Looking around the fan sounding board pages, I can tell I'm Little Miss Sunshine when it comes to optimism for this club. I liked that we picked up JJ's option, I liked that we re-signed Kaz Matsui, I don't like that we're looking into Darin Erstad, but really who would, so that's not saying that much is it. While I'm on the whole still optimistic gains can be made next season, it seems there are a lot of people jumping ship prematurely on the 2007 prospects of this team, and in at least one case, the 2008 team as well.
In most of these cases there are a number of factors cited, but most come down to the fact that the Rockies aren't spending money to improve the players on the field (oddly most of these people also agree that the only players worth spending any money on will be vastly overpriced by this weak FA market). Here's where my optimism comes in. Since they were eliminated from contention for the playoffs (realistically, right around our disastrous road trip to New York and Milwaukee in August) the Rockies have done more to improve their chances in 2007 than any club in the division with the possible exception of the Diamondbacks.
Let's go position by position within the division to show how this is trueand how thus far, there's been no separation between teams and if anything there's been a closing of the talent gap:
2006 (with OPS +)
Arizona: Johnny Estrada 91, Chris Snyder 92
Colorado: Danny Ardoin 30, Yorvit Torrealba 80, JD Closser 50, Chris Iannetta 90
Los Angeles: Russell Martin 101, Dioner Navarro 94, Sandy Alomar 80
San Diego: Mike Piazza 120, Josh Bard 147
San Francisco: Eliezer Alfonzo 93, Mike Matheny 57, Todd Greene 94
2007 (with expected improvement)
Arizona: Miguel Montero, Snyder (+)
Colorado: Iannetta, Torrealba, Colina (++)
Los Angeles: Martin, Cody Ross? (even)
San Diego: Bard, ?? (-)
San Francisco: Alfonzo, Matheny (even to -)
There's no way Colorado can get any worse on this position, even without a healthy Yorvit, and already we have a significant upgrade in Iannetta. If Torrealba's injury is serious enough to hold him out, Rod Barajas would be a great pick up and should be a relative bargain even in this FA market. Martin should improve in his second season, but without a quality back-up like Navarro around, the overall effect on the Dodgers' should be neutral. The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, should get a slight upgrade with a full season of Montero backed by Snyder, but since Miguel's a rookie without much MLB experience, that's not at all a certain call and a step back seems more possible to me than it does with the Dodgers and Rockies' young catchers. San Diego likely loses Piazza, and Bard overplayed his ability last season. I don't see how they can count on the same production. San Fran's irrelevant.
Arizona: Conor Jackson 101, Tony Clark 59
Colorado: Todd Helton 119, Eli Marrero 101
Los Angeles: Nomar Garciaparra 120, James Loney 124
San Diego: Adrian Gonzalez 125
San Francisco: Shea Hillenbrand 74, Lance Niekro 71, Mark Sweeney 83
Arizona: Jackson (++)
Colorado: Helton (even to +)
Los Angeles: Loney (+)
San Diego: Gonzalez (even to -)
San Francisco: (+ to ++)
I don't see how the Giants could get much worse, regardless of who ends up there. Note the youth movement within the division here, with Helton being the elder statesman. I think given that the first half of his season was written off due to his intestinal troubles, I'm going to cautiously look for a rebound, particularly since Baker should be able to provide a better bat as his substitute. I don't know if Adrian Gonzalez is as good as his season last year made him out to be, despite his high draft status. The other two, loney and Jackson, appear to be legit.
Arizona: Orlando Hudson 100
Colorado: Jamey Carroll 96, Luis Gonzalez 55, Kazuo Matsui 122
Los Angeles: Jeff Kent 118, Ramon Martinez 79
San Diego: Josh Barfield 94, Todd Walker 108
San Francisco: Ray Durham 127, Kevin Frandsen 57
Arizona: Hudson (even to +)
Colorado: Carroll and Matsui (- to ++)
Los Angeles: Kent and Martinez (- to +)
San Diego: ???
San Francisco: ???
Durham and Kent are superb, but into their declines. That said, I could see Kent improving with a healthy season, but the Dodgers didn't inspire much confidence when they re-signed Martinez to once again be his back-up. The sort of lackluster moves the Rockies have been making are right in line with what's going on in the division. I've already made my position on Carroll and Kaz felt, they could go either way this year, but there's an outside chance of big improvement with Matsui. Kevin Towers opened up a hole in his lineup with the Cleveland trade last week, they'll want to fill it quickly before they end up with some pretty ugly table scraps. San Fran is apparently trying to re-sign Durham, who would be hard pressed to duplicate last season at his age.
