What once looked like one of the toughest divisions in baseball to start the season, the mediocre NL West has handed the Colorado Rockies the opportunity to remain in the hunt.
Since the injury to Troy Tulowitzki, Walt Weiss' Rockies are 4-8 with an uncharacteristically flat offense and starting pitching that isn’t getting it done.
The trade deadline is a little over a month away, and the Rockies need to make some noise. Arizona is proving durable and consistent, San Diego is 10-5 in its last 15 games and even the struggling Dodgers have strung together a four-game win streak.
Here are a few vital pieces that should be on GM Dan O’Dowd’s shopping list as Major League Baseball approaches the July 31 trade deadline.
One Serving of Starting Pitching
Last week’s major league promotion of Roy Oswalt was an exhilarating upgrade to a rotation that’s struggled down the stretch.
The Wizard of Os showed flashes of brilliance in his first start against Washington, striking out 11 but allowing four earned runs in just five innings. Still, it was a promising performance.
In today’s start, Oswalt did not look like the answer to the Rockies’ pitching problems, administering four hits and three runs in the first inning alone.
With Tyler Chatwood and Jorge De La Rosa continuing to impress and Jhoulys Chacin looking good as of late, the Rockies are one starting pitcher away from stability in the rotation.
Luckily for the Rox, the market is very starting pitching-heavy at this point in the season. A few teams falling out of contention are looking like they’re ready to wheel and deal before the deadline.
Bud Norris is a name that’s being tossed around as being openly available at the deadline. The 28-year-old Norris is helping the Astros out by proving his worth, posting a 3.60 ERA with 66 strikeouts.
The Rockies have the minor league talent to possibly spark the Astros’ interest in a deal. While Norris would be a relatively cheap option for O’Dowd, inserting a left-hander in the rotation would make more sense and balance it out.
That being said, the left-handed Cliff Lee is rumored to be on his way out of Philadelphia. For the Phillies, who sit four games under .500 and eight games back in the division, trading Lee and ridding themselves of $60 million-plus in salary makes sense.
Lee would traditionally be way out of the Rockies' price range, but the Phillies rank 24th in baseball in runs scored. They’re desperately in need of a bat and, as most fans know, the Rockies are full of them.
A more economical move could be visiting an old trade partner in the Cleveland Indians and checking on the availability of Justin Masterson.
Masterson is rumored to be on the block, and a Masterson-for-Fowler trade was extensively discussed during the offseason.
The Indians ace could be exactly what the Rockies are looking for at the deadline – a young, cheap pitcher with a high ceiling who’s proven himself on the major league level. Masterson is 9-6 with a 3.76 ERA and an imposing 117 strikeouts in 17 starts.
Also, Troy Renck of the Denver Post tweeted this yesterday:
Rockies like Nolasco. But can't see them taking on $6 million for a rental player before seeing what Oswalt, Pomeranz can do— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) June 25, 2013
Other notable starting pitchers being discussed are Miami’s Ricky Nolasco, Chicago’s Matt Garza and even Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo.
Another option for the Rockies could be promoting from within. Lefty Drew Pomeranz is 8-2 with 92 strikeouts for Triple-A Colorado Springs and could replace a struggling Juan Nicasio in the rotation.
A Box of Bullpen Pitching
Jim Wright has done an excellent job with a Rockies bullpen that was abysmal last season. The pen has lowered its collective ERA by over a run from last year.
However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done at the deadline.
Rex Brothers, who’s statistically one of the best relief pitchers in baseball with a 0.28 ERA, is still the only left-hander in the pen. With closer Rafael Betancourt succumbing to a groin injury early last month, Brothers has assumed the role.
The Rockies need to consider acquiring an above-average lefty relief pitcher at the deadline to take some of the weight off Brothers’ arm. Unfortunately, that’s asking a lot in this market.
Chicago’s James Russell would be a perfect fit. The Cubs, who are in the midst of a rebuilding process, need to contemplate perusing some young bats. Prospects like Tim Wheeler, Will Swanner and recent call-up Corey Dickerson could draw some interest and possibly change the Cubs’ status on the availability of Russell.
teams have asked the #cubs about james russell. they are not inclined to trade him, however.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) June 26, 2013
Russell is pitching masterfully this year with a 2.22 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 28.1 innings.
Other relief pitchers being talked about are the White Sox's Jesse Crain and Philadelphia’s Jonathan Papelbon. While they are both right-handers, it might be worth taking a chance on Crain. He’s off to the best start of his career with a 0.52 ERA and 46 strikeouts—all in just 34.2 innings.
Acquiring Crain would upgrade the Rockies bullpen to one of the most dangerous in the National League and provide the starters with substantial relief.
Miami’s Mike Dunn is likely up for grabs and is one of the more valuable, not-talked-about left-handed relievers in baseball. Dunn owns a 2.83 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 35 innings pitched. He’s allowed just six hits in 12 appearances in the month of June.
However they do it, the Rockies—with just two left-handed pitchers on their roster—need to be buyers at the trade deadline to remain in contention.