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Ace in the hole?

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The Rockies lack of starting pitching has been well documented. It's time to get over the Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle disaster and make a splash in free agency. Or the scary alternative? Trading away star talent.

The Rockies hopes this season lie heavily on the arm of Jhoulys Chacin
The Rockies hopes this season lie heavily on the arm of Jhoulys Chacin
Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

As the pitching staff continues to take shape for the Rockies, there seems to be a glaring and obvious piece missing: an ace.

The Rockies in their history have never really had a clear cut ace, save for the Ubaldo Jimenez of 2010. Pitchers like Armando Reynoso, Kevin Ritz, Daryl Kile, Mike Hampton, Jason Jennings, and Aaron Cook have all tried and have all failed.

Of course, some of them either had success before they got to Colorado or after they left. A small amount had a limited amount of success in a Colorado uniform. In fact, the Rockies have never had a 20 game winner and it wasn't until Ubaldo won 19 that they even came close. Wins aren't the only way to define an ace, but the Rockies haven't exactly had a Felix Hernandez type of pitcher whose peripherals are so dominating that he wins a Cy Young despite only going 13-12 either.

When you look at the successful teams across the board in baseball, what do many of them have in common? Good to great starting pitching. It's time for the Rockies to take a chance on another starting pitcher. Ever since the Mike Hampton/Denny Neagle fiasco in 2000 the Rockies have been adamant about not spending money on high priced free agent pitching and building from within the organization instead. This philosophy change was understandable and probably warranted at the time.

We are now entering the 2013 season and 2000 is a distant memory. The Rockies have not made a bold move for a pitcher since; instead, they have attempted to build from within. The problem is that the interior development program has not produced the talent the organization had hoped for. There are a few bright spots here and there, Ubaldo and potentially Jhoulys Chacin are some of the names that jump out to me. But for every pitcher that semi-worked out there seemed to be a far greater amount that did not. Think Chin-hui Tsao, Jason Jennings, and Shawn Chacon to name a few.

It's time for the Rockies brass to realize that the past is the past. In order for the Rockies to improve they need to be willing to spend money on pitching. They are a mid-market team and they obviously don't have heaps of money lying around to spend on pitching, but something has to be done. The formula for success might have to involve tough decisions such as trading away a superstar for pitching or letting certain guys go instead of re-upping their contracts in order to have money to spend on pitching.

The problem is two-fold in attracting free agent pitchers. One is obviously the money. Good starting pitching is expensive and the Rockies aren't the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, or Red Sox, not by a long shot. The second problem is that free agent pitchers often don't want to come here because they don't want to see their numbers inflate and lose out on the chance to sign the next big deal after leaving here.

Of course one way to solve that problem is by having a winning organization, because ultimately pitchers would be attracted to Coors if the Rockies were a constant winner. But until a winning organization can be established the front office has to have a change of heart when it comes to signing free agent pitching. I'm not delusional and saying that the Rockies can magically be in the market for high priced free agent pitchers every year, but they do have the means to make a splash occasionally.

So the way I see it is this. Either the Rockies front office changes their philosophy and takes another free agent risk on starting pitching or the Rockies must trade away talented position players for pitchers. As a mid-market team the means to surviving in baseball involves many difficult decisions and they aren't guaranteed to pan out, but in my opinion something has to change because the Rockies just aren't developing pitchers like they need to in order to have success.

Trading away Troy Tulowitzki in his prime is a sentence I don't even like to type, but could it be the only way the Rockies can get the pitching they need? The same goes for Carlos Gonzalez. I don't want to see either of those guys traded and I want the Rockies to succeed with them. The stark reality is that trading them might be the most likely scenario in which the Rockies can solve their pitching problems in the short run.

In the long run the Rockies have some promising prospects, but given their history of developing prospects it makes me nervous to rely completely on that. If the Rockies choose to continue developing pitching from within and only offering lower priced free agents contracts there is still hope. In 2009 the Rockies saw all 5 starting pitchers win at least 10 games and that was enough for a playoff berth. But counting on that to happen consistently will likely leave the Rockies out of the playoff hunt on a regular basis.