2014 Preview: Colorado Rockies

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Colorado Rockies.

The Big Question: Can the Rockies get back over the .500 mark?

Rookie manager Walt Weiss led the Rockies to a 10-win improvement (64 wins to 74 wins) last year, but it wasn’t good enough to prevent the club from a second straight last-place finish in the National League West. After abandoning their four-man rotation experiment, the starting pitching was better with Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa healthy and Tyler Chatwood surprising, but the pitching on the whole was still far from good. Meanwhile, the offense couldn’t do enough to make up for it. In fact, the Rockies scored their fewest runs in franchise history last year, not including the strike-shortened season in 1994.

With Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies have two of the best players in the game, but we saw once again last season that it’s difficult to rely on either of them to stay healthy. Colorado was actually five games over .500 as late as June 11, but injuries to Tulowitzki and Gonzalez soon followed and the club predictably struggled as the year moved along. Michael Cuddyer won the NL batting crown last season and Wilin Rosario continued to show why he’s one of the best power-hitting catchers in the game, but ideally they’ll be complementary pieces to Tulowitzki and Gonzalez this year, not trying to carry the load for the offense.

The Rockies fell short in their efforts to land Jose Abreu, Brian McCann, or Carlos Ruiz over the winter, but they still did quite a bit of tinkering. While the Dexter Fowler trade with Houston was a head-scratcher, they used the cost savings to sign Justin Morneau to help replace the retired Todd Helton at first base. They invested a lot of money into the back end of their bullpen with the additions of LaTroy Hawkins and Boone Logan. They also bought low in trades for the injury-plagued Brett Anderson and the free-swinging Drew Stubbs and even brought Franklin Morales back into the fold.

The Rockies don’t look like a contender at first blush, but their activity over the winter suggests that the front office thinks they can be. For a chance at .500 or better, my guess is they’d need 140-plus games out of both Tulowitzki and Gonzalez and for Anderson to stay healthy enough to rediscover some of his early promise. It’s a tough sell. They could take a step back from 2013 if Chacin’s shoulder issue continues.

What else is going on?  

  • After saying for most of the offseason that Carlos Gonzalez would replace the departed Fowler as the starting center fielder, the Rockies recently changed course by deciding that he’ll remain in left field. It’s the right move, as he has a better chance to hold up there, especially coming off a nagging finger injury. Drew Stubbs and Charlie Blackmon now figure to get most of the playing time in center field while Corey Dickerson could find himself in Triple-A to begin the year.
  • Nolan Arenado didn’t make his major league debut until April 28 last year, but he ended up becoming the first rookie to win the Gold Glove Award at third base since 1957. While we know he can pick it at the hot corner, his bat remains a work in progress, as he hit .267/.301/.405 with 10 home runs and an 82 OPS+ in 113 games last season. He doesn’t turn 23 until April and Coors Field is a pretty good environment to facilitate a power progression, so the Rockies are hoping for him to take the next step in 2014.
  • The Rockies raised some eyebrows over the winter when they signed LaTroy Hawkins to a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the idea of using the veteran reliever as their closer in 2014. While this could be a way to keep Rex Brothers’ salary down in arbitration, the odds are against the 41-year-old Hawkins keeping the job for long. Look for the Rockies to give in to Brothers eventually or potentially test Chad Bettis at some point.
  • What will the Rockies get out of second base? Josh Rutledge was supposed to be the guy last year, but he struggled on both sides of the ball and even found himself demoted to Triple-A for a stretch. DJ LeMahieu benefited from Rutledge’s struggles and ended up logging 434 plate appearances. While he was a solid defender and showed a knack for making contact, he could only muster a .673 OPS (75 OPS+). LeMahieu should be the favorite to begin the season as the starting second baseman, but that could change quickly depending on how Rutledge swings the bat.
  • The Rockies have some questions in the back end of their rotation, but there’s help on the way with right-handers Eddie Butler and Jon Gray, who are arguably the best tandem of pitching prospects in the game right now. Butler is likely to arrive sooner, possibly by July if all goes well. It’s tough to say what sort of impact pitching in Coors Field will have on them, but there’s some hope in the pipeline. And that’s something.

