The lines were clear in 2012. The Colorado Rockies had a solid though overworked bullpen. They had the stinkiest of stinky starting rotations, bordering on historical ineptitude. As 2013 commenced, it appeared that the lineup was back in tact and ready to thump its opponents. The bullpen, steeled in the fires of a busy 2012 and bolstered by the addition of Wilton Lopez (we had such high hopes back then!), would be solid once again. It all came down to whether or not the starting rotation could get the job done.
It remains true that the Rockies need starting pitching, but perhaps not quite in the context we expected. The back of the rotation has been a problem, but the front of the rotation touts three studs in Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood, and Jorge De La Rosa. Check out these stats:
So yes, the rotation still needs some help on the back end of things, where a cast of Juan Nicasio, Jeff Francis, Roy Oswalt, and Drew Pomeranz have struggled. That help might come via a trade for a starter. But really, that is a welcome problem considering how ugly things got last year.
If the Rockies do pursue trades for pitching, it might not only be for the rotation. Surprisingly there are also holes in the bullpen that the Rockies need to plug. The most glaring disappointment would be the aforementioned set-up man Wilton Lopez, who has never gotten things on track after arriving in an off-season trade with the Houston Astros. In 46 appearances Lopez has posted a 4.51 ERA, seemingly getting battered every time he takes the mound.
Whether it is because he is struggling to adjust to Colorado or it is a lingering arm injury that has changed his arm slot and diminished the effectiveness of his sinker, Lopez isn’t right. He is one of the team leaders in appearances, so manager Walt Weiss has given him plenty of chances to right the ship and he simply has not been able to do it. Paired with the recent struggles of a presumably exhausted Matt Belisle, the Rockies find themselves in a need of an upgrade in the back of the bullpen to go along with Rex Brothers and Rafael Betancourt.
How about Colorado’s own Jesse Crain as a trade target? While the White Sox reliever is coming off an injury at the moment, he touts an exception 0.74 ERA in 38 appearances this season. He has K’ed 46 hitters while only walking 11. As Troy Renck of the Denver Post reported, the White Sox are shopping Crain and the Rockies might be interested.
One hang-up will likely be the fact that Crain would be a rental, as his contract expires at the end of the season. Might the Rockies be able to re-sign him if they did acquire him? Perhaps, as Crain does have Colorado ties and the Rockies have had success with that formula in the past. Really, the only impact deals the Rockies have made in recent memory were for bullpen help: Betancourt, Joe Beimel, etc.
The Rockies could also use an alternative to some of their formerly-known-as-hybrid long relievers. Adam Ottavino, Josh Outman, Manuel Corpas, and Edgmer Escalona have all had their ups and downs. Thanks to a strict 100 pitch limit on starters, none of them is short on innings pitched:
Might the Rockies trade for that kind of reliever? How about Phil Hughes?
Hughes was recently linked to the Rockies by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, who noted that the Rockies view Hughes as a bullpen arm. This despite the fact that all 18 of Hughes’s appearances this year have been starts. His results have not exactly been overwhelming, as he has posted a 4.57 ERA and has surrendered 18 home runs. He has been striking out hitters at a 7.7/9 clip, however, and goodness knows the young man has some talent.
Hughes would also be a rental, as he will be a free agent at the end of the season. To acquire Hughes is probably the kind of move the Rockies could afford to make right now, even with some uncertainty about their ability to contend. Even with the risk of losing him, they might be able to develop him and perhaps incorporate him into the rotation if he pitches well. The way Hughes has kicked around with the New York Yankees, he might welcome the chance to settle in with a new club. If that were the case, he might be a less risky rental.
Crain is a tad more risky, especially given the fact he would cost the Rockies a bit more in terms of prospects. To acquire a veteran set-up man is more the kind of move a proven contender makes, so Colorado might want to wait and see how their upcoming home stand goes before getting too serious about him.
Either way, it is July 18th and we can still rationally discuss the Rockies adding players at the deadline. That is a victory in itself.