October 29, 2007
Okay, now that we have officially been slaughtered by the Red Sox, it's a good time to take a quick assessment of what the Rockies need to do to have more success next season. I say it's obviously our deity's fault and we need to follow Lisa Simpson's lead and turn to Buddhism, instead ... just kidding.
Anyway, the Sox beat us by having better bats, better starters and a better bullpen. So, uhm, that's a start, I guess, we just improve everything ...
Actually, it could be a bit easier than that. Our starters had two clunkers and two well-pitched games this series. One of the clunkers was by Jeff Francis, who is well beyond his previous career high for innings pitched. He was letting the ball elevate a lot more than he had in his previous two playoff spots, and for this reason I still feel he's still a playoff-worthy pitcher. Maybe not Game 1-worthy against the opponent's ace, but more often than not, he’s up to the challenge of starting in October.
As he showed throughout the playoffs, Ubaldo Jimenez is tantalizingly close to being a legit Game 1-type starter. With just a bit more command he should be there. Throw in the excellent job by Aaron Cook last night, and that leaves our Game 3 starter, Josh Fogg, as the only member of the rotation that doesn't seem to fit in October baseball. Fogg's a free agent, and we should thank him profusely for everything he did to get the Rockies to this point, and then let him go to an overpriced salary elsewhere. I think the Rockies will get either Jason Hirsh or Franklin Morales to step up to an October-worthy level of starting performance in 2008, but we should probably target one more decent starter this off season for an ability to eat innings and general depth.
The bullpen is in line for a major overhaul, but that's typical of most teams. Despite his shaky Series performance, Brian Fuentes has proven himself one of the game's top left-handed relievers and I don't know if it's a wise idea to trade him unless we get a very solid offer from another team. Outside of him, Ryan Speier, Taylor Buchholz and closer Manny Corpas, the rest of the pen will be leaving in free agency. The Rockies should have a couple of decent replacements on the farm in fireballers Darren Clarke and Juan Morillo, but just like with our starters, extra depth needs to be added just in case those two don't work out.
As for our offense, a good chunk of our misery has to be credited to the Sox' pitching and Jason Varitek's game calling. That said, there are a couple of players that were decent in 2007, but I want to see take a step forward offensively next season like Tulo and Ryan Spilborghs. With Spilly, I really don't think he's much more than a fourth outfielder to begin with, but Tulo had a much better second half than he showed in the postseason. I'm hoping a full year of that takes him to the level of the elite shortstops in the NL. I think Seth Smith should be a better choice for our DH vs. the AL and our top bat off the bench next season. A few of his hits of late have been Texas Leaguers, but he's got a quick line drive swing, and more selectivity than Spilborghs.
Next, I don't think we can get to the Red Sox' level on offense without much more production out of either our catcher or centerfield slots in the lineup. I'm hoping in 2008 catcher Chris Iannetta develops into the potential he showed in the minors, moving Torrealba -- or whoever replaces him this off season -- into a backup role. Willy Taveras is just a speedy, defense-first place holder in center. Expecting more offense out of him just doesn't make much sense. The Rockies have one guy who might have Ellsbury-type potential in the minors in Dexter Fowler, but Dex hasn't lived completely up to the hype yet and still seems a season away from contributing. In both his and Iannetta's case, some luck in development is going to have to take place for us to get to the next level next season. Would it be worth it to target Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter? I’m not sure about this yet, but I’m of the opinion that the club would receive more benefit from going out on a limb to sign someone like Aaron Rowand than they would by staying pat. It’s a luxury we’ll probably do without, however, as a starting pitcher will take precedence.
Second base might be more tricky -- which happens to be the name of Kaz Matsui's batting music -- but re-signing the free agent Kaz should be a big priority. He and Colorado fit together (check out his home/road splits), and neither will be as good next season should he leave.
At the end of the day, I think we need to add four or five more wins to this year's team to have a more legitimate chance at a title next year. We'll still be behind the Sox in quality at that point, but the talent gap will have closed to give us a better shot at the upset and we should be as good as many of the top AL clubs. I think we could make up a chunk of that ground just by not having the lame production off the bench we had at the start of 2007 -- in the forms of Steve Finley and John Mabry -- and by enjoying the fruits of full seasons from Jimenez and Morales. One more quality starter, whether via free agency or trade, a back-up catcher who can also be a decent Plan B if Iannetta doesn't mature, and re-signing Matsui at second base seem to me to be the team's three biggest needs heading into the offseason.
At any rate, moving forward from here sure as heck beats where we've had to move forward from for the last decade. It's nice to finally have a bright future for the Rockies.