Say what you want about the Colorado Rockies, but 2015 will be a season like few others in the history of the franchise.
Not since 2000 have the Rockies began a season with a new general manager like they will this year, their 23rd of existence. Back then, the club was still in its honeymoon period with the people of Denver. More than 3 million people filled the seats of Coors Field each year around the turn of the century.
Things are different now. Different, and yet totally the same. The honeymoon period has long since worn off, but that hasn't stopped fans from showing up to 20th and Blake at a rate that still ranks in the top 10 of all MLB teams. The Rockies haven't exactly repaid the favor; since 2011, Colorado has lost an average of 93 games per season.
Sometimes what we know doesn't tell the whole story. In the case of the Rockies, if it does, then we're doomed.
Despite all of the losing, former general manager Dan O'Dowd had basically what amounted to a handshake deal to be the team's architect for life. Only because O'Dowd didn't want to accept a lesser role did team owner and president Dick Monfort finally cut ties with his longtime right-hand man. In fact, Monfort actually offered a contract extension to O'Dowd before he decided to pursue other opportunities.
At least, that's what we know. In many other examples in baseball, sports and life, what we know is different than what is actually the case. Perhaps Monfort, who is notoriously loyal, didn't want to drag O'Dowd's name through the dirt and went to great lengths not to do so. Heck, maybe what we know is the result of the team's former public relations leadership having no grasp of how to convey the right message — and failing to coach Monfort, the face of the team, to properly address the state of his organization.
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Unfortunately, because we're limited only to what we know, a whole bunch of shenanigans like those — correctable ones, I might add — are our best hope that things will be different in the future. God, help us.
One thing is for sure, though: the new GM, 37-year-old Harvard graduate Jeff Bridich, is eager to right the ship, recognizing that those fans who flock to Coors Field regardless of the quality of the on-field product deserve better.
"It is my opinion that [the fans] have earned the right to have playoff baseball at Coors Field again," Bridich said during his introductory press conference in October. "We are not where we want and expect to be. We know that."
The question is, will Monfort allow that to happen? It all goes back to what we know — and we know that he trusts the people who have been in his organization to make that happen more so than he does anyone else that might be floating around in the baseball industry.
Is it right? Not entirely; though Bridich and his staff should be given every opportunity to succeed, someone with fresh, new and perhaps outside-the-box ideas should have been part of the overhaul.
Do we have to deal with it? For those of us who can't simply give up on the Rockies at the drop of a hat, yes. Fortunately, there are signs throughout the organization, both at the top and at the bottom, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Light that baseball fans across the Rocky Mountain region desperately need to see.
... The more things stay the same
Key additions: Nick Hundley, Kyle Kendrick, Daniel Descalso, David Hale
Key departures: Michael Cuddyer, Josh Rutledge, Juan Nicasio, Franklin Morales
For all that talk about hope, this isn't the best place to start. The Rockies didn't lose anyone of great significance — Cuddyer is a good hitter, when he's healthy, but also a poor defender — and, by that same token, failed to add any real impact players. The argument is almost too easy: What the Rockies will gain from the returns of Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Jhoulys Chacin, among others, should outweigh anything that might have been available on the trade and free-agent markets.
Unfortunately, the counterargument is just as simple: We know who these guys are by now. Why will 2015 be any different?
If the spring training quotes from Tulo, CarGo and the group are any indication, the answer to that question lies in a renewed sense of urgency and focus. The talent is there; for the most part, so, too, has been the work ethic. It seems now that these guys realize they're not getting any younger, and that if they want to be winners — if not in Colorado, then somewhere else — the time to prove it is now.
Projected lineup, rotation and bullpen
|Charlie Blackmon, CF||Jorge De La Rosa, LHP||RP: Brooks Brown, RHP|
|Corey Dickerson, LF||Jhoulys Chacin, RHP||RP: Tommy Kahnle, RHP|
|Carlos Gonzalez, RF||Tyler Matzek, LHP||RP: Adam Ottavino, RHP|
|Troy Tulowitzki, SS||Jordan Lyles, RHP||RP: Christian Friedrich, LHP|
|Justin Morneau, 1B||Kyle Kendrick, RHP||RP: Boone Logan, LHP|
|Nolan Arenado, 3B||SU: Rex Brothers, LHP|
|Nick Hundley, C||SU: John Axford, RHP|
|DJ LeMahieu, 2B||CL: LaTroy Hawkins, RHP|
Predicting a Rockies roster is one of the ultimate exercises in futility in all of sports. For one, Walt Weiss is leaning toward an eight-man bullpen, which seems absurd until you take into account the sheer volatility of the rotation. Is Jhoulys Chacin's 86 mph fastball just a product of rust? Will Jorge De La Rosa's late start to the spring impact his readiness for the regular season? Will Tyler Matzek suddenly lose his grasp on the strike zone?
