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.
2008 record: 74-88
Finish: Third in NL West, 10 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers
2008 opening-day payroll: $68.7 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $74 million
While this wasn't an offseason of reckoning for the Colorado Rockies, the specter of last season's failure following a National League pennant loomed over every move general manager Dan O'Dowd made. Every team with a limited budget understands that financial constraints go hand in hand with narrow windows for success, and how one bad move can torpedo it all.
Like, uh, Todd Helton's contract. It is folly to bring it up at this point without its permanent modifier: albatross. Now, the $56.9 million owed Helton over the next three seasons isn't the lone reason the Rockies traded outfielder Matt Holliday in November. Holliday, with Scott Boras as his guide, would have gone into free agency anyway, and Helton's deal only assured the Rockies they wouldn't be able to re-sign Holliday instead of giving them merely a sliver of a chance.
So gone is Holliday, one of baseball's purest hitters, and the rental price on a one-year slugger during hot-stove season ain't what it used to be: Huston Street (a passable closer), Greg Smith (whose iffy command and fly ball tendencies are a perfect match for Coors Field) and Carlos Gonzalez (the potential-filled 23-year-old on whom this deal's success hinges).
O'Dowd filled a few other holes with trades and free-agent signings. While Alan Embree and Glendon Rusch should take care of a few bullpen holes, trading for Jason Marquis was a bit of a puzzler. Yes, his ground-ball tendency should play well at Coors, but for $9 million, there were better pitchers available on the free-agent market. Such as Jon Garland, who instead signed with Arizona.
The Diamondbacks, too, faded last season after getting run over by the runaway Rockies in the 2007 NL championship series. What have they done since? Plus side: trade for Dan Haren, sign Garland and develop Max Scherzer. Minus side: get fleeced in the Jose Valverde deal and watch Orlando Hudson, Brandon Lyon and Juan Cruz bolt via free agency.
Still, any honest assessment of the Diamondbacks and Rockies – not to mention the division-winning Dodgers and spend-spend-spend Giants – shows that Colorado's stagnation, not to mention offloading its best player, is a bad sign for a team that can't afford any.
Doom and gloom aside, this is still a young team loaded with talent, enough starting pitching to fill a pair of staffs and the benefit of playing in a division that bathes in its own mediocrity.
The good news: Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki returns healthy, and while a repeat of his superb rookie campaign is too much to ask, a better showing than last year's lost season is a given. The rest of the Rockies' offense, even without Holliday, can rake: Garrett Atkins (who may play first or third, depending on Helton's barking back), Brad Hawpe and a quartet of players that still hasn't started for a full major-league season, Clint Barmes, Chris Iannetta, Ryan Spilborghs and Ian Stewart.
The bad news: Well, this is Colorado, right? Which means the pitching is ever vulnerable to conditions meteorological and psychological, the latter due to the former. Now ace-to-be Jeff Francis is worried his left shoulder still won't be ready for opening day after missing nearly the entire second half of last year because of soreness. And even though Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez are a nice contrast in the Nos. 1 and 2 spots of the rotation, the lack of Francis to bridge all the question marks in the back half – Marquis and … Smith? Jorge De La Rosa? Jason Hirsh? – is a definite blow.
For the Rockies to contend – and certainly they can – they need a similar spark to the one Tulowitzki, Jimenez and Franklin Morales provided in '07. Something unexpected. And whether that's Morales returning to form after looking so awful last season or Seth Smith stepping into a full-time job in left field or Gonzalez emerging as a star or top prospect Dexter Fowler bringing his considerable talent to center field, the Rockies are hopeful.
They know coming out of nowhere to win isn't just some fancy dream.
Next:Chicago White Sox