Last year, it looked like the Colorado Rockies would be strong contenders for the division title. Instead, they finished in fourth (73-89), 21 games out of first place. Fun fact: the team used thirteen different starters last season, and seven guys made 10+ starts for the them. (For comparison’s sake, the Giants used eight starters, only five of whom made 10+ starts). Anyway, as Spring Training nears, I thought it would be interesting to check in on the other NL West teams, beginning with the Rockies. Andrew Fisher (@PoseidonsFist) of Purple Row was kind of enough to answer several questions about their offseason, outlook, Nolan Arenado, and Michael Cuddyer, among other things. Enjoy!
1. As a whole, how would you grade the Rockies’ offseason thus far?
This is something I have greatly struggled with in recent months. The Rockies’ brass has stated their plan, and graded against that, I suppose they have done well. The plan: (Part 1) addition by subtraction as pertaining to off-the-field values. In other words, get rid of all players lacking in accountability, motivation, fire, any number of abstract characteristics that are difficult for a fan to accurately attach to a player. If Dan O’Dowd implies Chris Iannetta isn’t accountable, I cannot really claim otherwise without being in the clubhouse, so a grade is difficult to peg down. Via conference calls with season ticket holders and pieces of quotes from Rockies beat reporters, the players guilty of lacking this clubhouse quality likely included Ian Stewart, Seth Smith, Chris Iannetta and possibly Ty Wigginton. If they indeed are passive cancers, they are mostly gone. Success!
Part 2 would be to add a good clubhouse presence and RH bat. Under than criteria, once could see why Michael Cuddyer was targeted and pursued so strongly. Will this method of prioritizing the rectifying of character issues translate to wins? It is tough to know, but I am dubious. If I were to grade the offseason based on on-the-field changes, my grade would be tepid at best. With glaring holes in the rotation, 2B and 3B, O’Dowd has brought in Casey Blake, DJ LeMahieu, Tyler Chatwood and Kevin Slowey. I don’t believe any of those players address those weaknesses. Instead, he dropped a lot of cash on Cuddyer, which now pushes Seth Smith (not an on-field weakness) to the bench. The roster seemingly feels like it is made up of 30% back end starting pitchers, 30% fringey middle infielders, 30% 4th/5th outfielders, plus Tulo/Cargo. I’m…uneasy.
2. Where do you see the Rockies finishing in 2012?
I’ll say third place right now. Dan O’Dowd has stacked the deck with unproven promise in the rotation, so the results of the pitching has an extremely wide range. 2011 was a year that everything seemed to go wrong. A swing back to average luck pushes the Rockies back to an average team at least. I suspect the NL West will be pretty tightly bunched, with a surprise team taking off. Colorado could be that team if things go right.
3. What’s Colorado’s biggest weakness at this point?
This is my issue with the off-season – the biggest weaknesses are the same today as October 1. Proven starting pitching, second base, and third base. Then again, those positions were also particularly weak for this year’s free agent class. Tommy Field and Josh Rutledge might be passable at 2B with more MiLB time, and Nolan Arenado is lurking for 3B, so O’Dowd is seemingly trying to find lightning in a bottle at those positions until the farm bears fruit. The bullpen is the squad’s strength even after the Huston Street trade.
The rotation last year was set 1-through-5 before Spring Training started. Conversely, it is completely up in the air for 2012. Jhoulys Chacin, just 24 years old, is the de facto “ace.” Juan Nicasio is progressing incredibly from a broken neck and may be in the Opening Day rotation. Jason Hammel will likely have a slot despite losing his job last year. Jorge De La Rosa should return in June from Tommy John. The rest will be some combination of Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Kevin Slowey, Tyler Chatwood, Clayton Mortensen and Esmil Rogers. There is very little to depend on there, though quite a bit to dream on.
4. Nolan Arenado has garnered a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. He performed quite well (.298/.349/.487) in Modesto at just 20 years old. When do you expect to see him in the majors?
Arenado might be my favorite prospect since Tulo. His season at Modesto is even more impressive when you consider his age (20), that he had more extra base hits (55) than strikeouts (53) and that Modesto suppresses home runs more than any park in existence (park factor: 40). He knows the strike zone better than 90% of MLB hitters, with only a half dozen strikeouts-looking in his 2.5 year pro career. The only thing stopping him from being in the big leagues is his age. Other than a healthy Blake, Arenado is hands down the best 3B in the organization now. The FO has hinted he will have the opportunity to win the Opening Day big league job, but given the Casey Blake contract, I suspect that talk is mostly for PR purposes. I am sure they would prefer he play in AA at least half of the season, wanting to ensure he hits the major leagues running. One way or another, he will be in the big leagues in 2012 if he is healthy.
5. The biggest move the Rockies made this offseason was the Michael Cuddyer signing, as Colorado handed him a three-year $31.5MM contract. What were your thoughts on the deal?
As far as I can tell, Cuddyer’s contract is the largest for a free agent position player in franchise history…by a lot. Larry Walker signed a 4-year, $22million deal in 1995. This move is pretty unprecedented. After waiting 17 years to add a big bat, I find myself irked anyway. Cuddyer will absolutely help in the line-up, but I had been campaigning for Josh Willingham since October 2010. The $31.5mil seems like an unnecessary overpay that seems to have prevented any other deals this offseason. He certainly fits what the FO wanted though, and he is a pretty good hitter, so I’ve been trying to convince myself to enjoy his two dozen home runs. I will say that the “accountability/character” line had me worried O’Dowd had found a label to get away with making changes for the sake of changes without spending money, so Cuddyer’s contract at least squashed that theory.
6. What’s left for the Rockies this offseason?
Pretty much nothing, according to an interview with O’Dowd on January 9. I get the feeling a Martin Prado trade would be an exception to that, but he stated any other activity this offseason would be minor roster moves. What you see is likely the OD squad. I would project the roster as such:
1 ) Fowler – CF
2 ) Blake – 3B
3 ) Gonzalez – LF
4 ) Tulowitzki – SS
5 ) Cuddyer – RF
6 ) Helton – 1B
7 ) Hernandez – C
8 ) LeMahieu – 2B
Bench – Giambi, Herrera, Smith, and Rosario. I have no read on whether they’ll go with 4 OF (so Jordan Pacheco) or 5 OF (so Charlie Blackmon). Both deserve a shot, but Giambi’s roster spot kills a lot of flexibility there.
1) Chacin 2) Nicasio 3) Hammel 4) Slowey 5) Pomeranz
Pen – Betancourt (Closer), Brothers (LH Setup), Lindstrom (RH Setup), MReynolds, Belisle, and, let’s say Escalona and Rogers.