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Press releases, not press conferences, have been the offseason norm for the Rockies in recent years when introducing new players. But after their hugely disappointing 2011 season, the Rockies uncharacteristically splurged in the free agent market by signing right fielder Michael Cuddyer to a three-year, $31.5 million contract and held a press conference at Coors Field to celebrate his arrival. Cuddyer will strengthen the offense and bring some veteran accountability and a team-first outlook that the clubhouse could use to help the Rockies move past a dismal 2011. But if the Rockies are to contend this season, it will be because their starting pitching moved beyond potential to genuine production. Last year at the trade deadline, GM Dan O’Dowd dealt Ubaldo Jimenez, the Rockies’ erstwhile ace but a very ordinary pitcher since the 2010 All-Star break, to the Indians for four players, including pitchers Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. Offseason deals brought pitchers Jeremy Guthrie from Baltimore, Kevin Slowey from the Twins, Tyler Chatwood from the Angels and Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman from the A’s. The Rockies need at least one of these pitchers to step forward this season. But they also need Jhoulys Chacin, whose performance was spotty over the final three-and-a-half months last year, to find the fastball command that was elusive and led to his inconsistency after a brilliant start. If the starting pitching comes together, the Rockies could contend in a division that is by no means overwhelming. But if it doesn’t, the Rockies won’t be playing in October, despite the contributions of Cuddyer on and off the field.
Guthrie led the Orioles with 16 quality starts, but his 17 losses in 26 decisions tied for the sixth-most in club history. He hasn’t posted a winning record since 2007, but he’s been a victim of poor luck and run support. The Rox are counting on him leading the staff on and off the field. While the Rockies are waiting on their young starters to mature, they have the ageless Jamie Moyer following Guthrie to the mound. Coming off Tommy John surgery that cost him last season, Moyer is set to become the oldest pitcher to win a major league game. Veteran lefthander Jorge De La Rosa, who underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2010, is due back around the All-Star break, maybe sooner. Chacin, 24, has the stuff to pitch near the front of the rotation but needs better fastball command, which can come with more consistent mechanics, to reach his lofty potential. Juan Nicasio, who suffered a broken neck on Aug. 5 when he was hit on the right side of the head with a line drive, has made a remarkable recovery and is expected to be in the rotation. Moscoso, acquired from the A’s in January, held opponents to a .212 average in 23 games (21 starts) with Oakland last season. Pomeranz was impressive during a September call-up. White, Chatwood and Esmil Rogers will contend for the rotation at some point this season.
Rafael Betancourt filled in for injured closer Huston Street for two weeks in August and supplanted Street with what became part of a dominant second-half stretch. The Rockies are confident Betancourt can close, something he has never done to enter a season, and freed up $7 million by trading Street to the Padres for a minor leaguer. The bullpen was a strength last year and should be again — assuming Betancourt continues to close effectively — with lefthander Rex Brothers along with Matt Belisle available for late-inning work. Outman, part of the Moscoso deal, was terrific against left-handed batters last year with the A’s. Middle relief arms include White, Chatwood and Rogers, assuming they don’t win a rotation spot, and Josh Roenicke.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is one of the best players in the game, a productive clean-up hitter and a Gold Glove winner. He’s 27, so there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to be a force on both sides of the ball. Marco Scutaro was brought over from Boston to play second. He brings a veteran presence and some offense, having hit .299 last season for the Red Sox. He’s steady in all phases and unafraid of big situations, as his 10 lifetime walkoffs suggest.
Todd Helton is 38 but had a nice comeback in 2011, and the Rockies will hope he can give them similar output this year. He doesn’t hit a lot of homers anymore but hits his share of doubles, draws walks and makes pitchers work. Helton’s defense remains superb. Back soreness idled him for most of September and is an ongoing concern. Jordan Pacheco, originally a middle infielder who was converted to catcher in 2008, is now back in the infield. He made starts last season at first, second, third and catcher. He will keep third base warm until the arrival Nolan Arenado, one of the organization’s top prospects. Arenado played High-A ball last year and will have a chance to make the Rockies in spring training but seems destined to begin the season at Double-A and not arrive in the big leagues until August or September, if he gets there at all this season.
Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez and center fielder Dexter Fowler are very good defensive players, which can’t be said for Cuddyer. But Cuddyer gives the Rockies an impact right-handed bat and veteran leadership. Upon his return from a one-month stay in the minors, Fowler was very productive after the All-Star break, and the Rockies are hopeful he can finally sustain that consistency over a full season as he enters his fourth season in the majors. Gonzalez had a decent season but not as robust as 2010 because of a slow start and a July 3 collision with a wall at Coors Field that resulted in a lingering right wrist issue. When healthy in 2010, Gonzalez was a five-tool threat and one of the best all-around players in the game.
