Believe it or not, the Colorado Rockies had one of the best pitching staffs in the National League in 2009. Away from the launchpad (McQuack?) that is Coors Field, their pitchers held opposing batters to a .256/.323/.390 production line to go along with a 2.23 K/BB ratio and 67 HRs allowed, which puts them among the league’s top teams in those categories. In fact, the 715 runs they allowed including home games was the lowest figure in franchise history (excluding the strike shortened ’94 season, when they were on pace for 883 runs allowed). The pitchers did their job.

The lineup performed rather well too, scoring the second most runs in the National League while holding their own even when away from Coors.  So you could actually say that by the end of the season, the Rockies didn’t really have many glaring weak spots.

Ian StewartFor instance, even with Garrett Atkins becoming a bench player back in June, the Rockies still got subpar production from their third base spot. However, I remain high on the 24-yo Ian Stewart, who put up a line of .228/.322/.464 in 2009. Sure, he strikes out a ton (which can be rectified at his age), but he has decent pop and walks enough to be an above average player and ought to be given the chance to show that he is a longterm answer at third.  And while second baseman Clint Barmes will never be considered an offensive machine, his defensive abilities are quite valuable – especially for a team like Colorado that relies on pitchers being able to induce groundballs in an effort to neutralize the home run effects of Coors Field.  And at catcher, even if Yorvit Torrealba leaves via free agency, the team already has a better option in Chris Iannetta.

The interesting thing for the Rockies this off season is going to be what the team will do with RFer Brad Hawpe, who has a salary of $7.5M in 2010 plus a $10M club option in 2011. Although his offensive production isn’t a mile-high mirage, I, among others, would argue that his bat is not good enough to turn your eyes away from his defense. Annually, Hawpe is among the worse defensive RFers in baseball and he essentially gives up a lot of the runs that he creates at the plate. That’s not a guy I’d like to pay that much money for. It appears that the Rockies front office is wondering that as well, as Hawpe’s name will be floated around the trade wires for quite some time.

However, trading away one of your best hitters is not really a way to improve your offense and it’s unlikely that any trade will net them a more potent bat than Hawpe. They do have an internal candidate in Carlos Gonzalez who played rather well in 2009, but it would probably be unfair to expect him to sustain that level of production for an entire season at this point in his career.  Therefore, if they go this route, they will have to sacrifice some offense for defense which certainly isn’t the worst thing in the world. A better year from role players like Ryan Spilborghs (part of a platoon in LF) should help ease any negative impact that this would have as well on the lineup and I would look for a bounce back year from him in 2010.

Dexter FowlerThat’s not to say that this is a perfect team. Dexter Fowler still needs show us that he’s good enough to handle CF (both UZR and +/- has him as a well below average defender). And Jeff Francis is going to be counted upon to take on much of the work load that free agent Jason Marquis handled in 2009. Perhaps most of all, this is a team that is in need of depth in the infield (who knows how much longer Todd Helton can stay productive) and in the rotation. The Rockies were quite lucky in 2009 to have some health among their starting pitchers and it’s unlikely that such luck will continue.

But all in all, I do like what the Rockies have built. They may not have a superstar on the roster, but they have brought together a good group of above average players to compensate for that and fully understand why they won so many games last season. If they do deal Hawpe and install Gonzalez in right, this, along with the savings from Marquis’ contract, should provide the club with enough money to spend on creating major league depth.

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