The Rockies overhauled their roster over the winter after identifying that lack of depth was the main reason that the men in purple struggled to a second consecutive last place finish. Once there was an injury or an ineffective performance, more often than not the replacement parts were missing or not major league ready. At the same time, the management realized that they cannot run the organization like the major market teams throwing big bucks and long term contracts at free agents. The Dodgers, Yankees, Giants, etc can afford expensive mistakes and move on. The only way to get ground ball pitchers from the outside to pitch at altitude was through trades or draft. To the management’s credit they did all they could within the blueprint of running the ball club at altitude.
LaTroy Hawkins is a free agent signee who knows how to pitch at altitude. Although he is a bit old, the reports seem to say that his velocity is higher than it was a few years ago. It was the first piece in overhauling the bullpen. What if Rex Brothers is not ready to be a full time closer? Signing Hawkins gives them the flexibility to use either Hawkins or Brothers to close out the games. It also allowed them the luxury of being able to move Matt Belisle down and work the sixth or seventh inning in an attempt to reduce his workload. Belisle is more effective when he’s not overworked.
The subtraction of Dexter Fowler had a lot of positive effects on the team in the big picture. Most people called it a salary dump, but it was not purely dump as it allowed the club more flexibility of working the trade and free agent markets during the long winter. They did receive OF Brandon Barnes and P Jordan Lyles, but these two were just small pieces of the long term planning.
Colorado used the Fowler savings to sign Justin Morneau, replacing Todd Helton at first base. At first glance it didn’t look like much, but after reading the Purple Row articles it appears that the advanced metrics are guiding the Rockies during the off season. Morneau has maintained a 21% LD (line drive) ratio before and after his injuries while spraying the balls all over the field. In addition he has a very low strikeout ratio and he can hit on the road. I won’t get my hopes too high that he can hit on the road; I don’t doubt he can hit on the road but I need to see that he can come from altitude and hit at sea level immediately after leaving Coors Field. Morneau does have those two things (low strikeout ratio and ability to hit on the road) that Fowler did not have. Gone are the days of men on first and third with less than two outs and the strikeouts stranding the runners.
Next came the big splash (by Rockies’ standards) of the off-season when Brett Anderson came over in exchange for Drew Pomeranz and Chris Jensen. By all reports, Anderson will have no problem pitching at Coors. It was a good trade since they obtained a pitcher that is capable of pitching at altitude. Assuming he can stay healthy, he removes half of a black hole in the rotation and allows younger pitchers in the minors to continue to develop. At least the Rockies removed Pomeranz from the equation as he was not the answer to the depth question marks.
The Rockies signed southpaw Boone Logan to provide more depth at the back end of the bullpen and take even more load off Belisle. That essentially made Josh Outman expendable. He was out of options, so they did the smart thing by trading him away for something of value in return (instead of waiving him). While Logan was a LOOGY specialist the last couple of seasons, he and the Rockies think he has a change up that he can dust off to get RH batters out effectively. If that is the case, he would be a major upgrade over Outman.
The Rockies also drafted Thomas Kahnle in the Rule 5 draft from the Yankees’ system. He has good velocity, but he is prone to walking guys. I’ve read several articles about who would be in the Rockies bullpen for 2014 and nearly all, if not all, did not include Kahnle in the roster projection. Even some articles went so far as to say (to my surprise especially if a Purple Row writer wrote this) he will be sent to the minors for development. He cannot be sent down. He either has to be on the 25-man squad or be offered back to the Yanks for $25,000. It was a very low risk move and it will have no effect on the team, but if he turns out to be something he would be the steal of the winter.
Drew Stubbs arrived in the Outman trade. That was a good trade as it brought a right handed bat and he is a decent defensive replacement for Fowler. Again, this pick up gives Walt Weiss outfield flexibility. He can go to Drew Stubbs instead of a Tyler Colvin. Stubbs doesn’t have a great OBP but he can sure steal bases unlike Fowler who could never figure out the basics of base stealing.
