We all remember the extraordinary run of 2007, when the amazing 11 game winning streak near the end of the season pushed the Colorado Rockies to the playoffs seemingly from out of nowhere. They were a 76-86 team the season before, and even after their winning streak they needed a tie-breaking win against the San Diego Padres to send them to the playoffs. The magic did not stop there for the Rockies, as they shocked the world by sweeping the first two playoff rounds before being eviscerated by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. In all, they had a 21-1 stretch that led them to the biggest stage in baseball. Many people thought that the 2007 success was just a step for a young Colorado Rockies team that looked like they would contend, if not dominate, for years. It wasn’t to be. In 2008, the Rockies finished 74-88, and have played in just one playoff series since the magical 2007 run. So things haven’t quite gone as planned. But pieces are still in place, and this team might just be on the upswing again. The question is: What is the ideal season for this team to compete for a championship given talent, cap space, and prospects?
It Won’t Be 2014:
We have to have reasonable expectations for this season’s team, and those expectations should not be for the playoffs. The core is there, but given the current state of the team (and there is no reason to believe that the 2014 team will be changed drastically in the coming couple of months), it’s hard to believe that the ideal season of contention is 2014. The division is just so strong. The Los Angeles Dodgers are a World Series favorite, and they will likely win the division; like it or not, their free spending ownership has given Don Mattingly a tremendous and deep team. The Arizona Diamondbacks are also a stronger team than the Rockies on paper. They, also, are incredibly deep, especially in the rotation, although they failed to acquire the ace that likely would have sent them over the top. The San Diego Padres are being pegged by many as a dark horse in the playoff race, and while I don’t agree with that label, I do think they are better equipped to succeed in 2014 than the Colorado Rockies. Lastly, the San Francisco Giants always have to be a consideration, given their two recent World Series championships.
While their pitching has consistently improved (very slowly), it still isn’t good enough to carry the team, and the offense isn’t where it was near the end of that magical 2007 season. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez haven’t completed a full season together in years, and while the supporting cast outside of those two is solid, it’s no match for the firepower that Todd Helton, Brad Hawpe, Matt Holliday, and Garrett Atkins gave the 2007 offense.
The top prospects are also not quite ready to make big impacts in the MLB. Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler may make the Big Leagues later this season, but they won’t likely make the impact they will next season. The Rockies’ other big prospects (David Dahl, Ryan McMahon, Rosell Herrera, Raimel Tapia) are also not close to making an impact.
The division’s strength, a lack of pitching, and their prospects’ youth all contribute to the likelihood that 2014 will not be the Colorado Rockies year to contribute.
2015 Could Be the Year: So if it isn’t 2014, how about 2015? It could happen, starting with the fact that some money will be freed up as Cuddyer and others come off the books and the payroll continues to inch up.
There is good news when it comes to the contract situation. They have a lot of money coming off the books after this coming season, with Michael Cuddyer, Jorge De La Rosa, and Matt Belisle, among others, coming off the books. As of now, the Colorado Rockies have 50 million dollars at a minimum committed in 2015, most of which will go to Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. Even with arbitration factored into the equation, the Rockies will have some money to spend next offseason. The problem is that this team is consistently near the bottom in terms of payroll, as this season’s current payroll of around 85 million dollars is higher than it normally is but is still near the bottom of the league. Arbitration will add a big chunk to that 50 million number, and the Rockies will likely only have 10-15 million dollars to spend in 2015 free agency. While Gonzalez and Tulowitzki are tremendous players, we have to acknowledge that their contracts could get in the way of success. They will make 36 million combined in 2015. That number is fair for two players of their caliber, but because owner Dick Monfort doesn’t want the payroll over 90 million dollars, it limits what the team can do in free agency. With that being said, the payroll has been slowly climbing, and multiple big contracts (Cuddyer, De La Rosa) will come off the books, so the Rockies could be well positioned to sign a few impact players.
By 2015, there is a good chance that Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler will be entrenched in the rotation. Catcher prospect Tom Murphy, who is likely the future backstop with Wilin Rosario providing his offense at a different position, will also likely be ready. Kyle Parker, who is likely the best pure hitter in the Rockies system, could make an impact as soon as this season and could well be in the starting lineup to start 2015. There is even a chance that Dahl or Herrera could be ready.
What Will the 2015 Team Look Like?
It’s obviously hard to speculate this far in advance, but I anticipate the 2015 lineup to look something like this (with their 2015 ages in parentheses):
1. 3B Nolan Arenado (23)
2. CF Carlos Gonzalez (29)
3. SS Troy Tulowitzki (30)
4. RF Wilin Rosario (25)
5. LF Kyle Parker (25)
6. 1B Justin Morneau (33)
7. C Tom Murphy (23)
8. 2B- Free Agent Signing
That lineup looks pretty good, with a lot of power and balance, and most of the players will be young (only Morneau will be past his prime). A lot of it depends on whether Arenado and Rosario develop well this season, and I think they will. So the lineup looks good in 2015, but that was never really the question: how about the rotation?
It’s a pretty good front four, but that’s asking an awful lot of Gray and Butler. This much became obvious as I thought about the 2015 Rockies: Gray and Butler are absolutely crucial to the contention chances of the team. I believe in these two young pitchers, and I think they will help lead the Rockies to the playoffs in 2015. Remember, this team is very young, and will have cap space to sign a second baseman and perhaps another starting pitcher. Also, keep in mind that the Rockies have the 8th pick in the draft. At that spot, you can draft a player who can impact the MLB as soon as the next season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rockies draft with the 2015 season in mind.
In 2015, the Colorado Rockies will be well equipped to compete for a playoff spot and eventually advance from there. Their best players will be in their primes, while the supporting cast will be young and ready. We are looking far in advance here, but it looks likely that 2015 is the focus point for the Rockies ownership, and not 2014, which should be seen as a stepping stone to greater success.