What are the Rockies trying to accomplish in 2016?

Is This Year, Next Year Yet?
by Jim Silva

    A rebuilt pen, a shortstop situation in flux, a young and improved starting rotation, and a farm system bulging with players who are almost ready to have an impact on the major leagues – how many of these things will come to fruition in 2016, and what will they mean to an organization struggling to become relevant again in a suddenly deep, and competitive division?        
    As the Rockies’ players head to spring training, one has to wonder if they feel a sense of excitement or doom. Their last winning season was in 2010 when they finished 83 and 79. Their last taste of the playoffs was 2009 when the Phillies bumped them off in the NL division series winning three out of four games. They’ve lost at least 94 games in three of the last four seasons.
    This off-season there was a lot of talk about “tanking” – the practice of gutting your team so that you can get good draft picks, acquire young players in exchange for veterans, and accelerate the rebuilding process at the expense of a few horrible seasons. It could be argued that there are four teams working pretty hard to lose this season because they had almost no chance of competing. So why not rip the band-aid off instead of the slow peel, right? The Phillies, the Braves, the Reds, and the Brewers are going to be awful because they have traded away many of their established stars for prospects. According to spotrac.com, the 2016 payroll of the Brewers will be the lowest in the majors at just over $50 million. The Braves and Reds fall to 5th and 6th lowest at $77 million and $79 million respectively, with rounding to the nearest million. The Phillies are a large market team, but will have the 10th lowest payroll at about $92 million, well below the median, which is about $122 million.
    Did you notice that there was no mention of the Rockies tanking strategically? Colorado’s payroll will fall pretty close to the middle of the pack at 14th ($104 million), and while they did trade away superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki last season, they held on to resurgent outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, center-fielder Charlie Blackmon, budding superstar 3rd baseman, Nolan Arenado, Gold Glove second baseman, D.J. LeMahieu, veteran starting pitcher Jorge De La Rosa – you get the idea. They have many more assets that are trade commodities, and while they still might ship them off later this season, at this point the Rockies look more like a team trying to compete than a team trying to throw in the towel.
    The discussion for the last couple of seasons had been about whether or not the Rockies should trade away Tulowitzki and Gonzalez and start over. The opinions were strong on both sides and some thought that the Rockies waited too long to trade Tulo. You are likely to hear the same thing about Cargo if the Rockies aren’t appreciably better this year or if the fragile outfielder misses significant time. So when does a team cut and run? If the farm system is barren and you are starting from scratch, it will take a long, painful time to be worth watching again if you are left with nothing at the top. If you have players in your system who are ready to contribute to the parent club or who are close, then maybe you are a season or two away from turning the ship around.  
    The Rockies have a solid fan base drawing 2.5 million fans last season, good for 14th in baseball even though they were pretty awful with little to no hope of contending. They also have five prospects in Keith Law’s top 100 prospects, a farm system ranked 7th in baseball by Law, stars at a couple of positions, and young players with a year or two of major league experience. Their pitching was horrendous last season, but there was some growth from a couple of the young guys in the rotation, and there should be a return to health for another starter or two. The bullpen should be much better with a closer, and a few guys who can serve as setup men. There is uncertainty at a position or two, including shortstop and first base, but the Rockies defense should be improved, at least in the outfield. The Rockies look like a team on the upswing, ready to start adding young players to the big club and possibly compete in the next year or two. Is that the time to start a rebuild or is it time to see what you have and then start adding an impact free agent in a season or two as you push your way into the fight in the National League West? Look for the Rockies to win more games this year, and if their starting rotation matures and stays healthy, look for them to enter the free agent market and compete in another year or two as their young studs start to filter into the majors. While it may not be “next year” yet, this season will be the start of a brighter future in Colorado.

Author: elfuego25

When I'm not writing about baseball (or shoving kettle corn into my mouth at the ballpark), I am probably walking Daisy, who is a very good dog, researching my Portuguese-Irish roots, or wondering when my lovely wife will return from her latest fabulous trip. Yes, life is good!

3 thoughts on “What are the Rockies trying to accomplish in 2016?”

  1. Dear James: Your attitude, which I would describe as “effervescent optimism,” is both admirable and tragically misplaced. Any team spending less than average on their payroll in the NL West needs to have a strategy other than doing everything the way the others do it, and hoping for a good result. “Hope” is not a strategy. I recommend watching “Moneyball,” in particular where BB talks about how the A's will lose if they structure their team like the other clubs do. Bingo. The Rockies' front office suffers from a catastrophic misunderstanding (to quote the movie) of how to beat teams that are vastly better funded and much better staffed. Until that changes, the Rox will wallow in mediocrity, with occasional dips into “awful” and a rare moment of surprising success. I'd rather they got smarter, but I see no signs of it.

