This is the 10th team I’ve reviewed, which means I’m now 1/3 of the way through this offseason project. I have 20 teams to get through in the next 34 days, since the winter meetings (the point at which most of the free agent signings and trading really begins) begin December 5th. I fell a little behind for about a week or so, and that means I’m really going to have to push to get all of these done. There’s a chance I won’t get everyone done before some trading, option pick-ups (or declinings) and free agent signing happens, but I’ll take all that into account as it happens.
The 2011 Rockies finished 73-89, in fourth place in the NL West – a bit of a down year for a team that has had 3 winning seasons and 2 playoff appearances in the last 5 years. Just in these last few years, it seems as though Colorado has begun to figure out how to put together a winning team while residing in the 8th smallest television market in baseball. And, you certainly can’t accuse their ownership of not spending the money necessary to put together a competitive team – their payroll in 2011 was $88 million. And, the lowest it’s been in the last 5 years has been $54 million. And Rockies fans have shown their appreciation, as they’ve average over 33,000 in attendance in the same time span – consistently around #10-12 in the league. It would seem that they love their baseball in the mile-high city.
I’d say the $88 million payroll is about as high as it needs to go, though it appears ownership isn’t afraid of spending more, if it means going for a championship (there were talks of a trade with Texas for Michael Young before 2011 started). So, I’ll try to stick around this budget for 2012. The good news for Colorado (and for me), is that there isn’t a ton of work to do. Twelve players already have guaranteed contracts for 2012 – Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Todd Helton, Huston Street, Jorge de la Rosa, Rafael Betancourt, Chris Iannetta, Ty Wigginton, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Matt Belisle, and Jason Giambi (who they just exercised their mutual option with for $1 million in 2012). They also have two pre-arbitration eligible players that look to be important pieces in 2012 – Jhoulys Chacin (their second most valuable player after Tulo, according to WAR) and Matt Reynolds (a LHP who had a 4.09 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 2011 – he had a rough July & August, but was very good the rest of the season). And, the two options left on the roster are ones they won’t likely pick up – Manuel Corpas ($6 million) and Aaron Cook ($11 million).
At this point, you have 14 players accounting for just over $62 million in payroll. But, we still need to address arbitration-eligible players. The two most likely candidates for the Rockies to either work a deal out with, or go through arbitration with are Dexter Fowler (CF) and Seth Smith (RF). This is the first year of arbitration for either of them, and they are both good players worthy of keeping around – especially since Smith played as well on the road as he did in Colorado, and Fowler actually had slightly better stats on the road. And, they make for a good 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup (career OBP of .355 and .348 respectively). I actually think it would be in Colorado’s best interest to sign both of them to multi-year deals. The best outfield prospect in Colorado’s system (Tim Wheeler) might could come up and contribute in 2012, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt him to spend one more year in the minors. Then, in 2013 or 2014 they could consider trading Smith, and replacing him with Wheeler – a guy with an impressive combination of power and speed that could end up being a 30/30 guy in the majors. So, signing Fowler and Smith to something in the neighborhood of 4-years/$18 million each wouldn’t be a bad idea. Plus, that would mean their 2012 salaries would be somewhere around $2 million each.
Now, let’s talk prospects. In addition to Wheeler, the prospects that Colorado has that look the most ready are Wilin Rosario (C), Drew Pomeranz (LHP), and Joe Gardner (RHP). With Iannetta guaranteed through 2012, I think they ought to go ahead and bring Rosario up and let him learn the game while filling in some for Iannetta. Then, when 2013 roles around, Colorado can decline Iannetta’s $5 million option, and slide Rosario into the starting role. Pomeranz and Gardner can battle it out for a spot in the starting rotation (probably #4 or #5), and by 2013, they may both be in there. So, up to this point, you’ve added 2 young prospects, and 2 outfielders to the roster, for a total of about $5 million, bringing your total to $67 million with 7 spots left to fill (2B, 3B, one or two starting pitchers, one reliever, and two bench spots) – 8 if you count having to find a replacement for de la Rosa, since he had Tommy John surgery this year, and will likely miss close to half the 2012 season.
The Rockies need a front-line starter for a year or two, and possibly a #3 or #4 starter for the same amount of time. They aren’t looking for someone to sign for a long time, because they have some excellent pitching prospects (like Pomeranz and Gardner), and they’re also just looking for help while de la Rosa’s on the DL. While rumors fly about their interest in Wandy Rodriguez (who they actually did make a waiver claim for this year, but couldn’t get a deal done with Houston) or James Shields or Carl Pavano, I think Shields is the only one of that group they should consider. He’s a little younger, and actually wouldn’t cost as much, with a $7 million team option in 2012, followed by $9 mil. & $12 mil. options the next two years. That’s almost the perfect contract for what Colorado needs while they’re waiting to see how things pan out with de la Rosa and their young pitching. But, a trade means giving up something – which may not be worth it. So, barring a trade of some sort, I have two suggestions for Colorado’s pitching staff – Hiroki Kuroda and Brad Penny. Kuroda they could sign for something like 2-years/$20 million, and they could get Penny for probably $3-4 million for just the one year they need him. They both are good ground-ball pitchers, which is exactly what you need in the thin air of Denver. And, they both pitch into the 7th inning on a regular basis – something they need more of in Colorado.
At second base, Colorado’s first option should be Aaron Hill. He’s an excellent bat, and a very good fielder, and will cost around $4-5 million in 2012, provided the Diamondbacks don’t pick up his $8 million option for 2012. Option #2 should be Kelly Johnson, who is comparable to Hill, but will likely command a slightly higher salary for 2012. At third base, the Rockies do not need to spend a lot of money. Ian Stewart is the guy they’ve been trying to fit into that spot, and he’s done well a few years. But, he struggled in 2011, so they’re trying to figure out what to do. Key word = WAIT. Hold on to Stewart for another year or two (he’s arbitration eligible, and based on his struggles wouldn’t get a real high salary), and you’ve got the #8 3B prospect in baseball coming along nicely (hit .298 with 20 HR, 122 RBI, and .836 OPS at A+ ball in 2011). And, this is a weak 3B free agent market, with the exception of Aramis Ramirez, who will likely require a multi-year deal worth no less than $12 million per year – too high for Colorado.
Finally, to fill in the final bullpen and bench spots, Colorado should go with young & cheap talent like Rex Brothers in the bullpen (or possibly Pomeranz or Gardner if they think they might do better as relievers in the majors rather than starters), and Jonathan Herrera and Chris Nelson on the bench (two guys that came up in 2011 and contributed some).
By my calculations, this comes to right around $90 million for 2012. The starting lineup would be: 1. Fowler, 2. Smith, 3. Tulowitzki, 4. Helton, 5. Gonzalez, 6. Hill, 7. Iannetta, 8. Stewart. Your starting rotation would be: 1. Kuroda, 2. Chacin, 3. Hammel, 4. Penny, 5. Pomeranz/Gardner (and once he’s healthy, you slide de la Rosa into the #1 or #2 spot, and move everyone else down as needed). To me, this looks like a powerful lineup, and a very good rotation. What do you think?