The Colorado Rockies probably need to shake things up this off-season, but they could potentially justify the status quo. Here’s how.
Here is a serious question. If the 2014 Rockies had lucked into good health, would that team have been much worse than the 2007 “Rocktober” team? Would they have been as good as that team? Could they have been better?
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To be sure, the Rockies stunk last season for more reasons than injuries. Every team in Major League Baseball deals with injuries and has to strive to build a deep and versatile roster accordingly. But really, a full season of MVP-level Troy Tulowitzki, a healthy Jhoulys Chacin and Brett Anderson, all those outfielders…this team, maybe, could have been something.
Something mediocre, that is. But is mediocre an acceptable goal if you are a team in the vast middle class of Major League Baseball?
In an article last month about the Kansas City Royals and where he was wrong about them, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote the following:
"But while I think I can defend my analysis of the Royals talent level, that doesn’t make the overall argument correct. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen essentially unparalleled parity in MLB, and this year, we have a World Series match-up between two teams who made the playoffs via the Wild Card. In 2012, the Tigers got to the World Series with 88 regular season wins; in 2011, the Cardinals won it all after winning just 90 games. While better teams are still more likely to win out in the postseason, the structure of the playoffs gives a real chance to every team who simply qualifies, even if they sneak in via the Wild Card. So maybe I underestimated the potentially positive returns from being on the good side of mediocre."
It’s an interesting thought. Do we really think that the NL Champion Rockies team from 2007 was anything more than a team on the “good side of mediocre” that got lucky with health and a crazy hot streak to end the season?
Given the immediate downfall of that team in the seasons to follow and the fact that a number of its key figures were out of baseball completely within the next few seasons (pours one out for Garrett Atkins’ career), it seems reasonable to conclude that our beloved Rocktober team fits into Cameron’s theory.
"In other sports, where the value of a top draft pick is so much higher than it is in MLB, the correct decision is often to either be great or terrible, with mediocrity as the awful middle ground. Perhaps too much of that sentiment crept into my own thinking about the upside of building an 85 win team, because in today’s baseball world, 85 wins and a little bit of luck can turn a franchise around.But I think there’s a pretty good chance that I’ve underestimated the positive returns on mediocrity in Major League Baseball. That isn’t a goal to be derided anymore."
Now, the Rockies don’t totally fit in that the miracle playoff run did not turn this franchise around. We thought it would at the time, but it most certainly did not. That’s a problem, and you can reasonably argue that the residue pixie dust from that pennant created some problems for a front office inclined to sit on their hands and hope for the best.
Even still, are these ambitions for mediocrity looming in Colorado? If they are, what do we make of that?
Imagine a world where the Rockies make no major moves this off-season. Michael Cuddyer accepts his qualifying offer and the team trades nobody. They enter yet another season with a crowded outfield, a scrap-heap bullpen, and a rotation built on Jorge De La Rosa and guys like Jordan Lyles and Tyler Matzek.
That’s not a great baseball team. But considering the generational talent of Tulowitzki, the star talent of Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez, and the rising star of Nolan Arenado, is it impossible to envision that as an 85-win team? Could the Rockies look at that flawed roster and still tell themselves that they have built a mediocre team that is good enough to hang around and then potentially get hot to end the season and charge into the playoffs?
I believe the Rockies need to get aggressive and creative about retooling this roster between now and the start of 2015. I think this off-season calls for two major trades. But because this is the Rockies, and because I know better, I am preparing for a world in which the 2015 roster looks an awful lot like the 2014 roster. Even with a new general manager, I think it’s possible that this off-season is a dud.
If it is, it will signal the continued belief that the Rockies aren’t that far from contention if they catch the right breaks. As Cameron points out, teams like the Royals might have planted the seed that it is an acceptable goal. If the Rockies roll with the status quo, this might be what they are thinking.