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.
2011 record: 73-89
Finish: Fourth, NL West
2011 final payroll: $82.3 million
Estimated 2012 opening day payroll: $80 million
Yahoo! Sports' offseason rank: 13th
Hashtags: #coorsfieldturnsbluewhencold, #tebow>tulo, #cuddyer3forkillebrew, #moyerreturns, #20thanniversary
The Rockies – meaning GM Dan O'Dowd, manager Jim Tracy, veteran first baseman Todd Helton, otherworldly shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, all of them – left spring training a year ago believing they would be champions. If not of baseball, then of the National League, or certainly of the five-team NL West.
But – and this happens a lot, actually – they weren't close. The Rockies were awful. Like, 89 losses of awful road team, awful pitching, awful slumps, awful injuries, the whole thing, and this was including an April in which they went 17-8. Just to convince everyone of their near end-to-end awfulness, they dumped 11 of their last 14 games to become the worst Rockies team in six seasons.
Wild-card winners two years in 2009, World Series qualifiers four years 2007, they were two games better than the San Diego Padres, who'd been out of contention since mid-April, and one win better than the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Being a reasonable man even in the land of the unreasonable ballpark, O'Dowd suspected change was necessary. And by the looks of things, he believed it was time for the Rockies to grow up.
By opening day, his new third baseman – Casey Blake – will be 38. His new right fielder – Michael Cuddyer – will be 33. The new catcher – Ramon Hernandez – will be 35. The second baseman he got from the Boston Red Sox – Marco Scutaro – will be 36. And, he'll see if he can wring a 25th season from Jamie Moyer, who in November turned 49.
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The Rockies, perhaps, have become wiser, more composed, and perhaps not as prone to the wild performance swings of previous seasons. They've also become slower, slightly vulnerable to injury, and definitely more prone to Def Leppard.
An analysis of the Rockies' offense, as always, comes in two parts – the first at Coors Field, the second everywhere else.
So 2011, and the answers for 2012, come on the same haunting swivel. The Rockies were an offensive machine at home last season, and worse than every NL team but the Houston Astros on the road.
Still, with Tulowitzki, a healthy and secure Carlos Gonzalez (a bothersome wrist injury and a new contract in '11), Helton and Cuddyer through the middle of the order, an improved Dexter Fowler at the top, and a versatile Scutaro behind him, the Rockies should be more consistently productive.
And, the truth is, they'd better be.
Perhaps the Rockies can slug their way back to relevance in the West, where generally the pitching staffs and ballparks are resistant to such strategies. More likely, a mostly young and unproven pitching staff will have to grow up.
Three of the top four rotations in the league are in the West, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are improved. In the interest of depth and a better future, O'Dowd last summer traded staff ace Ubaldo Jimenez for four players, and could start the season with two of them – Drew Pomeranz and Alex White – in his rotation. Pomeranz, the 23-year-old left-hander who made four September starts and looked good in three of them, is nearly a sure thing, likely to be slotted behind Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel and, perhaps, Juan Nicasio.
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By June, the club hopes to have back Jorge De La Rosa, who was solid through 10 starts in 2011 (and won 16 games in '09) and then was lost to Tommy John surgery. The better comeback story, however, will be Nicasio's. On Aug. 5 he took a line drive to the head while on the mound. When he collapsed, he hit the ground with such force his neck was broken. He'll pitch for a place in the rotation this spring, when Tracy and his staff will sort through the likes of Tyler Chatwood (acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in the Chris Iannetta trade) and two pitchers they got from Oakland, Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman.
Well, geez, pick just about anybody on the pitching staff.
Does Chacin, at 24, command his fastball, find the strike zone more regularly and take Jimenez's place as the staff ace? Twenty-sixth in the league in innings pitched, he was first in walks.
But he was the same pitcher at Coors Field as he was at sea level, which speaks as well for his heart as it does his stuff.
Can De La Rosa return in time to push the Rockies through summer?
Is all of this too much too soon for Pomeranz, who has pitched one professional season?
Hell, let's just make it pitching coach Bob Apodaca, who'll once again take on the toughest job in baseball.
Rockies in Haiku
Not just the mountains
This graying of the Rockies
But the ballclub too
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