin Morneau as the trade deadline looms but they need to have a plan to replace him. The Rockies also need to look into have bench bats that can substitute for starters when needed. This year the team had good bats on the bench but they were all outfielders and Walt Weiss did not have any real options to spell/replace Nolan Arenado and Troy Tulowitzki. Next week I will look at the pitchers as this has gotten a bit long already.

This Weeks G, B, and U:

The Good-A series win and a winning streak! The team actually won three in a row and a home series for the first time in two months. The also won a game (actually two) in which Jorge De La Rosa wasn't the starter for the first time in forever.

The Bad-Despite outhitting the Twins and mostly out-pitching them through the first six innings, the Rockies couldn't score many runs in yesterday's loss. This is what bad teams do and the Rockies showed why they are still a bad team

The Ugly-Fielding practice should be mandatory today. A main culprit in yesterday's loss was that the Rockies were not sound defensively. I expect to see what we saw yesterday at a minor league game, major league players need to be better than that.

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