The Rocky Mountain winds of change should be blowing down Blake Street this off-season. Get ready for a wild ride.
Unless Dan O’Dowd chooses not to change his spending philosophy and capitalize on the increase in revenue, the Rockies are primed for a historic off-season.
Keeping the core intact needs to be made a top priority this winter in order to keep the franchise afloat. Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado are the keys to the Rockies success in 2014.
Nevertheless, there are a handful of fan favorites that the organization needs to consider dealing to address the missing pieces to the puzzle.
Step 1: Acquire a Consistent Left-Handed Starting Pitcher
Once again, the Rockies starting pitching ranked in the bottom third in baseball in terms of ERA.
Most of the damage came from a horrible back end of the rotation, spearheaded by Juan Nicasio. Collin McHugh, Drew Pomeranz and Chad Bettis simply aren’t enough to compete at a high level in a pitching-heavy league.
With a rotation consisting of one lefty, the front office has no choice but to make a play at a quality left-handed starter this offseason.
Unfortunately for the Rockies, this edition of free agency lacks a high-profile lefty. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a handful of quality arms that O’Dowd should consider taking a chance on.
Scott Kazmir had a solid bounce-back season for the Cleveland Indians this year, posting a 10-9 record with a 4.04 ERA. He even managed to post a 3.32 ERA over his last 15 starts.
Kazmir improved tenfold as the season progressed. His fastball went from the low-90s in April to topping out at an impressive 97 mph by September. While it wouldn’t be the safest signing for the Rockies, for the right price, Kazmir could provide a reasonable left-handed option for the rotation.
Another name O’Dowd should look into is Jason Vargas. Vargas has been a consistent middle-of-the-rotation guy for the last five seasons. After recording a 9-8 record with a 4.02 ERA for the abysmal Angels this year, Vargas is floating well under the radar in this free-agent class.
Durability would be the prime reason for this move. The blood clot injury Vargas suffered was a freak injury, and it shouldn’t have any effect on his mechanics.
Other notable lefties on the market this winter include Chris Capuano, Paul Maholm and Bruce Chen.
Ex-Rockie right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez serves as a tantalizing option as well, but after his confrontation with Tulowitzki during a spring game in 2012, his return is unlikely.
That leaves Matt Garza and Ervin Santana, who are unquestionably the most high-profile arms on the market. Granted, neither is left-handed, but their 2013 campaigns make them impossible for the Rockies to discard.
Chances are the Rockies don’t land either Garza or Santana. Still, landing one of these guys would solidify the rotation and make the Rockies instant contenders in the NL West.
Step 2: Fix the Broken Bullpen
The Rockies put together a bullpen ERA of 4.23 in 2013, making them unable to close out tightly contested games down the stretch.
A team cannot compete without at least three reliable, consistent arms in the pen.
Matt Belisle, who has traditionally been the go-to guy late in games, really struggled to get it done down the stretch. He posted a 4.32 ERA in 73 innings.
With a $4.25 million mutual option on the table for their veteran right-hander, the Rockies will likely part ways with Belisle.
That being said, the pen is left with just Rex Brothers, who was mediocre in the closer role last season. O’Dowd needs to go out and acquire a closer as well as another late-inning reliever to have any chance at consistency in 2014.
Jesse Crain was having a phenomenal season before straining his right shoulder in June. In 36.2 innings, Crain recorded a minuscule 0.74 ERA with virtually zero offensive support.
The 32-year-old right-hander also has not ended the season with an inflated ERA since 2009. Crain will come at a hefty price, but it’s one the Rockies should seriously consider taking on.
Step 3: Acquire a Big Bat
Todd Helton’s retirement and Michael Cuddyer’s ability to play outfield and first base opens the door for the Rockies to make a move for a big time bat.
Marlon Byrd seems to fall comfortably into the Rockies price range. Byrd’s unprecedented offensive production was a large reason the Pirates snuck into the playoffs last October.
Byrd hit .291 with 24 homers and 88 RBI for the Mets and Pirates this season.
While the move makes sense from a statistical standpoint, the Rockies have just one hitter in the lineup, Dexter Fowler, who is capable of hitting left-handed. There’s also a good chance that Fowler will be used as a trade chip in an attempt to acquire a starting pitcher this offseason.
In terms of free agents, James Loney, Kendrys Morales and Corey Hart seem to be the most likely suitors for the Rockies.
Loney flew under the radar this season after hitting .299 with 13 homers and 75 RBI. Take away his drama-stricken and confusing 2012 campaign for the Dodgers and Red Sox, and Loney could be considered one of the most consistent left-handed bats in baseball over the last six years.
Morales is a lot like Loney in terms of statistical value. Put either of those guys in Coors Field, and their numbers will only improve.
Corey Hart missed all of 2012 due to injury. What better place to try to rebound than Coors Field?
Hart hit 30 homers with 83 RBI in 2012. If entirely healthy, those numbers will only inflate next year.
In terms of trading for a bat, no legitimate rumors have surfaced up to this point. However, looking into Mets’ second baseman Daniel Murphy could fix the hole at the position.
Murphy quietly hit .286 with 13 homers and 78 RBI for the Mets this year. The move wouldn’t cost the Rockies much. It would also allow Cuddyer to move to first and give Corey Dickerson a chance at a starting job come spring training.
Either way, expect a new face in the Rockies lineup come April.
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