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The 2008 Rockies led the NL West in runs scored.

They led the NL West in home runs.

They led the NL West in SLG.

They led the NL West in OBP.

But they finished a distant third in the NL West.

Anyone want to guess why?

If you said pitching, or lack thereof, you’re correct!

The 2008 Rockies were next to last in the NL in ERA, ahead of only the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. To address their pitching woes, the Rockies traded for Cubs SP Jason Marquis, who is the dictionary definition of average. The Cubs are expected to eat around $1 million on Marquis’ contract, leaving the Rockies to pay approximately $5 million for one season of the right-hander. And while it’s hard to get excited about a league average pitcher, Rockies fans should know that they’re getting a pretty good deal on Marquis.

More good news for the Rockies pitching staff: the team recently signed SP Ubaldo Jimenez to a contract extension that covers his arbitration years and one free agent year. Ubaldo also came cheap.

Rounding out the Rockies staff is Aaron Cook, who somehow managed to win 16 games last season and keep his ERA under 4.00 despite striking out fewer than one batter every two innings. How’d he do it? A lot of ground balls, that’s how. Only Derek Lowe and Brandon Webb had a better GB/FB ratio.

There’s also Greg Smith, who came over to the Rockies in the Matt Holliday trade (more on that later) and was among the AL ERA leaders in the first half of 2008, before coming back down to earth in the second half. Smith has limited power but good control and uses four pitches to retire batters. He probably isn’t the dominant pitcher he looked like in the first half of 2008, but it’ll probably take NL batters a few months to figure him out, just as it took AL batters a few months last season.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news for Rockies fans. Jeff Francis’ shoulder still hurts and he says rehab is “slow going at best.” Not what you want to hear. During the first week of January, Francis underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam, which revealed nothing in the way of damage to his shoulder. But clearly something is wrong. As insurance, the Rockies recently offered a minor league contract to Josh Fogg. He’s mulling the offer.

How about the offense? Colorado traded Holliday to Oakland for Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, and Huston Street. Gonzalez will compete for a roster spot in spring training but making the team is far from certain. He hit just .242 with four homers and 26 RBI in 302 at-bats as a rookie. He wasn’t that impressive in Triple-A either, hitting .283 with four home runs and a .760 OPS. Gonzalez needs to walk more and strikeout less.

Another leftfield possibility is Seth Smith, who OBP’d .350 in limited action in 2008. Meanwhile, Scott Podsednik will battle Ryan Spilborghs for the CF job, but Spilborghs has the inside track after hitting .313 in 2008, albeit in on 233 at bats. Right field surely will go to Brad Hawpe.

The Rockies tried and failed to trade Garrett Atkins this offseason, so he’ll return to play third base, where he’s pretty atrocious with the glove. Or, if Todd Helton’s back problems aren’t cleared up, Atkins can play first. If both Atkins and Helton are healthy, stud prospect Ian Stewart could play second base. Or he’s another left field option.

Additions: Huston Street, Greg Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, Jason Marquis, Alan Embree.

Losses: Matt Holliday, Brian Fuentes, Willy Taveras, Luis Vizcaino.

Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer:

CF Ryan Spilborghs
2B Ian Stewart
1B Todd Helton
3B Garrett Atkins
RF Brad Hawpe
LF Carlos Gonzalez
C Craig Iannetta
SS Troy Tulowitzki

SP1 Aaron Cook
SP2 Ubaldo Jimenez
SP2 Jeff Francis
SP4 Greg Smith
SP5 Jason Marquis

CL Huston Street/Manny Corpas

It’s hard to imagine the Rockies can win the NL West with a pitching staff that at best can be described as average. Then again, the NL West is a below-average division. Colorado will need a lot to go right in 2009: Helton will need to be healthy, Stewart will need to be a quick study at second base, and Jimenez will need to take another leap forward in his maturation process. But even if the Rockies don’t win the division in 2009, they’ve at least put themselves in a position to be competitive while focusing on getting younger.

Offseason Grade: B

- Hot Offseason Action Index -

9 Responses to “Hot Offseason Action: Colorado Rockies”

  1. Nick Kapur says:

    Yeah, I like what the Rockies are doing here. They can be a dark-horse candidate in the West, with a lot of luck. They really need Francis to make it back though.

    I still think they should have traded Atkins a long time ago, but at least there are reports that they have been trying to trade him recently, and now with Helton’s health in question it might even be better that they didn’t.

  2. I think Francis is better than his 5 ERA last year. But not by much – at least, not in Colorado.

    As a team, I still don’t think that they’re ready to compete. Not enough bats to compensate for lacking in pitching.

  3. I’d say the entire NL West is up for grabs. The Giants have the rotation but lack everything else. The Dbacks still need to grow. The Pads are very quickly going to be an also-ran. The Dodgers, even with Manny are a team with some serious flaws, though are still the early favorites. Then there’s the Rockies, the darkhorse.

  4. Coley Ward says:

    The problem with trading Atkins is that he’s a terrible defensive 3B and teams are starting to wake up to the value of defense. If you play him at first base his defense is more forgivable, but his offense is below average for a 1B, especially when you take into consideration the inevitability that his numbers will decline if he plays his home games anywhere other than Denver.

  5. Don’t forget about prospect CF Dexter Fowler. It’s likely that he’ll start the year in AAA, but he’ll get the chance to win a roster spot this spring.

  6. Despite Francis’ reported problems, I feel the Rockies are in a much better place with pitching this year than last. Aside from Marquis and Smith, they’ve also got a handful of younger guys competing for rotation spots this year — Jason Hirsh, Greg Reynolds, and Franklin Morales.

    The Rockies have tried to push their younger pitching a little too hard at times, but I’d be comfortable if any of these three are in the starting rotation come opening day.

  7. Jason Marquis is not good and expect him to be below average at Coors (ERA around 5). Greg Smith was one of the luckiest pitchers in baseball last year (you don’t get away with striking out 5 and walking 4 for very long). Jason Hirsh isn’t that young anymore. He’s 27 and he still hasn’t shown anything. And I’m pretty sure I can beat Morales in an accuracy contest.

  8. Morales showed a lot of improvement in winter ball in Venezuela, ending up with a 3.11 ERA and 33 to 12 strikeout to walk ratio in 46 innings. If he can keep that up this spring, he’ll be in the rotation for sure. Given his numbers, I don’t doubt it was his back giving him trouble last year.

    Greg Reynolds maintained an ERA around 4 after being sent down to Colorado Springs last year. I don’t think he has the potential Morales does, but has a shot at the fifth spot just the same.

  9. Paul Moro says:

    Max, I still think that Morales has potential too. But no one should take any winter ball stat seriously. They don’t play nearly enough games to get the stats that reflect actual skill and also have much more inferior talent. For his sake, I hope he does come back healthy but at this stage of the game all we can do is guess.

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