Colorado Rockies: The 10 Biggest Decisions Ahead This Offseason
The Colorado Rockies have left a trail of sludge to clean up following an 88-loss season and last-place finish in the NL West. It’s up to Dan O’Dowd and this front office to break out the mops and start scrubbing.
As a mentioned in my previous article where I broke down the organization’s financial situation, the Rockies are poised to sign a new regional television deal sometime this offseason. The pending deal should greatly increase revenue and ultimately change the Rockies’ philosophy on spending.
If there was ever a time for Rockies fans to get excited, this is it. The upper office should finally be able to piece together the somewhat unfinished puzzle that’s laid on the Rockies’ living room floor for the last four years.
Tough decisions lie ahead for the Rockies. Beloved staples in the lineup and in the bullpen could be on the move with polished veteran talent filling in the gaps.
Here are the 10 biggest decisions O’Dowd, Walt Weiss and Dick Monfort need to make this offseason.
The Rockies will need to determine who will be the backup backstop in 2014. An open competition is on the horizon.
Monitoring that competition will be ex-first base coach and newly named catching coach Rene Lachemann. Former catching coach Jerry Weinstein will be accepting a role in player development for the Rockies.
Lachemann enters an intriguing situation. Last season, Yorvit Torrealba had the second most reps behind the dish. Torrealba’s contract expired following the 2013 season and unless the Rockies re-sign the 25-year-old veteran, which is plausible but not probable, they’re going to need to replace him.
Defensively, super utility man Jordan Pacheco is looking like the best option to replace Torrealba. In 11 starts at catcher for the Rockies, he was surprisingly mobile and made some intelligent decisions at key moments.
However, after a strong offensive season in 2012, Pacheco hit just .239 this year. Traditionally, backup catchers have a little leeway with the bat as long as they're consistent defensively, but some serious competition spent all of 2013 brewing in the minors.
Catcher and utility man Matt McBride was tearing up Triple-A before succumbing to a neck injury in mid-July. McBride hit .328 with 15 homers and 45 RBI for the Sky Sox. If healthy, expect to see McBride in purple pinstripes next season.
Will Swanner, the 22-year-old Rockies top catching prospect, will likely get some reps in spring training, but don’t expect him to win this catchers competition by any means.
Determining Which MiLB Players to Re-Sign
The Rockies have a ton of mediocre minor league players on the move this season, some of whom made MLB appearances this season.
The list is long, but there are a few names that stick out who might be worth holding on to.
Xavier Nady is one of those names and could be a workable pinch-hitting option off the bench next season. Nady, who was acquired by the Rockies from the Royals in June, hit .296 with 15 homers and 65 RBI in Triple-A last season. He’s worth chancing on a one-year deal.
Another name that jumps out is 23-year-old outfielder Francisco Sosa. For Single-A Asheville, Sosa had a stellar season, hitting .315 with 20 homers and 89 RBIs. Sosa would make a nice future trade chip and the Rockies really have no choice but to pull out the checkbook and lock him up.
The aforementioned Matt McBride could also be on the move, but with the Rockies' current catching situation, re-signing him should be a top priority.
What to Put in the Upper Deck
The Rockies will be renovating and remodeling the right-field upper deck and concourse this offseason, according to Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post.
So far, the Denver Metropolitan Stadium District will be putting in a craft bar sponsored by 5280 magazine, a CHUBurger and a luxurious VIP Cabana Terrace.
The addition should prove a nice little reward for Rockies fans' loyalty, especially after the team’s performance of late.
Matt Belisle’s Option
Reliever Matt Belisle has been a steady hand and fan favorite in the Rockies bullpen for the last five seasons.
Belisle, who struggled in some key situations down the stretch this season, has a one-year club option that’s festering on O’Dowd’s desk.
Granted, this is a relatively expensive arm, but Belisle has been pretty consistent during his stint in Colorado. Unfortunately, it could be his 2013 campaign that sends him on the move.
Belisle posted a 4.32 ERA in 72 appearances with 62 strikeouts. Only Wilton Lopez was used more than Belisle in 2013.
There are problems with this bullpen and Belisle was certainly one of them through the first half of the season. Nevertheless, the Rockies should re-sign the 33-year-old workhorse and bank on him rebounding next season.
Keep or Trade Dexter Fowler
It’s time to let go, Rockies fans. Dexter Fowler is no longer the promising young talent he once was.
Fowler will turn 28 this season. He spent most of 2013 nursing a knee injury and giving the lineup virtually zero productivity in the second half.
Prior to the All-Star break, Fowler batted .284 with 10 homers and 26 RBI. As for the second half, Fowler only appeared in 45 games and hit just .221 with two homers.
With young guns Corey Dickerson and Charlie Culberson looking like sustainable options for starting outfield jobs, Fowler is left out to dry. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.
Fowler can merit some pretty decent trade value this offseason as the Rockies look to improve their pitching.
You can bank on Fowler being put on the block.
With Todd Helton’s valiant and historic exit from the confines of Coors Field, the focus now turns to his replacement.
