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Colorado Rockies GM Jeff Bridich has more pitching options to play with than last season

Suddenly, the Colorado Rockies' general manager finds himself awash in more pitching depth with which to work.

The Colorado Rockies enter spring training with options for their pitching staff.
The Colorado Rockies enter spring training with options for their pitching staff.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Nobody ought to mistake the current group of pitchers that will enter spring training with the Colorado Rockies for the staff of a playoff team. The likelihood of general manager Jeff Bridich's club contending for anything close to a postseason berth this year runs in the same general range of probability as the club building another Party Deck. (Hey, wait a minute.)

But while the Rockies are still a ways off from winning, Bridich deserves some credit for what he has thus far done, regardless of how much ridicule the club may have taken from national media members recently. When pitchers and catchers officially report for camp in two weeks, the Rockies will almost certainly be in better shape on the mound than they were last season.

Of course, every player begins camp in the best shape of my life, sir—an interview axiom so ingrained as to no longer mean anything. And though it may be damning with faint praise—we've seen how that goes time and again—maybe in 2016 the starting rotation won't blow up immediately. Maybe the dominos won't collapse on down the rest of the pitching staff before the season can really get under way.


Bridich, for one, is remaining optimistic—though cautiously so.

"As long as, certainly, health, right? We talk about that all the time," the GM told media members in a conference call after the Rockies traded Corey Dickerson to the Tampa Bay Rays at the end of last week.

"I like the competition. If everybody is healthy and everybody is coming in fully healthy and stays healthy through camp, then yes, health is always for anybody, but certainly for us, is always a big determiner of the overall depth of the rotation."

We can debate the quality of that depth, of course. Or, maybe we won't need to debate it; I won't argue that a rotation depth chart including Chris Rusin, Christian Bergman, Eddie Butler, David Hale, and maybe even—gulp—my man Yohan Flande isn't exactly the recipe for wins in the National League West.

But there are a few things working in Bridich's favor this spring that, at least on paper, look like they have a shot of turning out differently from a year ago. Most obviously in the rotation, regardless of the rumors floating around free agent starters, Bridich's eyes fall upon Jordan Lyles and Tyler Chatwood.

"Adding Lyles and, hopefully, Tyler Chatwood back to this rotation, having Chad Bettis take another step and, obviously, ‘De La’ is in there," Bridich said of his thoughts about the rotation's renewal entering February. "But having the guys compete, the talented guys that are going to compete for that last spot or one of the last two spots, it’s a good thing for us. Now the expectation is that Jon Gray takes another step and some of our younger guys take another step and provide us with that true depth that we need to excel through a long season."

Image via Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

There are no guarantees with Lyles beyond the fact that he's had two weird, non-throwing-arm injuries that have derailed his last two seasons. There are even fewer certainties surrounding Chatwood, who has missed almost two full seasons recovering from elbow surgery. But as far as depth is concerned, should those two actually be healthy and able to contribute this year, that means the Rockies are adding two capable starting pitchers who, when taken together, have thrown less than 200 innings in just 36 starts since the beginning of 2014.

That's an average individual season of 9 starts and fewer than 50 innings pitched over the last 384 team games, and their absences have weighed down the Rockies' pitching staff in those seasons. Should they both be healthy now—and all signs point to that—the Rockies have, in a way, added two pitchers in 2016 as if they were free agents.

Pull in Chad Bettis' strong work from last year, the ever-consistent Jorge De La Rosa, big expectations and a wide open role for Jon Gray, and all of a sudden, the Rockies are putting together something that could start to resemble a big league rotation.

Sure, it could be terrible. Maybe it will, because this is the Rockies!

But to get to this point, Bridich (a) didn't spend outlandish money on them, and (b) didn't deal prospects or lose a draft pick to create the (likely) starting five.

That's also not to say anything of a guy like Chris Rusin, who at this time last year was a completely unknown wild card expected to live out the season in Triple-A Albuquerque. Twelve months later, and Bridich is open to him impressing the club in spring training, too.

"We’ll take that as it comes," the GM said of Rusin's possible roles on the team. "He did a really nice job establishing himself last year. There were some high highs, and he struggled at times just like any big leaguer does. But it’s nice to see him establish himself."

Do Rusin and that starting five push the Rockies into above-.500 territory? Again, of course not. But assuming there's no major spring training blow-up or blow-out, already the Rockies will almost certainly enter the season in far better shape than they did last year when Christian Bergman started the team's eighth game of the year by necessity.

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Then, there's the bullpen. There are a lot of things to like about future Rockies bullpens, and knowing how quickly relievers can move through organizational depth charts, perhaps young pieces like Carlos Estevez, Sam Moll, and Matt Carasiti will be in Denver very, very soon. After all, we saw it in 2015 with Scott Oberg, and even Jairo Diaz.

But starting from the top of the 'pen, Bridich has added three relievers—Jason Motte, Chad Qualls, and Jake McGee—in 2016, the sum of which is significantly more likely to be effective than last year's veteran trio of LaTroy Hawkins, Rafael Betancourt, and John Axford.

No offense to Ax, who did have a good season and worked well in helping to develop younger relievers, but it was probably always a bad idea to head into last season with the other two relievers north of 40 years old, and in Betancourt's case, coming off a severe injury.

To be blunt, but fair, building the initial cogs in last year's 'pen was quite a bit away from a strong developmental affair.

Now, maybe something else is going on, as we've hypothesized here recently. Bridich sees the same.

"If you look at the trades we’ve made since last October—look at all of them—there’s a pattern there," he admitted. "So from the outside, we’ve been focused on adding impactful, powerful pitchers to who we are."

"That doesn’t mean that we don’t have them already in the organization," the GM continued. "We do. But there’s no secret that our pitching talent and the arsenal of arms we have needs to get stronger and bigger and better because some of these guys that we add or we develop or draft or sign, not everybody works out. Not every talented baseball player becomes an incredible Major League player. We’ve set out to focus on this, and it’s been a fairly consistent focus from last October."

It's almost as if stockpiling talent at all levels—big leagues and minors, through the draft, free agency, and trades—hedges your bets on some players working out when others inevitably fail. Who could have guessed that?

Image via Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Ultimately, the Rockies still have a lot of problems. The historically abysmal pitching staff hasn't earned anything close to optimism heading into spring training, and for anybody to really buy into Bridich's player development plan, well, some wins fairly soon would be nice. And none of this has even begun to take into account the overarching problems with the club's offense, both before trading Corey Dickerson, and then even more so after the move.

The Rockies have a long way to go.

But, as Drew Creasman has so brilliantly examined, if you look closely (or, if you're biased, stupid, overly optimistic, drunk, or just plain wrong—all things I've certainly been before), you might just be able to make out the semblance of a plan lining up in place.

Will it lead to wins in 2016? With near virtual certainty, the answer is no. In 2017? Maybe. Maybe not. But things might actually be turning for the better in Colorado, as convoluted of a path as the club took to get here. Now, entering what will still be a very tough season for the club, patience and a sense of the bigger picture are paramount.

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Hat-tip to Thomas Harding for his assistance with portions of this article.