After their lightning-in-a-bottle season in 2007 in which a 21-1 streak took them all the way to the World Series, the Rockies decided their team was much better than it actually was a and stood pat. The results were highly predictable, as the Rockies crashed down to earth in 2008, falling 14 games below .500 on the season.
Of course it is true that the Rockies were hurt by some injuries to key players like Troy Tulowitzki, Jeff Francis, and Todd Helton, but the main problem was that the Rockies management had overestimated their core level of talent.
It’s been said before, but the Rockies of 2007 had an entirely undeserved aura of being a “young” team, when in fact they were just a team of relative unknowns, but were actually mostly in their peak years. The idea that the Rockies would be an NL West power for many years to come was thus misguided from the outset, as most of these players were set to enter their post-peak years in which production could not reasonably be expected to do anything other than decline.
In other words, what the Rockies *should* have done after their glorious 2007 was to trade off a lot of their older pieces for younger talent while their value was still sky-high, but of course they instead fell into the common trap of World Series teams of trying to keep all of their players.
However, although the Rockies players have lost a good bit of their luster in the ensuing year, the good news is that it should still be possible to get a decent return for some of them, while everyone still remembers the 2007 run.
Although certainly not what they could have gotten for him a year ago, the Rockies did get a pretty reasonable return on one year of Matt Holiday from the offense-hungry A’s. Carlos Gonzalez is still a very good prospect, and Greg Smith may not be quite as good as the Rockies think he is, but part of winning at Coors is just getting fresh bodies with live arms to throw out their and eat up innings in the never-ending war of attrition with the thin air.
What the Rockies need to do now is keep trading away chips that have perceived value. They should start out with Garret Atkins, who was always overrated at the plate, with GIGANTIC home/road splits, and was never a good defender anywhere on the diamond. Even more than Holliday, Atkins should have been traded off as soon as the 2007 World Series ended, but he still retains some aura from that run, and should be shipped out of town while he still has any perceived value left around the league. Ian Stewart will be a more than adequate replacement at third.
The Rockies should then look at trading Yorvit Torrealba, who is still highly regarded but made redundant by the arrival of the superior Chris Ianetta, as well as possibly the arbitration-eligible Clint Barmes and Willy Taveras. As always, they should try to cash in these chips for as much pitching as they can get, and maybe another outfield prospect if they opt to trade Taveras.
The Rockies are actually not that far away from contention in a weak NL West. It’s just that they need to learn and absorb the valuable lesson that to stay on top in the major leagues of today, you can’t rest on your laurels – you have to be constantly adapting, adjusting, and upgrading whereever possible, because the other teams are not going to stop upgrading. Trading away Matt Holliday was a bold step in this direction, and a sign that the Rockies are aware of this lesson. They shouldn’t stop now.