Those are all very real issues with varying degrees of concern. Fortunately, Colorado's rotation depth appears better than it was in the 15-starter train wreck otherwise known as the 2014 season. David Hale, acquired from the Braves during the offseason, would probably be first in line to step into the rotation. Eddie Butler and Jon Gray are obviously the exciting options (more on that below), but others that are perhaps better suited for emergency starter roles — guys like John Lannan, Chris Rusin, Brett Marshall and Chad Bettis — also exist.
The position players, assuming they can stay healthy, are of little concern, particularly when taking defense into account. The Rockies should boast one of the better units in the league both at the plate and in the field, provided bones, muscles, ligaments and other body parts cooperate. Hundley, who is hardly a world beater on defense, is a tremendous upgrade over both Wilin Rosario and Michael McKenry. That should tell you a lot. Blackmon is serviceable in center field; we've all seen what Gonzalez can do in the outfield; and Dickerson should be fine as long as he remains stashed in left. Everyone else on the diamond is a Gold Glover or close to it.
At the plate, the Rockies have some interesting platoon options at a couple of spots. Drew Stubbs, who crushed left-handers last year (.944 OPS) and has consistently hit them well for his career (.823 OPS), will get plenty of plate appearances to both limit the exposure of Blackmon and Dickerson against southpaws and spell Carlos Gonzalez during likely planned days off. Similarly, Morneau, who has never hit lefties well in his career (.705 OPS) and certainly didn't last season (.665 OPS), could sit in more than a few of those situations in favor of Rosario, who simply cannot catch but has the athleticism to perhaps provide a decent impression of a first baseman. More importantly, even in a down offensive year last year, he absolutely raked against left-handers (.989 OPS) and always has for his career (1.009 OPS) .
Descalso, a gritty winner-type, is a lock for a bench spot, though it's not a stretch to say that he might be the worst (if not lowest-upside) player of a group that will include McKenry, Charlie Culberson, Rafael Ynoa, Brandon Barnes, Ben Paulsen and Kyle Parker fighting to be the 25th man on the roster.
Read more: State of the Position series
Five prospects to know
Along with Jon Gray, Butler represents the Rockies' greatest reason for hope in 2015 and beyond. Butler made a forgettable big league cameo in an injury-riddled 2014 campaign, but the fact remains that his arsenal, which features a mid-to-upper-90s fastball, a wipeout slider and a downright nasty change-up, is extremely well suited for Coors Field. Keep an eye on how Butler adjusts to a major league-type pitching workload at Triple-A Albuquerque. If the issues are few and far between, expect him to be ready for full-fledged big league duty as early as June.
Read more: Butler entering a pivotal year
Gray is a little bit further away than Butler simply because he was drafted a year later, but in terms of velocity and stuff, the University of Oklahoma product has little left to prove in the minors. Gray seemed to have gotten bored during stretches of his first full pro season, one that was largely seen as a disappointment even though he posted a sub-4.00 ERA and whiffed nearly a batter per inning. He could begin the year in Double-A again as a result, but provided Gray is allowed to let loose (more than a few people believe he was pitching with training wheels on in 2014), the door to the majors probably won't remain shut for long. Like Butler, Gray has an arsenal — mid-to-upper-90s fastball, wipeout slider and developing changeup — that will get him into the rotation sooner rather than later.
Read more: Gray still has ace potential
Diaz, acquired from the Angels in an offseason trade that sent Josh Rutledge to Anaheim, possesses the best fastball in the organization. The problem is, he doesn't always know where it's going. Diaz made big strides in that area last season, though, and has future closer written all over him if he can continue to work on his control. With a fastball that reaches triple digits, he doesn't have to be perfect when he pitchers (see Aroldis Chapman), but he does have to prove he can throw strikes consistently enough to make batters feel obligated to offer at his pitches.
