The last month of the season will once again work as a foreword to next year, with the Rockies drifting ever further out of contention as we speak. This last month has shown that there is still a gap to be bridged between our team and the rest of the division, and in order to make the next leap changes will have to be made.
First, let's look at the key questions heading into 2006, those that arose last season by this time, and see if any of them have been answered, and if not, I'll put up the questions that are beginning to form regarding 2007:
Who's going to be the fourth and fifth starter, and how does the rotation shape up?
At this point last season most Rockies fans figured our top three of Jennings, Cook and Francis to remain in place, with BK being a question mark and then the big concern in the fifth starter position with Sunny Kim and Zach Day being the leading contenders. The offseason addition of Josh Fogg went a long way to answering that, and after BK returned to the rotation in late April, the combined unit would turn out to be surprisingly solid.
Problem solved for 2007? Hardly, BK and Jennings have team options that have yet to be picked up, and Fogg is once again a free agent. The good news is our in house replacement options of Ubaldo Jimenez, Denny Bautista and Juan Morillo are of a much higher caliber than we had last season, and any changes to the rotation could be seen as another big step forward rather than just treading water one more season. If we go into 2007 with the same rotation as we have now, then the trading deadline in July could become very interesting as we seek to make room for the new talent.
What about behind the plate?
Catcher seemed to be the team's biggest positional need heading into 2006, as neither Danny Ardoin or JD Closser proved to be everything we needed at the position. Dan O'Dowd sent promising reliever and Rule 5 pick, Marcos Carvajal to Seattle to acquire Yorvit Torrealba. A move that has gotten better as the season has gone along. It appears now that had Yorvit not got injured in the Spring, the Rockies could have had a significant edge in the division in the early months. The other key developments at this position were Chris Iannetta's continued mercurial ascent to the Big Leagues, and lest I forget, JD Closser's rebound from an awful 2005.
Problem solved? Yes. The Rockies now apparently will have three fairly solid options at backstop for 2007, with Torrealba being the lead, Iannetta and Closser the students. Should no injuries arise in the early going, we should have another valuable trading chip for the July deadline in one of these three catchers.
Is Gen-R for real?
The key question marks were with Cory Sullivan, Brad Hawpe and Clint Barmes, and I guess you could throw Luis A Gonzalez into that mix as well. The answers were mixed. Barmes and Luis A had no bat and pretty solid gloves, Hawpe and Sullivan were inconsistent with both, but showed much more promise at the plate. Key developments for these positions were the offseason addition of Jamey Carroll from the Nationals for some cash, the emergence of Troy Tulowitzki at AA Tulsa and the midseason trade of Eli Marrero for Kaz Matsui.
Problem solved for 2007? As far as Hawpe and Sullivan are concerned, the jury is still out and the same question (of whether they are for real) will stretch into 2007. They both had decent years all told, albeit unspectacular and both had brutal stretches that made us question their legitimacy once again. There are a lot of in house options to push Hawpe, not so many for Sullivan, which leads to speculation about an off-season centerfield acquisition. Matt Holliday is entrenched in the "Yes, he's for real" column, as is Garrett Atkins, but that won't stop the Ian Stewart question from arising. As far as shortstop, I think we might be able to annoint Tulo the heir soon, and as far as second, we come to a key question that's developing for the offseason: of whether we retain Kaz or Carroll or both. Wow, a lot of questions to be worked out there, still.
What are we going to do with Ryan Shealy?
Ahh, remember those days when we wondered that? Problem solved. We trade him at the deadline in July along with Scott Dohmann for Denny Bautista and Jeremy Affeldt. Okay, but wait. Now we're stuck with Todd Helton, who's clearly declining in his production. I noticed the other day that Helton has hit exactly one opposite field homerun all season. When was the last time that happened? Anyway, we also have one Joe Koshansky who you would think would be in the same boat as Shealy, but I'm thinking otherwise. I think the question we have to be asking at this point is "What are we going to do with Todd?" and this one should prove to be very very tricky indeed.
Alright, that's a start. It doesn't really address the bullpen or the bench, but I figure we can go over those if you like in the comments. So, how will September help us answer any of these? I think that we have to watch those players where questions are forming around already. Mainly, who's going to get a step up in the second base battle, how is Tulo adjusting, and what the deal is with Hawpe and Sullivan. I think we will also see a glimpse of next season's bullpen/rotation mix with the call-ups of U-ball, Hampson and Field.