All signs are pointing to batting champion Michael Cuddyer, who hit a ridiculous .331 with 20 homers and 84 RBI.
Cuddyer played 15 games at crisp first base for the Rockies last season, committing no errors and making virtually every scoop that came his way.
It’s undoubtedly difficult to replace a legend, especially when that legend has defined the franchise for most of its existence.
Expect Cuddyer to get most of the playing time at first base, unless O’Dowd goes out and acquires a big bat. Say, Justin Morneau?
Competition in the Outfield
Weiss has four potential starters and two open outfield spots heading into next season: Dickerson, Culberson, Fowler, if he’s not dealt, and Charlie Blackmon.
Let’s begin with Blackmon. The 27-year-old forced his name into the conversation after his scorching-hot end to the regular season.
Blackmon raised his average from .275 to .309 in September and was named Player of the Week later last month. He would end the season with six homers and 22 RBI in 258 total plate appearances.
After a pretty mundane start to his Rockies career, converted outfielder Culberson also enjoyed a red-hot September, batting .370 with five RBI. That month alone significantly raised his chances of making the Opening Day roster next season.
Dickerson is quickly becoming one of my favorite players to watch on the Rockies. Mirroring the latter, Dickerson began his career hitting just .212 before he was eventually demoted in July.
When Fowler’s inconsistency began to take shape, the Rockies recalled the 24-year-old Dickerson, who hit .273 with five homers and 15 RBI as a result.
Expect a tough competition in the spring with Dickerson and Culberson ultimately coming out on top.
Determining Which Young Players to Keep on Roster
Dickerson, Culberson, Tyler Chatwood, Collin McHugh, Chad Bettis and Rob Scahill are some of the names that may not be on the Opening Day roster for the Rockies.
Out of the youth the Rockies showcased toward the end of the disparaging season, Chatwood is a lock for next season’s rotation. Dickerson and Culberson have also likely earned at least a spot on the roster.
That leaves McHugh, Bettis and Scahill.
With the Rockies in the market for a starting pitcher, there’s a chance Bettis will begin next season in Colorado Springs, or possibly in the bullpen.
On limited innings, Bettis showed flashes of brilliance in 2013, but struggled for the most part. He posted a bloated 5.64 ERA in 44.2 innings, striking out 30 and walking about four batters per nine innings.
McHugh, who was acquired from the Mets in the Eric Young Jr. deal, will also likely not make the team next season. In 19 innings for the Rockies, he posted a 9.96 ERA and struck out just eight.
Scahill, who posted a 5.13 ERA out of the pen, will most likely begin his 2014 campaign in the minors.
Acquire a Big Bat
Despite the losing season, the Rockies still managed to score 706 total runs, tenth most in baseball and second best in the NL.
The increased revenue for the TV deal, Helton’s retirement and a few other holes in the lineup give the Rockies an opportunity to go out and get a bat.
According to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, while signing Morneau is a long shot, the 32-year-old slugger is on the Rockies’ radar.
The idea of Morneau playing in the thin air of Coors Field is a tantalizing prospect.
Tampa first baseman James Loney, who hit .299 with 13 homers and 75 RBI, looked more like himself this season. Loney is a free agent this offseason and is another tempting option to replace Helton at first.
First base aside, the Rockies didn’t get great production between DJ LeMahieu and Josh Rutledge at second base this season. The Rockies could make a play for another Rays player in Kelly Johnson, who hit 16 homers with 52 RBI last season.
Or, O’Dowd could use Fowler to possibly make a play at the Mets’ Daniel Murphy, who strung together an excellent season in New York.
Whoever it may be, there will be a new face and high-profile slugger in purple pinstripes come April 1.
Trade for Established Veteran Starting Pitcher
Unfortunately for the Rockies, this offseason isn’t strong in terms of starting pitching.
However, it is inarguable that the Rockies will acquire one of the big-name starters on the market this offseason.
Matt Garza is the best starting pitcher on the market this offseason. That being said, there will likely be an eight- to 10-team bidding war to acquire him, which puts the Rockies out of the mix.
It was an off year for Josh Johnson, but who’s to say he can’t rebound? We’re talking about a high-profile, quality ace here with a career 3.40 ERA. The pressure was on him to perform in Toronto. In Colorado, despite the high altitude, the atmosphere is much different.
Jason Hammel, who has experience as an ace and in the Rockies starting rotation, is also a free agent this offseason. While his 2013 campaign and his injury proneness lowers his value, O’Dowd has a record of acquiring players who have already played in Colorado.
Back in July, the Rockies were said to have taken an interest in acquiring Ricky Nolasco via trade. Now that the Dodgers are eliminated from the playoffs and Nolasco hits free agency, that proposition of acquiring the 30-year-old right-hander is much more likely.
Nolasco posted a 3.70 ERA with 165 strikeouts for the Marlins and Dodgers this season. He would make a nice addition to the Rockies rotation as an ace.
Fans should expect a new and established face in this Rockies rotation next season.
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