Posted January 22, 2013

Winter report card: Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies, NL West, Winter report cards
Hiring Walt Weiss as manager has been Colorado's biggest move of the offseason. (AP)

Hiring Walt Weiss as manager has been Colorado’s biggest move of the offseason. (AP)

With less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2012, and I’ll revisit and adjust their grades to account for late-winter deals as spring training begins.

Colorado Rockies

2012 Results: 64-98, 5th place in NL West (Hot Stove Preview)

Key departures: 1B Jason Giambi, RHP Guillermo Moscoso, LHP Matt Reynolds, RHP Josh Roenicke, RHP Alex White

Key arrivals: RHP Wilton Lopez, 1B/3B Ryan Wheeler

The Rockies’ offseason thus far has been duller than dishwater, aside from (or perhaps including, depending upon your point of view) hiring Walt Weiss to replace Jim Tracy as manager. That search incorporated the now-42-year-old Giambi, a Tracy favorite who hit just .225/.372/.303 with one homer in 103 plate appearances but wants to keep playing and will accept a minor league deal elsewhere. As far as the rest of the roster goes, the departures of Moscoso, Reynolds and Roenicke mean some amount of turnover in a bullpen that ranked 14th in the league with a 4.52 ERA; the latter two outpitched their peripherals in getting to presentable ERAs, but none of the trio — two-thirds of whom were lost on waivers — will be particularly missed.

The trade of Reynolds to the Diamondbacks brought back Wheeler, a 24-year-old cornerman who hit .239/.294/.339 in 119 plate appearances for Arizona after tearing up Triple-A Reno (.351/.388/.572 in 399 PA). A fifth-round 2009 pick out of Loyola Marymount, he came into the year ranked 18th among Diamondbacks prospects by Baseball America, and figures to see work as a bench player. With Chris Nelson putting up good numbers (.301/.352/.458) in claiming third base for the moment and prospect Nolan Arenado working his way through the minors, Wheeler’s window of opportunity is narrow, and even given Todd Helton’s durability issues at first base, he’s below Tyler Colvin on the depth chart.

The bigger news was the acquisition of Lopez from the Astros in exchange for White, one of the pitchers acquired from Cleveland in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, and minor league righty Alex Gillingham. The 29-year-old Lopez has been a strong setup man for the Astros for the past three seasons, moving into the closer role late last year after Brett Myers was traded. More of a control freak than a dominant power reliever, he walked just 1.1 per nine while striking out 7.3 en route to a 2.17 ERA in 66 1/3 innings. He’ll join Matt Belisle in setting up closer Rafael Betancourt on those rare occasions the Rockies have a narrow lead to protect.

Unfinished business: Rotation situation The Rockies began experimenting with a four-man rotation in the middle of last June, keeping the starters on a 75-pitch limit and incorporating a secondary rotation of “hybrid relievers” to bridge the gap to the late-game unit. The results were underwhelming; the starters’ ERA before the experiment began was 6.28, while afterwards it was 5.44, with walk and homer rates too high to allow for much success. Reports suggest the team will keep the pitch limits and hybrid strategy but go back to a five-man rotation for 2013.

Better health from righties Juan Nicasio (11 starts, 58 innings), Jhoulys Chacin (14 starts, 69 innings) and Jorge de la Rosa (three starts, 10 2/3 innings) should help, and lefties Drew Pomeranz and Christian Friedrich retain some amount of promise as former first-round picks who have demonstrated that they can miss bats; those two were the only Rockies starters to exceed 6.1 strikeouts per nine last year, though their ERAs were gaudy. The retention of Jeff Francis, the only Rockies pitcher to reach 100 innings last year (113, in 24 starts with a 5.58 ERA) isn’t much to write home about, and aside from Adam Ottavino, hybrid candidates such as Josh Outman and Tyler Chatwood don’t offer much upside. If the Rockies want to make this experiment work, they need more pitchers who can miss bats, avoid home runs and absorb innings.

Preliminary grade: C. The Rockies haven’t done much of interest this winter, and it’s not at all clear they know what they’re doing with their pitching staff, but the returns from injury of the aforementioned hurlers plus Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki still offer hope for a better 2013.

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