As has been written so often in digital ink on this site this off-season, 2012 was almost completely a lost season for the Colorado Rockies. Injuries ravaged the organization top to bottom while very few players took a positive step forward, resulting in the worst record in franchise history.
The question we as Rockies fans are forced to ask is: have the Colorado Rockies really learned from the lessons taught by 2012? Or is this team really going to employ a similar strategy as last season with a slightly more successful result (say, 70-76 wins) due largely to improved health?
Coming into the 2012 season, the Rockies had a lot of young, talented, unproven pitchers jockeying for spots in the rotation, a couple of veteran scrap heap pitchers, and top pitchers with injury concerns. Michael Cuddyer was spreading his chemistry willy-nilly and Nolan Arenado was rumored to be the Opening Day third baseman. Sound familiar? Heck, there was even a DUI involved last year too.
Take the personnel that Colorado had going into the 2012 season - subtract Jamie Moyer, add Jon Garland, and maybe switch Venezuelan catchers and you're basically there. The pitching, barring similarly catastrophic injury luck, will be better with Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin pitching many more innings. The hitting will be assisted by a healthy Troy Tulowitzki and a productive Carlos Gonzalez.
Ultimately though, with average luck the Rockies are probably a team that will win slightly more games than Vegas thinks they will (71.5). Not that I won't be hoping for more, of course, but realistically that's my expectation for 2013.
It's how we get to the 70-76 win threshold that I truly find interesting. In my opinion Colorado will be balancing a need to put out a competitive product in 2013 with the needs of the 2014 team and beyond if they follow these steps:
1. Find out what we have in Colorado's myriad young starting options
That means giving the ball to players like Juan Nicasio, Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Chatwood, Christian Friedrich, and Edwar Cabrera (when he returns) - heck, maybe even Chris Volstad falls into that category. All of these pitchers have shown promise as potential MLB rotation pieces. Guess what? This season is a great time to sort the wheat from the chaff, to figure out which of these pitchers should be included in the planning for future teams.
Is there really that big of a gap between what those guys are going to give you and what you're getting from Jeff Francis and Jon Garland? It's one of the reasons I'm really not enthused by signing Garland to a major league deal in the least. Sure, he's cheap and he's been a very good starter in the past, but really where's the future value? Even if Garland pitches all of 2013 like he did in his All-Star 2005 campaign (extremely unlikely, though he pitched quite well last night), the Rockies are going to watch him walk at the end of the year, probably after a losing season.
Okay, maybe I'm overstating this a little bit. The Garland contract is actually structured pretty nicely so it really is a low risk move. The problem I really have with it is that it isn't a high reward type of move. Colorado should be rolling the dice a little more this year than usual.
Colorado's front office doesn't share my opinion on this (I mean, they're discussing offering Aaron Cook a minor league deal), so I'm just hoping for elite performances by the young guns in AAA that force the Rockies' hand to get some of them exposed to more big league hitting.
2. Make smart decisions with the assets Colorado does possess
This is going to sound like I'm contradicting myself from point #1, but a year of Nolan Arenado's control almost certainly relies on him staying in the minor leagues for just three weeks. Heck, I'm still not really convinced that he's our best option at third base right now. I definitely advocate bringing him up at mid-season and giving him a taste of the big leagues, but not before he's ready - especially when it's a smart financial decision as well.
In addition, Colorado actually does have some assets that other teams might want. Say what you will about Michael Cuddyer, but he obviously has some trade value around the league. The Rockies need to at least be a little more open to the idea of trading an older, expensive asset for some younger ones (please give us anything for Ramon Hernandez). Or maybe a team wants to trade a guy like Tyler Colvin who might be at his peak value. Rafael Betancourt is a luxury the Rockies don't need and he's signed at a nice price, making him a good trade chip as well. I'm not saying trade every veteran player - I'm just asking the Rockies to consider it more strongly.
Also, play Jonathan Herrera less and DJ LeMahieu more. Pretty please.
3. Really make 2013 the Year of the Fan
My biggest worry about the 2013 season is that attendance drops off sharply and the Rockies withdraw into an austerity death spiral with respect to declining revenue and payroll. My concerns are mitigated somewhat by the excellent job the Rockies organization has done with turning a Rockies game at Coors Field into a great experience regardless of on-field outcome. However, at some point the losing will really drive the fans away.
So what's the next best thing to winning? Nostalgia! I actually think that Colorado has done a pretty good job so far in getting the band back together from the Blake Street Bomber days. The 90's were a happy time in Rockies baseball despite a lack of on-field success, a time that evokes memories of a packed Coors Field for many casual Rockies fans. It will also probably be franchise icon Todd Helton's final year for the team, which will have a similar effect on fans. Those Colorado fans might need those positive memories to get them through 2013.
Really, I'm not trying to be a purveyor of doom and gloom here. I will enjoy the 2013 season immensely - I just hope that Colorado will go about being a mediocre team in a way that is conducive to future success.
Fangraphs Positional Power Rankings Update
The extremely optimistic Fangraphs projections I mentioned last week? As suspected, they hadn't included park effects in the position player summaries. I also happen to think that the SP numbers (which had the Rockies at 19th in the league) probably over-correct for Coors' impact. The relief staff placed 2nd in the league, mostly on the higher volume of innings they'll be throwing.
Using the 38 win replacement level floor suggested by Dave Cameron, 21 WAR for the offense plus 17 WAR for the pitching staff in 2013 = 38 WAR, or 76 wins in 2013. Which sounds about right to me.
Sports on Earth has their NL West scouting report up. It's a pretty detailed run-down of the teams in the division and is worth a read.
ESPN's NL West preview shows the Rockies winning between 66-76 games this year.
Walt Weiss talked with Thomas Harding about his managerial philosophies.
Keith Olbermann writes a glowing review of the Colorado/Arizona spring facility - Salt River Flats at Talking Stick. I really need to get down there myself.
Chris Nelson answered fan questions in a Denver Post chat session.
Finally, Tom Verducci writes about the age of parity in MLB.