Arizona: Craig Counsell 69, Stephen Drew 115
Colorado: Clint Barmes 48, Troy Tulowitzki 54
Los Angeles: Rafael Furcal 107
San Diego: Khalil Greene 96, Geoff Blum 73
San Francisco: Omar Vizquel 93
Arizona: Drew (++)
Colorado: Tulo? (+)
Los Angeles: Furcal (even)
San Diego: Greene (even to +)
San Francisco: Vizquel (-)
Even if Tulowitzki proves unready next Spring, I have a feeling that the disaster that was Clint Barmes' 2006 won't be repeated. While he's not as good as he looked at the beginning of 2005, he's not as bad as he looked last season. I'm hoping that point's moot though and Tulo wins the job. Drew should become the class of the division next season, and probably be neck and neck with Reyes for best in the NL so expect a major jump for AZ's production since they don't have to deal with a half a year of Counsell. I anticipate one more year of seasoning before Tulo gets to that Drew/Reyes level. Furcal's good, a full year of healthy Khalil should help the Padres, and the Giants will try to squeeze one more good year out of Vizquel.
Arizona: Chad Tracy 96
Colorado: Garrett Atkins 138
Los Angeles: Wilson Betemit 84, Bill Mueller 93 etc...
San Diego: Vinny Castilla 53, Mark Bellhorn 64
San Francisco: Pedro Feliz 79
Arizona: Tracy (even to +)
Colorado: Atkins (even)
Los Angeles: ??
San Diego: Kevin Kouzmanoff (+)
San Francisco: Feliz (even)
Kouzmanoff is likely to be league average to slightly above, giving the Padres a nice upgrade on their pathetic 2006, however. Arizona's content with Tracy, who might have a little upside left, but after three seasons in the bigs and at 27, it's unlikely to be much. He and Atkins will be compared frequently given that they entered the league at the same time and thus far they have had some strikingly similar results. The +42 difference between Atkins' season OPS+ and Tracy's is very close to the +39 advantage Tracy had in 2005. It will be interesting to watch if 2007 shows a more clear separation between these two. Los Angeles and San Francisco are looking for what's just flat unavailable in regards to upgrades this off-season.
Arizona: Luis Gonzalez 97
Colorado: Matt Holliday 139
Los Angeles: Andre Ethier 113, Jose Cruz 88
San Diego: Dave Roberts 100, EY 57, Ben Johnson 99
San Francisco: Barry Bonds 156, Todd Linden 107
Arizona: Eric Byrnes (even)
Colorado: Holliday (even)
Los Angeles: Ethier (+)
San Diego: Johnson (even to +)
San Francisco: Whatever (--)
I'm assuming Byrnes slides over to left in AZ to make room in center for Chris Young. At any rate, Holliday will be the best LF in the division again next season. Ethier and Johnson aren't going to hit nearly as well as Matt, Bonds will take another slip down in productivity even if he is able to overtake Hank Aaron.
Arizona: Byrnes 95, Young 72
Colorado: Cory Sullivan 79, Choo Freeman 59, Spilborghs 90, Salazar 107
Los Angeles: Kenny Lofton 95, Jason Repko 84, Matt Kemp 84
San Diego: Mike Cameron 119, Johnson 99
San Francisco: Steve Finley 83, Randy Winn 84
Arizona: Young (even to +)
Colorado: Sullivan, et al (even to +)
Los Angeles: Kemp/Repko (even to +)
San Diego: Cameron (even)
San Francisco: ? Winn? (even)
As you can see, we're not the only ones who need help here, with only the D-backs and Padres entering into next season with any sort of stability. Even there, Cameron's unlikely to get any better than his fantastic 2006 and the Diamondbacks can't expect more than league average hitting from Chris Young as a 23 year old rookie. Both the Dodgers and Giants have talked to Gary Matthews' agent, but with the Angels and Cubs also in the bidding, the price range and length of contract is likely to keep him out of the division entirely. Who will they go with then? Juan Pierre? Really, we're not in that bad of shape right now.
Arizona: Sean Green 93, Carlos Quentin 114
Colorado: Brad Hawpe 122
Los Angeles: JD Drew 125
San Diego: Brian Giles 105
San Francisco: Winn 84, Moises Alou 132
Arizona: Quentin (++)
Colorado: Hawpe/Baker (+)
Los Angeles: ?Soriano? (even for now)
San Diego: Giles (even to +)
San Francisco: ?Alou? (-)
Los Angeles has about as many holes to fill on offense as San Francisco, and now that Drew has left town the situation has grown worse. With Hawpe+Baker there's no reason to think that the Rockies won't have the best RF in the division, or at least one that's level with Arizona's Quentin.
So with the lineup, even without changing a thing, I see us at least staying level with our best competition in the division in 2007. At this point San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles have to spend a lot just to keep up with the improvements the Diamondbacks and Rockies will get in house next season. If we were to pull off a trade for a centerfielder, great, if not, I'm not sweating yet. As far as the rotation, that's a slightly more tricky scenario, and I wish there was a sure fire cheap solution to upgrade the Kim/Fogg slots, we're probably going to have to look into that a little more closely, especially if we wind up dealing Jennings. Spending on a bullpen arm or two will be a big plus and allow us to keep the pace there. The bottom line is that it's way too premature to write-off this team's chances in 2007 just because you're worried we might end up signing Geronimo Gil and not getting Gary Matthews Jr., or signing Danny Kolb to the bullpen when you wanted Eric Gagne. Alright, so quit with the "small market small-mindedness" crap and actually take a look at how this team has grown out of that, okay?