Members of the 2011 FA market are dropping like flies. On Sunday, Javier Vazquez signed a 1-year contract in the $6-$7M range with the Florda Marlins. On Saturday, Jon Garland turned down potentially more lucrative contracts with the Rockies and Padres for a 1 year deal with the Dodgers, worth $5M with an $8M option on 2012 (which vests after 190 innings, which Garland should have little trouble meeting - it's more for injury insurance). Kuroda was the final person on the Rockies' wish list for starting pitching, and that ship sailed 2 weeks back.
There aren't an awful lot of good, feasible candidates left on the free agent market, either. We'll just glance at the list of remaining FA candidates later today.
Here's the fun fact that Rockies fans are going to have to deal with: To solidify this rotation for 2011, Colorado is going to have to lose prospects. None of the rotation candidates are MLB ready. Either we trade members of the farm, or we lose picks in the 2011 draft. James Shields or Matt Garza (for example) are going to require not only members of the Rockies MLB club but also members of the various minor league affiliates. The Rays aren't going to take Delta Cleary and Keith Weiser and call it a trade, it's going to cost Colorado one of the tops.
Part of having a farm system is being able to bring young, cost-controlled players to the majors and bolster the existing roster. The other part of having a farm system is to trade said prospects for other MLB players when the farm isn't available to feed the MLB team.
I don't mean to dehumanize the farm, as the Rockies organization is very protective and strongly tied to their prospects. But the fact is that a farm system is another form of baseball currency. Players have a certain value, sometimes in the form of MLB production to one's club, or in the form of another player's MLB production in trade. Between the farm and actual monetary finances, a club needs to find the best way to maximize that value while driving the team to the most possible success. Overvaluing one over the other is sure to lead to a team collapsing in one fashion or another: Either they never escape the clutches of mediocrity or they mortgage their future for a short window of success.
More past the jump.
Take the Twins for example. Since Ron Gardenhire took the reins as manager (arbitrary endpoint), the Twins have made the postseason 6 times (winning their division each time with an average of 92 wins) and missed 3 times (averaging 83 wins). Minnesota has also been praised for running a club that's founded on the draft and internal growth etc etc etc. 2010 was the first time in that same timeframe that the club's payroll topped $90M, and the 2nd time it topped $70M.
There's a good chance that Colorado is hitting Minnesota's 2006-on stride. Minnesota is/was trotting out the best player in baseball at a premium position, Joe Mauer. Colorado is trotting out the best player at a more different premium position, in Troy Tulowitzki. Minnesota has another big bat right behind Mauer as well, in Justin Morneau. Colorado has another big bat right (next to) Tulo, in Carlos Gonzalez. Rather than tapdance through the entire Twins/Rockies rosters, I'll cut to the chase. Jason Kubel, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young - they've all stepped up in their careers to provide complementary bats to Mauer and Morneau.
This isn't to say that Minnesota has a lineup just full of non-All-Star-but-still-solid bats. All of the aforementioned supplementary bats have had their highs and lows during their careers. Up until this season, Delmon Young has been waiting to break out (while still providing some acceptable value) and Nick Punto has been simply yell-at-the-television bad at the plate. Despite their respective draft caliber, Dexter Fowler's role with Colorado isn't that much different than Young's. Colorado trotting out Clint Barmes every day was just about as bad as the Twins with Punto.
The point of this all is that the Twins run a very similar ship to the Rockies. The main difference is the way that they plug holes. If you look at the Twins' 2010 roster, you'll see that a lot of their pieces have indeed come via trade or FA. Jim Thome, for example, was a FA signing. Delmon Young was part of a blockbuster trade that many, including myself, would still say that the Twins lost. Orlando Hudson was a FA signing, JJ Hardy was traded for. Carl Pavano was a trade/FA signing (as they resigned him for 2010), Matt Guerrier and Jon Rauch were both traded for.
It's clear that the Twins aren't afraid to make moves. They're willing to move the value from their farm for immediate MLB value. They aren't always the best moves, but the team sees their weaknesses and acts on them. Colorado clearly doesn't sit completely idly by, as Rafael Betancourt, Jason Hammel, Miguel Olivo, and Melvin Mora were all parts of trades and FA signings. The difference between the two teams is that Colorado seems to wait until the last minute to see what meat can be picked from the bones, while Minnesota strikes earlier and gets themselves a nice drumstick. Granted, they don't go and fight for the chicken breast, but they still manage to get themselves a solid piece of meat rather than squabbling over the gizzards.
I fear that the team consistently overvalues their own internal candidates for open positions. 2008, Jayson Nix was supposed to be the one to get the job done. 2009, Clint Barmes was the guy (and granted, his play in 2008 sort of earned him the job), but 2010 it was evident that the Rockies needed a better 2B. Kelly Johnson was completely available, and Colorado missed the boat on him - a very reasonable boat as well ($2.35M). Orlando Hudson was available, and while he was more expensive ($5M), he would have fit the bill at 2B far better than the players thrown out there in 2010.
The Rockies are very wise in being hesitant to sell the farm. They've operated shrewdly more often than not, and in a lot of cases, it's paid off. Sometimes, though, being overly shrewd leaves a franchise holding the bag while other clubs run off with the postseason glory. While it's clear that the FA market is running dry, outside of the superstars, this is a time where Colorado needs to address its needs deliberately and not hope that another reclamation case rolls into town.