Winter Report Card: Colorado Rockies
With little more 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 2013.
2013 results: 74-88 (.457), 5th place NL West (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: RHP Rafael Betancourt, SS Reid Brignac, OF Tyler Colvin, RHP Edgmer Escalona, CF Dexter Fowler, LHP Jeff Francis, 1B Todd Helton, IF Jonathan Herrera, RHP Roy Oswalt, LHP Josh Outman, RHP Drew Pomeranz, C Yorvit Torrealba, OF Drew Stubbs
Key arrivals: LHP Brett Anderson, CF Brandon Barnes, RHP Greg Burke, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, LHP Pedro Hernandez, LHP Boone Logan, RHP Jordan Lyles, LHP Franklin Morales, 1B Justin Morneau
In 2013, their first year under manager Walt Weiss, the Rockies improved by 10 wins, but then, they had nowhere to go but up following a franchise-record 98 losses in 2012. Nonetheless, it was Colorado’s third straight losing season, and changes are inevitably afoot. While general manager Dan O’Dowd has been busy this winter, the team’s limited budget — which will still be considerably higher than last year’s Opening Day payroll of $73.9 million — has forced him to get more done via trade than free agency. None of what’s transpired thus far appears as though it will lift the team into contention, though taken together, the moves represent enough improvement to make an escape from the NL West cellar possible.
The most striking change about the 2014 Rockies will be the absence of Todd Helton, who retired at the end of the 2013 season after a 17-year run in Colorado. Replacing him at first base will be Justin Morneau, whose two-year, $12.5 million deal represents the team’s second-largest expenditure this winter. The going-on-33-year-old is a shadow of his former MVP-caliber self. Amid post-concussion syndrome and a slew of other injuries, his 2013 production (.259/.323/.411 with 17 homers) typifies his post-2010 work. The good news for Colorado is that after adjusting for park, his 108 OPS+ over the past two seasons trumps Helton’s 90. The bad news is that Morneau’s presence represents a far less ambitious makeover than the initial offseason plan to shift Michael Cuddyer to first base and pursue “a big bat” (owner Dick Monfort’s words) for the corner.
The outfield will see a major change nonetheless with the trade of Dexter Fowler to the Astros. The move generated an unimpressive return for the 27-year-old centerfielder in the form of light-hitting Brandon Barnes (.240/.289/.346 in 445 PA), who is bench material, and 23-year-old righty Jordan Lyles, a former supplemental first-round pick who’s had enough trouble keeping the ball and his ERA down closer to sea level. Lyles had a 5.59 ERA in 2013 and has a career mark of 5.35 in 377 innings.
Taking over for Fowler in centerfield will be Carlos Gonzalez, with Corey Dickerson in left. Righty-swinging Drew Stubbs, acquired from Cleveland in a deal for Josh Outman, will serve as a fourth outfielder, getting playing time largely when either Dickerson or Morneau sits against lefties, with Cuddyer filling in at first. Stubbs owns a career .274/.349/.448 line against southpaws, with an OPS 144 points higher than his career line against righties.
Lyles will have to compete for a spot at the back of the rotation, which will see its share of change around the core of Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood. Most notable is the acquisition of groundballing lefty Brett Anderson, a former top prospect with a career 3.81 ERA (109 ERA+) but a thick medical file. The lefthander, who turns 26 on Feb. 1, has been limited to 163 major league innings over the past three seasons, including just 44 2/3 in 2013 due to an ankle sprain and a stress fracture, both in his right foot. If he’s healthy — a big if — that will leave the fifth spot up for grabs between Lyles, holdovers Juan Nicasio (5.14 ERA in 157 2/3 innings) and Christian Friedrich (who didn’t throw a major league inning in 2013 due to back woes) and prodigal son Franklin Morales, a former top prospect whom the team traded to Boston in mid-2011 and reacquired in December in exchange for infielder Jonathan Herrera. Back and pectoral injuries limited Morales to just 20 appearances, one start and 25 1/3 innings at the MLB level in 2013. However things shake out, the team can’t help but improve upon the 6.73 ERA delivered by six since-departed hurlers who accounted for 42 starts in 2013, most notably Jeff Francis, Roy Oswalt and Drew Pomeranz.
Morales may well wind up back in the bullpen, which has been beefed up even beyond the retention of Matt Belisle via a $4.25 million mutual option. Forty-one-year-old LaTroy Hawkins, who saved 13 games for the Mets while posting a 2.93 ERA and 5.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, has been brought in via a one-year, $2.5 million deal either to supplant Rex Brothers as closer or to compete with him for the job. Boone Logan, who posted a 3.23 ERA and whiffed 11.5 per nine for the Yankees in 2013, was signed to a three-year, $16.5 million deal, the team’s largest expenditure of the winter; how often can that be said about a situational reliever?
Unfinished business: Catcher
Heading into the offseason, Colorado appeared to prefer signing a catcher and converting starter Wilin Rosario to a backup who would see more time at first base or rightfield, thus serving two purposes: getting his powerful bat (.292/.315/.486 with 21 homers in 121 games) into the lineup more often and escaping his defensive woes, which include some of the game’s worst pitch-framing work. The Rockies made a run at Carlos Ruiz, but he stayed with Philadelphia, and they passed on other available free agent catchers, so unless they make a trade, it appears they’ll head into the season with Rosario starting and Jordan Pacheco backing him up.
Preliminary Grade: C+
Colorado hasn’t made any earth-shaking moves, and the trade of Fowler remains a bit of a headscratcher. Even so, the team has opened its wallet at least somewhat — spending $31.5 million on free agents this offseason compared to just $1.5 million the year before — and made enough incremental improvements elsewhere that a more respectable showing in 2014 appears inevitable.