5 Pressing Questions for the Colorado Rockies
Sep 25, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; General view of Coors Field before the start of the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Colorado Rockies. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
And just like that, the Colorado Rockies season is over. After 162 games, 74 wins, and 11 different starting pitchers the Rockies ended their season much like it began back in April — with a Jeff Francis win. So put that in your pipe and smoke it!
Over the next 4 and a half months there will be plenty of reflection surrounding what the Rockies could’ve done better in 2013, what they did really badly in 2013, and what their roster (front office included) will look like in 2014. But let’s be honest here, a 74 win season was fairly acceptable by most “expert’s” expectations.I myself predicted 77 wins, but most people that knew what they were doing were in that 72-75 win range. Meeting expectations can be at times just as much a success as beating them, and that simple fact is more than likely what earned manager Walt Weiss a new contract/extension. But just because you have a manager returning for a second year doesn’t mean there aren’t other critical issues facing the organization this offseason. Here are my top 5.
1a) Can the Rockies land any (meaningful) pitching?
1b) What will the Rockies do with their treasure chest of outfielders?
The Rockies had a better season on the mound, but it was far from being something that can carry them into the post-season. And while their throwers amassed a 18.1 WAR, their 4.44 ERA was 28th in the league. Their 54 wins by starters was 17th in the league. Compare that to the Detroit Tigers starters accounting for 76 wins in a year when Justin Verlander only won 13 times and you start to see an issue. Or how about the St Louis Cardinals starters earning 77 wins with 4 rookies (Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Tyler Lyons, & John Gast)? The Rockies starting pitching wasn’t awful but it just wasn’t very consistent. Outside of Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin, it was a classic case of rubber roulette for 3 out of every 5 days, especially once Tyler Chatwood performed his annual mid-season wear down. So, as it has been for 20 years of Rockies baseball, the club needs pitching. I didn’t even touch on the exhausted Rockies bullpen but I will say this: since 2011 the Rockies have more innings (1721.1) pitched in relief than any other team in baseball. That is scary.
But this all brings me to question 1b. The Rockies have one area of their roster that is stacked with talent: the outfield. The Rockies used 6 different players more than 50 times in the outfield in 2013, though they traded Eric Young Jr to the Mets for some pitcher that seemingly everyone except for Dan O’Dowd knew would be trash. And Charlie Culberson played 47 games in the outfield. Basically the Rockies have outfielders. But what will they do with them? It would only make too much sense if they traded one, or two, away from some decent starting pitching. And I am not talking trading Charlie Blackmon away for a washed up Bartolo Colon. The Rockies have done that trade year after year after year. It is time to stop reinventing the wheel and do a trade that matters. How about this for starters: Dexter Fowler and a relief pitcher for someone’s ace pitcher? Fowler had a break out year, and even with some minor injuries showed that he has speed, power, and a glove. He could be a future All-Star, and that would be cool for Rockies fans to watch. But it would be even more fun to have a starting pitcher that could add dimension to the 1-2 punch of Chacin and De La Rosa. An even bolder trade prediction? Carlos Gonzalez. Cargo is a stud, a perennial All-Star, and what will end up to be a double-digit Gold Glover. Cool. But what has that really gotten the Rockies? Sure, it’s great to hit 30 homers, steal 20 bases, and make multiple jaw-dropping catches each week. But if the team is only winning 74 games, what did you really add? Certain stats indicate that Cargo added 4 wins above average replacement in 2013, or ~2 runs above his replacement platoon of Charlie Culberson, Charlie Blackmon, and Corey Dickerson. So in 2013 the Rockies theoretically would have won only 72 games without Carlos Gonzalez instead of 74 and… the world would have come crashing down? Unlikely. Trading Cargo may be tough with his huge contract, but he is probably the most replaceable person on the roster. I know, I know. Rockies fans don’t want to hear it, but this is a viable option. And one last note: the value of National League Batting Champion Michael Cuddyer has never been higher. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.
2) What gives with the Rockies health?