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  2. Dear Sir (Ken),
    While I am generally an optimistic fellow, I went into my research assuming that the Rockies were going to be their usual God-awful selves and lose 90-ish games on their way to planting their mountainous purple flag firmly in the cellar of the National League West. But something happened on the way to condemnation alley.

    First, something to ponder – baseball has a youth fetish. If a guy is more than 29 everyone assumes he is in a free fall of decline. While for some this is true, for many the decline is slower in pace, at least to a point. Yes, in sports generally young = good, at least from a long term organizational standpoint. But there is a difference between career value and “what can I squeeze out of this guy for a year” value. Motte (33) and Qualls (37) are old by baseball standards and so their value is not high because it is unlikely that a team will get more than a season or two out of either one of them. But when you have a pen like the Rockies had going into the off-season, those two guys can provide cheap value for 2016. That’s two pitchers who the Rockies know can pitch at the major league level. Motte is more of a gamble for sure, but Qualls just keeps cruising along putting up solid numbers. So yeah, they aren’t full of promise, but the Rockies are full of guys with promise and need some guys who are out of promise but predictable.
    (more)

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  3. Now that you have pondered, let’s look at the other big move the Rockies made this off-season, trading away a starting outfielder for a closer. Hell of a gamble, but the Rockies are actually good at one thing, and that is developing hitters, so was it a big risk giving up the oft-injured Corey Dickerson, who the Rays have decided is more a DH than an outfielder? This is a team with two beasts in spitting distance of the majors in David Dahl (the spleenless wonder) and Raimel Tapia (who could hit your mom even if you bounced her in the dirt on the way to the plate). Dahl was in AA and Tapia in High A, so maybe this year for Dahl, and possibly next year for Tapia. In addition, they already have three rock-solid outfielders on the big league club. So to people who freaked when they heard Dickerson was gone I say, Corey who? What it boils down to is that if Jake McGee is sound, then that is a third arm, and an excellent one, that they have added to their formerly puke-flavoured pen. That’s pretty much what the A’s did this off-season and everyone is talking about how they did a tremendous job rebuilding their pen.

    And finally, the starting pitching… For the Rockies to succeed, and by succeed I mean make it to .500, the rotation needs to be better than last year, as does the pen. Since it would be hard for them to suck with as much, uh, suction as they did last season, I would say that is highly likely without even looking at my cards (poker allusion there). When you actually inspect what the Rockies have put together for a starting rotation, it is quite promising actually. In fact here are three things I would bet my 1970 Topps Joe Rudi will happen this year: 1) De La Rosa has a solid season and doesn’t lead the team in innings pitched like he did last year. 2) Bettis improves upon his solid 2015. 3) At least one of the young arms the Rockies have been hoarding (Gray, Anderson, Butler) will last the season in the rotation and contribute – and maybe two! If the Rockies have four solid starting pitchers backed by a good defense and a solid lineup, then I see a .500 team about to be handed a bunch of young studs (in the next year or two), like Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia, Trevor Story (maybe this year – 3 jacks in Spring Training already), Forrest Wall, Dom Nunez and more. Having the 8th best farm system in all of baseball is exactly what the Rockies need to focus on and improve.

    While I am not in love with the front office, building from within is exactly what they should be doing. Trading away hitters for arms and youth – exactly what they should be doing. Billy Beane was able to exploit the market because hardly anyone was paying attention. Now almost everyone is paying attention to the mountain of stats pouring out of baseball analytic factories, which makes it hard-to-impossible to sneak anything past anyone. I agree with you that the Rockies won’t be able to outspend the Dodgers. The Giants have Bochy and they probably aren’t giving him up. The Diamondbacks might very well self-destruct in their impatience to win with Goldy. And the Padres, uh, well, they have a really cool stadium in the heart of the gaslamp district! The West is likely to be tough, so the only way to compete is to build with young controllable players and fill in with cheap free agents to do stuff like shore up your pen. The Rockies face hurdles most other teams don’t, like being forced to overspend for pitchers who are rightly terrified of pitching in Coors Field. If the front office can remain patient with their youngsters and look for their windows to compete, then there might be a happy season or three in their near future. But don’t ever expect them to constantly retool to win each season like the Cardinals or Yankees or Dodgers or Red Sox. The best Rockies fans can hope for is a good run at the end of each teardown and rebuild cycle. And through my rose-colored blinders, those days of brief joy are coming soon.

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