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Rockies Limp Across the Finish Line

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If anyone is still paying attention, the primary drama surrounding the Rockies’ final weekend of 2014 will revolve around whether the team can avoid losing 95 games for the second time in three years. Even though their record is 66-93 heading into their series with the Dodgers, Los Angeles clinched the NL West on Wednesday and probably won’t be able to secure home field advantage in the playoffs. As such, they’ll likely be resting many of their regulars, giving the Rockies—a meaninglessly resurgent 7-2 over the past nine games—a shot at winning the series.

These are the sort of “moral victories” losing teams grope for as the calendar flips to October, and the upcoming offseason figures to have the Rockies in full grope mode. Thanks to the even more pathetic Diamondbacks, the team will be spared the ignominy of a third straight last-place finish. The DBacks responded to their failings, as losing teams usually do, by firing GM Kevin Towers, and most of their coaching staff is probably in jeopardy have been canned as well now that they’ve hired Dave Stewart to replace him.

As Denver fans know all too well, the coming months are unlikely to involve such a comprehensive housecleaning, because that’s usually not how the Rockies roll. Instead, we’re likely to hear a lot about the “good baseball men” who are currently running the team, and we’ll also hear about how injuries cost the team its chance to find out how productive the roster could really be. This late-season mini-run, in fact, is one of the worst things that could’ve happened, because it obscures the 33-71 tailspin that preceded it and exposed the Rockies as one of the thinnest and sorriest teams in the league.

The team’s ownership is forever looking for ways it can plausibly maintain that only minor offseason changes are needed to return the Rockies to playoff contention. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t back this up. In 2015, the Rockies will be seeking their first plus-.500 record in five years and first playoff appearance in six. And for the moment, they seem to be stuck with the on-field talent they have. Trading Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, which would’ve been a fantastic and doable idea before the All Star break, will be virtually impossible now because for the third straight year, neither man came close to playing an entire season. Having two overpaid, injury-prone “stars” anchoring your lineup leaves you with few options besides hoping they can return to form, and shipping them out now would mean trading them for cents on the dollar and/or eating part of those fat contracts, neither of which seems like something the Rockies’ owners would do.

The 2014 season did offer a few encouraging signs. Third-baseman Nolan Arenado and catcher Wilin Rosario look like potential building blocks—though the pair also missed more than 45 games each. Corey Dickerson might be a cornerstone bat in the outfield, and Jorge De La Rosa continues to be the only starter in history who has figured out how to pitch consistently in Coors Field. The team also has several young and promising arms in the pipeline who could be ready for the Show by next spring, a crucial development for a franchise that will probably never be able to sign a top-line free agent hurler.

Of course, as we’ve noted time and again, little is likely to change as long as the current ownership regime is in place. The Monfort brothers, particularly Dick, have claimed to agonize over the team’s constant losing, even as their actions and decision-making have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that remaining medicore suits them just fine as long as the turnstiles keep spinning.

So don’t expect any major trades or front-office overhauls. Expect incremental free agent signings in the Cuddyer/Morneau mold. Expect to hear a lot of lip service about how just getting everyone healthy again is all the Rockies really need. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll get another roof deck.

—Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.

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