Prediction: The Rockies could be an interesting team if things break right, but you could say the same thing for a lot of teams. As it stands, there are too many questions here. Fifth place, NL West.

Astros take their third bite at the apple in response to Assistant GM Brandon Taubman’s comments

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Last night Sports Illustrated reported that, following the Houston Astros’ Game 6 victory over the Yankees on Saturday night, Astros Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman shouted at a group of three female reporters, “Thank god we got [Roberto] Osuna! I’m so [expletive] glad we got Osuna!” Taubman reportedly repeated the phrase half a dozen times. The Sports Illustrated report was later corroborated by no less than four reporters apart from the Sports Illustrated reporter who were in the clubhouse and witnessed the incident.

The comments and their context strongly suggested that Taubman was, at best, making light of the criticism the Astros received for trading for Osuna following his domestic violence suspension resulting from very serious domestic violence charges lodged against him in 2018. To some it smacked of Taubman taking something of a victory lap over the Astros’ controversial — and poorly handled — acquisition of Osuna and came off as extraordinarily insensitive and abjectly tone deaf.

The Astros originally declined comment before the report was published. Late last night, after the story went live and once it became apparent that it cast Taubman in a bad light, they issued an angry and defensive statement, calling the Sports Illustrated article “misleading and completely irresponsible.” Again, despite the fact that the report was corroborated by multiple eyewitnesses. The team’s statement was itself then subjected to intense criticism today.

The Astros are now taking their third bite at the apple, releasing the following statements:

It’s worth noting that nowhere here do the Astros apologize or even reference last night’s statement which, in essence, called Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein a liar. A statement which they no doubt would’ve let be the last word if it hadn’t been met with such pushback. Which suggests that the above statements — of the “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” non-apology apology variety — are more about damage control than sincerity.

It’s also worth noting that Taubman’s comment takes the oh-so-common tack of referencing the fact that he is a “husband and a father,” which is irrelevant given that at issue were his acts and words, not his identity. We are not what we believe ourselves to be in our heart of hearts. We are what we do. We are how we treat one another. That’s all that matters. Attempts to deflect from that basic fact of humanity are, just that, deflections. And patronizing ones at that. Taubman’s statement would’ve been way better if it had stopped after the second sentence.

As for owner Jim Crane’s statement, it continues the Astros’ tack of wanting to have it both ways. There is no rule that says they could not have traded for Roberto Osuna. What made the whole episode unseemly, however, is how they claimed to have a “zero tolerance” policy against domestic violence and claimed not to be breaking it when they clearly did so because, hey, Osuna was cheaply had. Which means that they actually have a “some tolerance” policy — as do a lot of teams — but they wanted to act like they were better than that and deflect criticism from those who took issue. Here again, Crane wants it both ways by using what should be a straight apology for one of his top employees’ boorish behavior as an opportunity to once again claim that they are better than they truly are when it comes to domestic violence.

If you don’t have to care about an issue and you, in fact, don’t care, well, fine. You may catch hell from people for that stance, but you can do what you want. If, however, you want credit for being on top of an issue, do the work to earn it. If you fall short of your or society’s expectations, apologize and try to do better. What you cannot do is fail and then try to use your failure as a means of turning the tables on those who criticize you while claiming that, actually, you’re really really good on the topic.

Major League Baseball has also weighed in:

“Domestic violence is extraordinarily serious and everyone in baseball must use care to not engage in any behavior — whether intentional or not — that could be construed as minimizing the egregiousness of an act of domestic violence.  We became aware of this incident through the Sports Illustrated article.  The Astros have disputed Sports Illustrated’s characterization of the incident.  MLB will interview those involved before commenting further.”

The comment came out at almost the exact same time the Astros’ comments were released, which suggests to me that they were coordinated. Which, hey, they’re all trying to end the conversation about this before the first pitch of tonight’s Game 1. I will not hold my breath for anything to come of MLB’s “interviews” of those involved.

As for the Astros, here is some free advice: “I. Am. Sorry. I. Was. Wrong. I. Should. Not. Have. Done/Said. That.”

Apologies are easy. We’re taught how to do them when we’re two years-old. Only when we start thinking we’re better than everyone do we start qualifying them to the skies to the point where they lose all meaning