In this article, I will be talking about where I think the team stands heading into this offseason. But first, a quick recap of where the team stands right now.
- The Rockies chose to outright Manny Corpas, Jeff Manship and Edwar Cabrera during October Outrights. Corpas and Manship cleared waivers and elected free agency, while Cabrera was claimed by the Rangers.
- Todd Helton, Rafael Betancourt, Yorvit Torrealba, Jeff Francis and Roy Oswalt qualify as MLB Free Agency (Article XX(B)). None are expected to receive qualifying offers.
- The Rockies have until the end of the quiet period to formalize their decision on Matt Belisle's contract option, however a decision is likely to come before the end of the day Friday.
- The 40-man Roster currently sits at 32 players filling 31 spots, with Christian Friedrich needing to be activated from the 60-day DL sometime before Monday. This gives the Rockies plenty of space to sign free agents, claim players on waivers as well as protect upcoming Rule 5 eligibles at the reserves deadline on November 20th. To see a list of all eligible Rule 5 players, check out my last article. (Since then, the Rockies have signed Leuris Gomez to a MiLB deal for next year, and will be on the list too; I have also confirmed that Josh Sullivan will indeed be returning to the Rockies in 2014)
Looking back to the Rockies' recent history, 2013 represented a great deal of importance for helping us to understand where the team is best going from here. The Rockies chose to use the 2011/12 offseason as a selling year, a decision I agreed with. Our core wasn't strong enough to sustain that particular generation of talent as it reached late-arbitration age. the Rockies blew up the team, starting with Ubaldo Jimenez ad the trade deadline and moving into Seth Smith, Chris Iannetta and Ian Stewart in the offseason. 2012 was to be the year we answered the question "did we acquire the right guys to assemble our next core?"
Unfortunately for everyone, then 2012 actually happened. One of the most anomalous years in Rockies history, with factors both in and out of their control going haywire, the Rockies left their least successful season in history with answers to essentially zero of the questions they needed to answer. With little choice other than selling low on everyone again, the Rockies wisely stood pat this offseason and entered 2013 hoping that it would offer some level of insight into the team's near future. Thankfully, it did, and surprisingly to many, some of the news was actually really, really good.
The Good News
1. The team's offense core is good. Possibly really good.
We've known for some years now that Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, currently both playing in their peak, is a really good starting point for contending. 2013 saw Dexter Fowler once again show the capacity for immense productivity, though his consistency is still a mystery. Michael Cuddyer changed a lot of minds on the contract he'd signed a year earlier. Wilin Rosario avoided a sophomore slump, improving significantly both offensively and defensively. Nolan Arenado didn't provide the ROY-type campaign many fans hoped for, but he showed no reason to believe he wasn't about to start a net-positive career as the Rockies' first decent production at third base since Garrett Atkins was good.
2. Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa's unusual injury complications didn't sap their talent.
The biggest worry, at least for me, after leaving 2012 was that the Rockies would have lost their two best pitching talents to freak injuries. Both players ended up rebounding leagues better than expected by most, and can be seen as a reasonable top-of-the-rotation tandem for 2014.
3. The Rockies finally found a success story in the Acquire All the Young Arms project in Tyler Chatwood.
While I am still dubious about Chatwood's status as a reliable #3 starter on a contending team, this is still a piece of good news.
4. While Rafael Betancourt's age finally caught up with him, Rex Brothers (arguably the Rockies most purely successful talent development story of the past three seasons) is ready to take on the closer's job full time.
I've never been an advocate of the "closer" as a specified role in a team's bullpen, but I find Brothers' role as part of the upcoming team's core to be incredibly undervalued by many. While it's hard to justify the significance one member of the bullpen has on an entire season of major league baseball as being worthy of a team's MVP, Brothers' name deserves to be in the conversation among the most important players moving forward.
After that, we need to look at the negatives. And yes, there are a'plenty.
The Bad News
1. The Rockies have a serious 'staying healthy' problem.
Not exactly a news flash, but every year as we hope that the injury bug will leave us alone, it returns with similarly staggering force. While there are dozens of potential causes, ranging from poor training philosophies to poor decisions on the part of the players, this is enough of a pattern to emphasize that this problem isn't going to go away as a result of just hoping for regression. This is a problem with no easy fix, which means the Rockies need to take steps to alleviate this constraint in our contention potential.
2. The Rockies have absolutely no supporting cast.
A good core isn't enough when baseball is such a team effort. While contenders are successful with mid-low tier players all the time, the key is that those players still provide production in the role that is asked of them. While not every team needs to be a team of superstars, patching weaknesses requires a certain care when assessing what players belong doing what tasks (especially when your core, good as it may be on paper, can't be expected to be out there every day like ours). This year, the Rockies bench and back of the rotation placed serious hindrances on our production.
Players like Juan Nicasio, Drew Pomeranz and Chad Bettis offer some degree of potential stability if they take steps forward to solidify themselves, alleviating some of the rotation pain. Another more reliable starter would be a good thing to look into regardless, obviously. On the other hand, the Rockies bench needs a complete overhaul, especially if we expect another season of on-and-off injury concern, which there's no reason not to. This leads to negative #3...
3. The Rockies need to completely redefine what "depth" means to them.
The Rockies have prided themselves on their depth of late, largely because that depth consists of a slough of fringy prospects (current or former). Players like Charlie Culberson or Ryan Wheeler may indeed represent young, versatile talent in a vacuum when compared to more traditional bench bats in the middle of their careers with no real shot at ever being anything more. Regardless, once-high upside potential does not a valuable player make.
Most of the Rockies' bench this year consisted of a strange variety of former prospects with nowhere else to go and position-less players converted into utility options on a whim in their recent career stages. If 2013's bench taught us anything, this is an absolutely terrible way to construct a bench. For example, while a Culberson type might still one day amount to something, a guy like Xavier Nady closer to the twilight of his career would almost certainly have represented a better option top be logging outfield innings and pinch hitting. The Rockies need to re-define how they amass their depth. To put it simply, the Rockies need to stop assuming that guys like Josh Rutledge would make really good bench options because one day they could be even better. Instead, focus on constructing depth using players that have either more experience in a supporting role or at least qualify as actual utilitymen by trade rather than by necessity.
A lot of people continue to fall victim to the "good team = buy, bad team = sell" paradigm that continues to plague roster construction analysis. This is a terrible time for the Rockies to sell a perfectly viable core just because it hasn't been putting up winning seasons yet. If the Rockies put together a more stable team in 2014 and still lose, I might be in a totally different place next offseason. For now, it's pretty clear that the Rockies aren't nearly as far away from potential success, and it really shouldn't be all that difficult to build a 2014 with more safeguards.
The Rockies have a long shopping list, but the pricetag can be cheap. We need to shore up our weak points, which are a little bit of everywhere (bench, back of the rotation, setup relief, in addition to finding the right fit to take over at first base or right field), but the heavy leg work is done. We're not talking about a team in need of a whole new core or a core at all. It isn't the right time to abandon this particular generation of talent.
Our writers have been offering looks at several potential free agent and trade acquisitions that could make a significantly improved supporting cast a reality. Keep an eye open for that content.