In the latest move, they moved Jon Herrera in exchange for Franklin Morales and Chris Martin. The Rockies are going to give Morales a shot at being a #5 starter during spring training. If that doesn’t work out, then we can use him out of the bullpen. Morales has always had the arm, but can he harness it better? Morales profiles as a long relief pitcher for one time through the lineup. Martin simply adds to the depth of our rotation along with Lyles. The advanced metrics say that Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, and Tyler Chatwood are expected to regress. The Rockies know that they only need five starters that will give the team a chance to win every night. See the 2007 and 2009 Rockies; they had no top shelf starter.
By trading away an extra utility man in Herrera, D.J. LeMahieu and Josh Rutledge will get most of the playing time either at second base or as a utility man. My reference to Purple Row’s article by RhodeIslandRoxFan basically says that Rutledge has a good chance to have a break through year playing second base. The Purple Row article can be found on Monday’s (12/23/2013) Rockpile. The seven bullet points from this article: 1) Rutledge has hit at every minor league level. 2) Josh is a spray hitter. 3) His luck is bound to improve based on advanced metrics. 4) He fought back late in the year. 5) Going into 2013, he was bound to run into a road block at some point. 6) Rutledge showed he’s willing to adjust. 7) He’s already an excellent base runner. If Rutledge comes to fruition, that will allow D.J. LeMahieu to be a valuable asset off the bench with an excellent glove for all infield positions except first baseman.
With Corey Dickerson, Charley Blackmon, and Stubbs being used as outfield depth, that will give Weiss the flexibility to either keep Wilin Rosario’s bat in the line up at first base (I can hear the groans) or move Cuddyer to first to give a right handed bat presence at the first base position. That leads me to believe that Jordan Pacheco will be asked to do just one thing: be a back up catcher. Pacheco showed last year he is not a good pinch hitter off the bench, he will be better served as purely an occasional starter (30-40 games).
Possibly flying under the radar during the winter, the Rockies minor league system may have become relevant again especially in the starting pitching department. If we go by the top 30 “Purps” as voted on by the Purple Row experts, we have some decent pitchers and hitters coming up the pipeline. Jon Gray is clearly the #1 PURP prospect by far and away. He was a two pitch guy in college, fastball and slider. The Rockies asked him to develop the change up so he doesn’t end up as merely a bullpen guy. Right behind Gray at #2 is Eddie Butler another starting pitcher. David Dahl, Rosell Herrera, and Kyle Parker are the next three PURP prospects who are a couple of years away if not sooner. Chad Bettis came in at #8 which explained that he was rushed to the majors and not major league ready yet. My personal favorite, Jayson Acquino came in at #15. He originally came from the Dominican Republic Summer League. Not a prospect anymore, Christian Friedrich could be an immediate help (if healthy) in the rotation after sitting out the 2013 season due to injuries if Juan Nicasio cannot hold down the #5 spot or long relief role.
In summary, the Rockies did some serious roster revamping. At the onset of the winter, I was not exactly looking forward to 2014 even with a couple of minor moves (usually scrap heap signings that do not positively contribute to the team). After a couple of early transactions, it looked like they were repeating the last few off-seasons with no real improvements. After a series of moves, I began to connect the dots for each and every transaction. They are intertwined with each other in subtle ways. The 2014 major league club may or may not improve on 2013, but at least I know they will be much more prepared to plug in the leaks with major league ready players. The Rockies have also improved their drafting, with Jon Gray, Eddie Butler, and David Dahl climbing the ladder, but none of them needs to be rushed to the majors which is a nice change from the past two seasons. Even without further transactions, Colorado should be competitive in all 162 games of 2014. Colorado is clearly Walt Weiss’ team (he has flexibility) unlike the inherited team that was taking on water that he was given in 2013. Whether or not you like the management, we have to tip our hats to them for making material improvements within the constraints of a mid-market team.