Rockies go for broke with Tulo, CarGo deals

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Colorado Rockies.

2010 record: 83-79
Finish: Third place, NL West
Final 2010 payroll: $88 million
Estimated payroll on opening day: $82 million

Offseason action

Troy Tulowitzki will be a cornerstone of the Rockies through 2020.
Getty Images

The biggest spending splurge in baseball this offseason didn’t add a free agent. It didn’t involve a trade. Instead, it will keep one player in a Rockies uniform through 2017 and another through 2020. Undeterred by the folly of previous lucrative long-term deals given to Mike Hampton(notes), Denny Neagle and Todd Helton(notes), the Rockies committed $237.75 million to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki(notes) and right fielder Carlos Gonzalez(notes).

Tulowitzki will get $157.75 million over 10 years and Gonzalez will get $80 million over seven. Certainly, the two offensive and defensive juggernauts are the backbone of the lineup. No doubt, they are two of the best young players in the game. But while many mid-market teams plan to cut loose premier players when they reach free agency (see Brewers and Prince Fielder(notes)), Colorado has ensured their stars will become franchise icons.

Meanwhile, most teammates of Tulowitzki and Gonzalez will be paid relative peanuts, especially when 2017 rolls around and they are each getting $20 million.

Asked by the Denver Post whether the contracts painted the club into a corner, owner Dick Monfort said “no” five times, then added, “We’ve painted ourselves into a position where we have to develop. We have to have young players who come up.”

Problem is, Colorado doesn’t have an abundance of top prospects, at least not many close to big league ready. Left-handed starters Tyler Matzek and Christian Friedrich(notes) are probably the best prospects, but both need more seasoning. To fill gaps in the short term, GM Dan O’Dowd traded for reliever Matt Lindstrom(notes), and signed the versatile Ty Wigginton(notes), re-signed pinch-hitter Jason Giambi(notes) and took a flyer on infielders Jose Lopez(notes) and Joe Crede(notes). Also, pitcher Felipe Paulino(notes) was acquired from the Astros for infielder Clint Barmes(notes).

Reality check

The staggering salary numbers associated with Tulowitzki and Gonzalez won’t break the bank soon. For 2011, both are on the cheap: Tulo will be paid $5.5 million and Gonzalez will get only $1 million. Payroll spiked last year to $84.2 million by season’s end – a 60-percent increase from the Rockies’ World Series run in 2007 – and will be around that figure again.

The Rockies aren’t significantly better than last season, at least not yet. They made their usual September surge, briefly turning the NL West into a three-team race until retreating dramatically down the stretch and losing nine of their last 10 games. Many observers blamed the third-place finish on O’Dowd’s inability to pull the trigger at the trading deadline after exploring deals for Derrek Lee(notes), Dan Haren(notes) and Ted Lilly(notes), among others.

Offense hasn’t been a problem and likely won’t be again. The Rockies finished in the top four in the National League in most hitting categories. Pitching, however, could be even more problematic than last season, when the team ERA ranked 12th in the league. Ace Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) will be hard-pressed to duplicate his success of 2010, and live-armed Jorge De La Rosa(notes) – re-signed through 2012 with a player option for 2013 – is inconsistent. Aaron Cook(notes) might be reaching the end and Jason Hammel(notes) is decidedly average. Youngster Jhoulys Chacin(notes) is being counted upon for continued improvement until Matzek and Friedrich are ready.

The Rockies like several hitting prospects on the horizon, especially corner infielder Nolan Arenado, shortstop Chris Nelson(notes) and outfielder Kyle Parker. Ideally, they will make an impact in the major leagues in a couple of years, right about the time the big bucks kick in for Tulowitzki and Gonzalez.

Rockies in haiku

Tulo and CarGo
We do wed to Denver, raise
A glass of Coors Light

Next: Philadelphia Phillies

Steve Henson is a Senior Writer and Editor for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter.
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Updated Thursday, Jan 20, 2011