The Rockies signed free agent Ramon Hernandez to a two-year, $6.4 million contract and traded Chris Iannetta to the Angels for Chatwood. Hernandez, who turns 36 in May, will help mentor prospect Wilin Rosario, who came up in September from Double-A and will be given more than a typical backup’s share of starts. Hernandez is likely to hit for a better average with similar power to Iannetta but will walk less.
Jason Giambi gives the Rockies a left-handed power-hitting threat off the bench, and he can spell Helton at first base. Newcomer Tyler Colvin and switch-hitter Eric Young Jr. will be used often off the bench. Chris Nelson will be the primary reserve infielder.
Coming off a hugely disappointing season, O’Dowd had a busy offseason, trading Iannetta, Street, third baseman Ian Stewart, infielder Ty Wigginton, outfielder Seth Smith and signing free agents Hernandez and Cuddyer, whom the Rockies have been interested in since the middle of last season. One of O’Dowd’s objectives was to change the mix in the clubhouse, but he realizes that newcomers can only have so much of an effect. “I don’t think anybody we bring in from the outside is going to change our culture, our environment,” he says. “Our players internally are going to have to make their mind up about what kind of clubhouse and what kind of environment and what kind of team they want to be part of day in and day out.”
The addition of Cuddyer will help an offense that already had Gonzalez and Tulowitzki, two of the better players in the game. If Fowler finally fulfills his potential — which he showed could be the case in the second half of 2011 — the offense has an element of speed and is that much more effective. But ultimately, if the Rockies are going to contend, they are going to need some of their young starters to step forward and pitch effectively and hope De La Rosa can hit the ground running when he returns around midseason.
CF Dexter Fowler (S)
Must reduce strikeout rate, which was one every 3.7 at-bats overall and one every 3.3 batting left-handed.
2B Marco Scutaro (R)
Scutaro’s a luxury in that he can bat atop the order or at the bottom of it.
LF Carlos Gonzalez (L)
Set franchise record with an RBI in 11 straight games (and 21 total) from Aug. 15-27.
SS Troy Tulowitzki (R)
In 1,486 career plate appearances in second half of season, has .321 average, .944 OPS.
1B Todd Helton (L)
Last hit 20 homers in 2005; 14 last year were lowest total in a season with 400 at-bats.
RF Michael Cuddyer (R)
Hit 10 homers in 151 at-bats against left-handed pitchers and 10 against righthanders in 378 at-bats.
C Ramon Hernandez (R)
Threw out 37 percent of runners attempting to steal last year.
3B Jordan Pacheco (R)
Second player in franchise history with a seven-game hitting streak in first 10 major league games.
2B Chris Nelson (R)
Made 39 starts last year, including 23 at second base, 14 at third base and two at shortstop.
1B Jason Giambi (L)
Ranks 42nd all-time with 428 homers, 39th all-time with 1,314 walks and 71st all-time with 1,397 RBIs.
C Wilin Rosario (R)
The catcher of the future has some power.
INF Jonathan Herrera (S)
Two errors in 247 chances at second base, three errors overall at second, third and shortstop.
OF Tyler Colvin (L)
Acquired from Cubs with DJ LeMahieu for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers.
UT Eric Young, Jr. (S)
Bring speed and versatility.
RH Jeremy Guthrie
Has pitched 200 innings or more last three seasons, but is 47–65 lifetime.
LH Jamie Moyer
Amazing comeback story at age 49. With his first victory he will become the oldest pitcher to record a win.
RH Juan Nicasio
Held righthanders to .205 average and two homers, but lefthanders hit .313 with six homers.
RH Jhoulys Chacin
Led NL with 87 walks or average of 4.04 per nine innings, but limited opponents to .231 average.
RH Rafael Betancourt (Closer)
Held opponents to .203 average with eight walks, 73 strikeouts and 46 hits allowed in 62.1 innings.
LH Rex Brothers
Opponents hit .221 against him in 77 at-bats at Coors Field and .213 in 75 at-bats on the road.
RH Matt Belisle
Made 74 appearances following 76 in 2010 with total of 30 walks and 149 strikeouts in 164 innings.
LH Matt Reynolds
Lefthanders hit .292, and righthanders hit .217 against him.
RH Tyler Chatwood
Was 6-11 in 25 starts for the Angels last season.
RH Esmil Rogers
Was 6-6, but allowed 110 hits in 83 innings with a 7.05 ERA.
RH Josh Roenicke
Earned a spot in the bullpen with good spring training.