The Colorado Rockies watched the San Francisco Giants celebrate a World Series championship, then watched the Los Angeles Dodgers solidify their pitching staff and second base spot within the month since the season ended. Now, they are doing their own moving and shaking.
The Rockies, according to multiple reports, have agreed to a contract extension with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki through the 2020 season, and have also agreed to pay roughly $32 million over three years to retain the services of free-agent starting pitcher Jorge de la Rosa. Both men will return to a Rockies club that made a strong, desperate September run in the NL West and Wild Card races last year before falling just short.
If it seems at all insignificant next to the outside acquisitions (notably Jon Garland and Juan Uribe) that the Dodgers have made this winter, or if it seems insufficient to overtake the stellar pitching staff of the Giants, then this pair of moves at least clears the way for Colorado to get serious about adding a solid hitter for one of their corner outfield spots, and gives them enough certainty in the starting rotation to aggressively pursue the closer or other relief ace they badly need to compete.
Tulowitzki is perhaps the best shortstop in baseball, and certainly the most well-rounded. He has hit .305/.379/.560 over the past two seasons, averaging 30 homers, 94 RBI and 16 steals in those campaigns. More importantly, he is perhaps the best defensive shortstop in baseball, and certainly one of the top five in that respect. Hanley Ramirez is as good a hitter, but not in Tulowitzki's league defensively.
De la Rosa figures to be a solid complement to Ubaldo Jimenez in Colorado's rotation for the foreseeable future. Though he struggles with control at times and battled finger injuries in 2010, he strikes out about a batter per inning and is one of the league's most prolific ground-ball pitchers. That has obvious and tremendous value in an environment like Colorado, and de la Rosa's ability (as a left-handed hurler) to get both right-handed and left-handed batters out is a huge bonus.
The Rockies overpaid a bit for him in what is becoming a player's market for pitching salaries, but if he can stay healthy, he will offer plenty of return on their investment.
The next step for the Rockies is to beef up their corner outfield and/or first base spots.
Carlos Gonzalez is a monster in left field, but may move to center eventually if the team feels it can do better than Dexter Fowler by adding a left fielder. Still, the team has taken big strides toward seriously contending in 2011 just by locking down its two big contributors. Here is a look at all five NL West teams, and who would reign supreme if the season began tomorrow:
1. San Francisco Giants
Yes, the Giants still sit atop the heap for now, although their lack of offense is becoming conspicuous and the rumor mills are not friendly to the team's insistence that it will add a big bat like Carl Crawford. They need a shortstop better than Edgar Renteria to balance the loss of Uribe to the division-rival Dodgers, but there are ample options out there for them in that respect.
If they can add even one impact bat (and it need not be an elite bat, just a better one than Renteria's or Mark DeRosa's), the pitching staff that so dominated the playoffs will be able to carry the team to another division crown.
2. Colorado Rockies
They were almost as good as the Giants in the second half, and they have a pair of aces to match anyone but the Giants in this division. Tulowitzki and Gonzalez are not merely great hitters, but versatile contributors on both offense and defense, with speed, power and range. No offensive duo in the division can match them. In fact, only Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday are a better top tandem in the entire league.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
Hot on the trail of San Francisco and Colorado, the Dodgers still have holes to fill. Catcher and left field remain very much in limbo, and even if Ned Colletti swings a clever deal of James Loney to address one of those spots, they will need to open the wallets wide enough for first baseman like Adam Dunn.
All in all, though, the Dodgers have taken some huge steps forward by locking up their pitchers for 2011 and adding Juan Uribe for a bit more pop in a lineup that needed it badly.
The Padres have been conspicuously quiet this winter, and not moving at all is about the same as going backward in the current climate of the NL West. Adrian Gonzalez may now be a true goner, since GM Jed Hoyer's staff seems highly pessimistic about the team's ability to sign Gonzalez beyond this season and since the Padres (who lost Garland to Los Angeles) are a fistful of moves from viable contention in 2011.
Kevin Towers is a great team-builder, but he has more than one winter's worth of construction ahead of him. Even if Rome were built in a day, Towers would be at a loss. The organization he inherits looks more like Chicago circa 1800, a vast swamp with only the barest signs of potential. Trade rumors abound around this team, with Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton the hottest commodities.