Already having made reference to health above while noting Dexter Fowler’s injuries, the Rockies have definitely had the injury bug over the past few seasons. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez have not both played a true “full” season since before 2010, and when your best players are not playing at 100% for 150+ games a year… it can really throw a kink in the season. Consider also how key contributors like Fowler and Blackmon have come up limp and the issue becomes nearly glaring. If Michael Cuddyer wasn’t half man/half hockey player then the Rockies would have sported quite a hodgepodge outfield for most of the past two years. Pile onto the injury mountain the issues with Jorge De La Rosa’s ever present blisters, Juan Nicasio‘s… body, a slight oblique issue with Jhoulys Chacin… the disastrous injury that Rafael Betancourt experienced… and I am in pain just typing all of this. But it begs the question: is there a deeper problem? Big league clubs pay money to people to work on strength and conditioning, nutrition, etc for their players and to have so many recurring issues is startling. Is it time to shake up something as simple as a strength and conditioning coach? What could it hurt? Something has to give….
3) Will Dan O’Dowd still be the GM come February? Or November?
Dan O’Dowd has been the Rockies GM for-ev-er (spoken in the vein of the one and only Squints Palledorous of Sandlot fame). Seriously though he has. When you take the time to compare the successes with the failures it becomes really hard to understand why he has maintained his perch on top of the organization — even while he has let loose of some control to his right-hand man Bill Geivett. Since 1999 Dealin’ Dan has led the franchise to a whopping 1135 wins (average 75/season) and 1295 loses (86/season). His rosters have earned just three winning seasons in the 15 under his command. Is that good enough? As a lifelong Rockies fan I’ll say what I have said for the past 4 years: Please Dan, let us go! Let’s turn the franchise into a winner that deserves to have nearly 3,000,000 faithful fill Coors Field each year. Please. Pretty please. Pretty, pretty please.
4) Hitting coach? Hitting coach? Anyone? Hitting coach?
Guess what? The Rockies need a hitting coach. Again. The Rockies are searching for their 5th hitting coach in the past 8 years after former player Dante Bichette announced he will not be returning. None of the coaches have lasted more than 2 season since Duane Espy taught the art from 2003-2006. Want to hear something funny? Before Espy, the hittng coach for 5.5 seasons was Clint Hurdle. You know, that Clint Hurdle. The one who is leading a World Series contender into the playoffs? Too much salt in the wound? Apologies. Either way the Rox are searching for someone, anyone to come stabilize this potent offense. I am not trying to make excuses but these hitters have 4 different coach’s theories embedded in their heads and are about to have to integrate a fifth. That has to play devils with some of these players’ heads. Alright, I’m totally going to use that as an excuse.
5) How much do clones cost these days?
For the first time in 17 years the Colorado Rockies will have to pencil in a new name at first base come February. After going out with a literal bang in his last game at Coors Field, Todd Helton figuratively rode off into the sunset on what should be a Hall of Fame career. He played 2,247 games with the Rockies, racking up an amazing 592 doubles, 369 home runs, and 1406 RBIs while hitting at a .316 career clip. There are many major leaguers who never hit .316 in a season. Helton hit under .300 only four times in his entire career! His offense notwithstanding, it was the ToddFather’s glove that will be missed the most. Helton was a magician with the leather, snapping up short-hopped throws and stretching for off target tosses all while making it look stupidly simple. Over his career Todd Helton totaled 18,893 put outs with a .996 fielding percentage. He committed only 79 errors in 17 seasons, having more than 10 only once in his career. While manning an impeccable first base Helton had only 35 fielding errors and made 309 scoops, which is third all-time behind Carlos Pena and Albert Pujols (stat only recorded since 2002). So much has been written about Helton over the past few weeks, yet words can’t accurately describe how impressive his career has been. He played the game the right way, as a consummate professional, and a career like that is something Rockies fans may not experience again. So…. who wants to start a pot to clone one of the greatest first basemen of all time?? It can’t be that expensive, can it!? I’ll start with the first dollar.
While another Rockies season has come and gone, the bright side is this: we are only 172 days until regular season baseball is back!