The future of the Colorado Rockies appeared bright when Troy Tulowitzki (10 years, $157.75 million) and Carlos Gonzalez (seven years, $80 million) each signed contract extensions prior to the 2011 season.
At the time, the franchise was coming off two postseason appearances in the past four seasons, including a stunning and historic run to the World Series in 2007, and a strong foundation appeared to be in place with two legitimate All-Stars in the lineup and Ubaldo Jimenez emerging as one of the top pitchers in the National League.
Unfortunately, the results since haven't matched the expectations. Three losing seasons later — with a fourth well underway — the mood has significantly changed in Colorado's clubhouse, and the frustration that goes along with failing to meet personal — and at one time national — expectations appears to finally be catching up with the Rockies All-Star duo.
Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post independently spoke with both of Colorado's stars separately on Thursday, and unlike past interviews where they've each leaned on patience and optimism, their resolve appeared to be weakened as the reality sets in that their prime years are slipping away in a hopeless situation.
"In Todd Helton, there's someone who's easy to look at his career here and how it played out. I have the utmost respect for Todd, but at the same time, I don't want to be the next in line as somebody who was here for a long time and didn't have a chance to win every single year," said Tulowitzki, reviewing the 17 years Helton spent as the face of a franchise that never won a division title. "He played in a couple postseason games and went to one World Series. But that's not me. I want to be somewhere where there's a chance to be in the playoffs every single year."
That somewhere won't be Colorado. At least not in its current state. After missing their window to contend in 2011 and 2012, the Rockies have been stuck in baseball purgatory for the past two seasons, with a roster and minor league system that needs to be rebuilt and restocked, but with two stars they felt they could win with immediately with a few tweaks and lucky breaks along the way.
The tweaks haven't worked, and the breaks haven't come, which leaves the Rockies much closer to the NL West's basement than the free spending Los Angeles Dodgers and battled tested San Francisco Giants.
"What people need to understand about me is: Winning's my main priority," Tulowitzki said. "I've been around the game a little bit now, and I understand those years where we did win, how much more fun I had. And then there are years such as this."
Tulowitzki, 29, has veto rights should the Rockies approach him about a trade, but it's safe to assume he would waive those for a chance to join a winner.
As for Gonzalez, he's open to the possibility of being traded as well. In fact, it sounds like he's expecting to be the first big piece moved if and when Colorado moves forward with a rebuild.
"I think it's easier for me to deal with than Tulo, because Tulo has been here for his entire baseball life. I've already been traded twice," said Gonzalez, a member of the Arizona and Oakland organizations before making his Rockies debut in 2009. "The first time I got traded, it was hard. The second time, it was even harder. But I've learned. Once, I thought it was a team didn't love the way I played. Now, I know baseball is a business, and anything can happen from one day to another."
Rockies owner Dick Monfort is a glass half full guy, which drives Rockies fans mad. He's reluctant to not only rebuild, but move forward with in an entirely new direction. Rather than move on from general manager Dan O'Dowd, who's been with the team since 2000, he added a co-general manager in Bill Geivett. The too many cooks in the kitchen phrase immediately comes to mind, but the greater fear among fans and perhaps even Colorado's stars is that they have two men carrying out the same plan and not pushing each other to truly improve the franchise.
To put it mildly, the Rockies situation is messy, and one that can't be cleaned up overnight. Tough decisions will need to be made to improve, and the first of those tough decisions isn't which big star they'll trade first, but who will ultimately be tasked with making that decision.
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