2015 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 2015 season. Next up. The Colorado Rockies.

The Big Question: Do the Rockies have a direction?

I have written the Rockies season preview pieces for the previous two seasons and it’s always the same thing. “If Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez can stay healthy, this team could be frisky.” Or something to that effect. It feels silly to say it again at this point, because we just can’t count on it. Tulowitzki was arguably the best player in the game prior to undergoing hip surgery last year, but he has averaged just 106 games over the past five seasons. Meanwhile, CarGo has averaged 110 games over the past four seasons and dealt with all sorts of physical issues last year before having knee surgery. Both players are healthy at the moment, but it’s worth asking at this point whether the Rockies will ever win with them on their roster. Or whether it was wise to even build around them. Coming off three straight seasons with at least 88 losses, it’s time to make some difficult decisions about where this franchise is headed.

Longtime general manager Dan O’Dowd and Bill Geivett both stepped down after last season, so the man tasked with making those decisions will be new general manager Jeff Bridich. While some clamored for an outside voice to take over, Bridich isn’t exactly that. He was previously the senior director of player development and has been with the organization since 2006. Still, the change doesn’t come without some hope. Geivett created an awkward atmosphere by having an office in the clubhouse and FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal recently wrote that he regularly “butted heads” with manager Walt Weiss and others in the organization. Less drama would be a nice start. The Harvard-educated Bridich is currently the youngest GM in the majors at age 37 and his front office includes three others who are 36 or younger. This is a results-based business, so they still have to prove their doubters wrong, but it should be an interesting situation to follow.

After finishing last in the majors with a 4.84 ERA last season, pitching coach Jim Wright and bullpen coach Bo McLaughlin were both let go. Steve Foster, a former special assistant and pitching coordinator for the Royals, is now in place as pitching coach. Meanwhile, Darren Holmes, who was a part of the Rockies’ inaugural roster in 1993, has replaced McLaughlin. There’s optimism with these new hires, but solving Coors Field is a tremendous challenge and this pitching staff doesn’t inspire much in the way of confidence.

Jorge De La Rosa is currently dealing with a groin injury, so offseason addition Kyle Kendrick will be the Opening Day starter. Get excited? There is some youth and upside in this rotation with names like Jordan Lyles, Tyler Matzek, Jon Gray, and Eddie Butler, but ups and downs are to be expected. Butler recently had a recurrence of a shoulder issue, which isn’t a good sign. The Rockies are going to score runs because that’s what they do, but it’s likely going to be another ugly year on the pitching side.

What else is going on?

  • One positive for the pitching staff is that Wilin Rosario’s days as a regular catcher are likely behind him. The decision is long overdue, as he has struggled with pretty much everything behind the plate and needs to find a new position. Bridich didn’t do much in his first winter as GM, but he brought in Nick Hundley on a two-year, $6.25 million contract. He figures to carry most of the load along with Michael McKenry. They might not post the flashy power numbers like Rosario, but this is a net positive for the Rockies.
  • Some scratched their heads when the Rockies made a one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer to Michael Cuddyer last fall, but it worked out great for them, as he declined in favor of a two-year deal with the Mets. The Rockies will now get a compensatory draft pick in this June’s draft and they still have plenty of talent in their outfield. CarGo is a known quantity when healthy while Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson are coming off breakout seasons. Drew Stubbs had a nice year in 2014 (though he did most of his damage at Coors Field) and is a perfectly-respectable platoon option with his ability to play all three outfield positions.
  • The move to Coors Field was exactly what the doctor ordered for Justin Morneau. After struggling through concussion issues dating back to 2010, the 33-year-old won the National League batting crown last season by putting up a .319/.364/.496 batting line with 17 home runs and 82 RBI over 135 games. Who knows what he has in store for a follow-up, but it’s nice to see his career get back on track.
  • LaTroy Hawkins saved 23 games last season as a 41-year-old and is set to enter this season as the Rockies’ closer. His low strikeout rate (5.3 K/9) is dangerous for someone who calls Coors Field home, so he’s no sure thing to keep the job, but he could climb into the all-time top-10 list for games pitched this season if he can stay healthy.
  • I was saving the best for last here. While Tulowitzki and Gonzalez have long been the faces of this team, Nolan Arenado is fixing to change that. He has won Gold Glove Awards in each of his first two seasons in the majors and took a big step forward offensively last season by batting .287/.328/.500 with 18 home runs and 61 RBI across 111 games. He doesn’t turn 24 until later this month and is the biggest reason for long-term hope with this franchise.

Prediction: If things break right, this roster is more talented that the Diamondbacks, so I’ll give them Fourth Place, NL West for now. But they could fall to last behind the Diamondbacks if Tulo and CarGo each miss significant time again or one or both of them are traded.

The Giants are winning but they’re still gonna sell

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The state of baseball in general, the state of the National League in particular and the state of the San Francisco Giants as a competitor are conspiring to create what seems like at least a mildly absurd situation.

The Giants, a veteran-laden team that, as recently as this past offseason but definitely within the past couple of years, were at least talking about being on a win-now footing, just swept a four-game series, have won five straight games and have won 12 of 14 to pull themselves to within two and a half games of a playoff spot.

Yet, that’s all for temporary show, because they’re about to sell off. At least according to Jeff Passan at ESPN. Giants president Farhan Zaidi tried to push back on that in a radio interview yesterday, denying that the club has foreclosed the possibility of a postseason push, but I’m not really buying that and I don’t think most people are.

On one level it makes sense to ignore the recent surge and forge on with a rebuild. Sure, the Giants are winning but they’re not exactly good. They’re two and a half out of the Wild Card, but there are many teams ahead of them. There’s a lot of reason to think that they’re playing in good fortune right now and that that, rather than finding some extra gear of sustainable better play, is what’s to credit. Hot streaks can happen at any time but the trade deadline only comes once a year. When you have the best starter available in Madison Bumgarner and the best reliever available in Will Smith, you gotta make those deals. That’s what I’d probably do if I ran the Giants and I think that that’s, wisely, what Zaidi will do.

Still, it’s an odd look, less for the Giants specifically than for baseball as a whole. We may in an era of cheap front offices who don’t like to contend if it means spending money, but it’s unfair to paint the Giants with that brush. They’ve spent money and acquired talent and have done whatever they can to extend their 2010-2014 mini-dynasty a few more years and in doing so they’ve made a lot of fans happy. That team has pretty much reached the end and, even in an earlier, more competitive era, they’d not be properly criticized for starting in on a rebuild. Heck, they’d be excused if they had done it a year or two earlier, frankly.

But, because so many teams have punted on improving themselves, these aging Giants are at least superficially competitive. As such, when they do sell off in the coming days, it’ll look to some like they’re waving a white flag or something when they’re not really doing that. I mean, the Rockies and the Pirates, among other teams, should be much better than they are but didn’t seem all that interested in improving, thereby helping the Giants look better, right? It’s less a knock on the Giants for rebuilding when they’re within striking distance of the playoffs than it is on the rest of the league for allowing a team like the Giants to be within striking distance of a playoff spot.

But that’s where we are right now. An insanely competitive Wild Card race from teams that, on the whole, are rather unconcerned with being competitive. What a time to be a baseball fan.