Read more: Diaz could be key cog in big league bullpen
There was a lot of buzz surrounding Murphy during spring training last year, when it was revealed that the Rockies wanted to fast-track him to the big leagues. A shoulder injury that wiped out most of his 2014 season will significantly delay his route to Denver, but Murphy still has the tools — both at the plate and behind it — to get there as soon as the second half of this season. First, he needs to prove the shoulder issue is behind him. A solid showing in Cactus League play thus far has things looking in the right direction.
Read more: Murphy primed to rebound from lost year
Anderson was the only player the Rockies chose to protect at the reserves deadline back in November. The 25-year-old southpaw has shown impressive polish when healthy, which hasn't been often during his pro career. Anderson finished with a 1.98 ERA and 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings in Double-A last year, but his season ended early with an elbow injury — one that is still plaguing Anderson as he tries to prepare for a pivotal season. If he's healthy, Anderson should reach the majors before Gray and could even get there sooner than Butler, but that's not looking so good at the moment.
Read more: Anderson must overcome injury issues
Rocky Mountain Low
Odds (per Bovada)
Over/under win total: 71½
NL West: 50/1
NL pennant: 75/1
World Series: 150/1
Offseason grades/preseason rankings
Cliff Corcoran (Sports Illustrated): D
" ... for a team that hasn't topped 74 wins since 2010, the point isn't to avoid getting worse, it's to get better. The Rockies haven't done that to any significant degree at any level."
Jesse Spector (Sporting News): F
"Sure, the Rockies will be a better team if Gonzalez and Tulowitzki stay healthy. That's always the problem, though, isn't it? ... When you haven't had a winning record since 2010, maybe it's not a good idea to just tinker on the fringes of the roster."
Jonah Keri (Grantland): 26th
"Now, with a starting rotation that remains undermanned for what feels like the 56,000th year in a row and so many fragile key players, a surprise postseason run certainly isn't likely. But if the 23-year-olds, Butler and Gray, make good early and the delicate Tulo-CarGo-Arenado trio somehow manages to stay on the field for the entire season, the Rockies could be this year's out-of-nowhere squad that rides 99th-percentile luck to a big season."
Squint hard enough and you just might see ...
A contender? Well, maybe. But here is a list of things that didn't happen last year but would almost certainly have to take place in 2015:
1. Tulowitzki and Gonzalez combine for 280-300 games.
2. Chacin pitches 180 innings.
3. Either Gray, Butler or both blow the doors off and insert themselves into the rotation a la Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales in 2007.
4. Brothers and Logan consistently get left-handed batters — or any batters, really — out.
5. Walt Weiss stops giving away outs at an alarming rate.
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What are the chances of all five of those things happening? Probably worse than the Rockies' odds of winning the NL West. It's not completely unrealistic for two or three of those things to take place, though, and if they do, a .500 season could be in the works. Would you take that? I would.
Then again ...
What if the inverse of those five things listed above happens to the Rockies in 2015? At best, we'll probably see another 96 loss season. At worst? Welcome to the 100 Club, Denver!
Perhaps that's what this franchise, needs, though; Weiss alluded to major changes if things go awry again in 2015. Does that start with his dismissal? Does it mean trading Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and others and starting over? Does it finally mean Dick Monfort will relinquish his baseball operations duties?
Come to think of it, those things sound almost as exciting as a bizarre, out-of-nowhere postseason run. Almost.
The Rockies don't have to win for 2015 to be successful. In addition to the possibility (but not probability) of a blowup, there are things the team can do to better position itself for next year and beyond. Re-establish Rosario's offensive value and ship him to an American League team; see if contenders will bite on Morneau, Hawkins, Logan and/or other veterans at the deadline; consider parting with Gonzalez if he's healthy and playing well...
You get the point. There are so many things the Rockies can do to bridge the gap between now and the next window of contention, which could come as soon as 2017 if already-contributing young big leaguers and highly touted prospects continue to progress as expected. Those are the kinds of moves O'Dowd never made. Let's hope Bridich turns out to be the anti-O'Dowd. It's OK to trade Ian Stewart. And Brad Hawpe and Garrett Atkins before their inevitable decline. And it's OK to draft the best player available. Plus, you don't even have to throw your players under the bus before you trade them. Novel concept!
We'll know a lot more about Bridich — and, conversely, the future of the Rockies — as 2015 unfolds. It's not going to be pretty all the time. It's not going to be joyless, either. What it will be is entertaining.
Man, that Monfort is sly.