First, the good news: On Wednesday night, the Rockies scored five runs in the ninth inning to beat Team USA 8-7 in an Arizona exhibition game. Unfortunately, the rally was at the expense of two of Colorado’s minor league pitchers that the Rockies loaned Team USA to finish out the game.
The lesson? If the Rockies could hit against their own pitchers every day, not even MC Escher could decipher the outcome.
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Prepare yourselves, Denverites, for a long, long baseball season. Not only did the Rockies have their worst campaign ever in 2012, there’s little reason to hope that this year will be much better. Sure, a (hopefully) healthy Troy Tulowitski returns, but one of the most talented and productive shortstops in baseball has played more than 150 games in a season exactly once since 2007. Sure, they have All Star Carlos Gonzalez, but he’s coming off a dismal second half in 2012, and his home/road splits were so pronounced that he played like Joe Dimaggio at Coors Field and Ty Wiggington everywhere else.
There’s more. Or, more accurately, less, because it’s time to talk about pitching. Colorado’s best bet for staff aces are Jhoulys Chacin, who’s coming off an injury-filled and subpar 2012 but was relatively strong in 2011; and Jorge De La Rosa, who rode a decent but unspectacular 2010 to a three-year free agent contract—and since then has thrown fewer than 70 innings total. Hurlers Juan Nicasio (still recovering from a frightening neck injury), Drew Pomeranz (the supposed jewel of the 2011 Ubaldo Jiminez trade who has a 5.01 career ERA), and Jeff Francis (um…at least he’s not afraid of pitching at Coors) round out the likely rotation, one that will intimidate absolutely no one other than Rockie fans.
This would all be forgiveable if the team was in tear-down/rebuild mode like the Houston Astros or Chicago Cubs. These franchises have gutted their rosters on purpose so they can start building a potential contender from scratch more quickly. The Rockies, however, have deluded themselves into thinking that they’re closer than that to winning again, all evidence to the contrary.
For proof of this, look at ESPN.com’s “Future Power Rankings,” a biannual assessment of each organization’s potential for success over the coming five years. It’s password protected, so I’ll outline their methodology here: ESPN measures each team in five categories—its quality of talent in the majors and minors, its financial situation, its management, and its mobility (i.e., its ability to make deals that might upgrade the roster). The first two categories are weighted more heavily than the rest.
ESPN’s rankings show that the Rockies are more steeply in decline than any other team in Major League Baseball. They’ve gone from 15th in February 2012 with an overall score of 46.7 (on a scale of 100; the league leaders usually land in the high-80s or low-90s), to 29th/21.7 just six months later. And today they’re dead last at 16.2, more than seven points behind the next-worst franchise. By far the biggest culprit, according to ESPN, is the Rockies’ management, which received a dismal two points out of a possible 30.
Longtime Rockie fans shouldn’t be surprised. For years they’ve watch the Monfort brothers trying to win on the cheap, refusing to spend money voluminously or wisely, perfectly happy to let general manager Dan O’Dowd engineer the nonstop mediocrity—with the exception, of course, of history’s flukiest World Series run.
Don’t be surprised if 2013 is the year it all comes crashing down. Maybe new manager Walt Weiss, who forged a long playing career with his smarts and scrappiness, can somehow will his troops to outperform their histories. Maybe CarGo and Tulo will resume being one of the league’s most dynamic duos. And maybe one or two pitchers will figure out the secret to keeping the ball down when all it wants to do is soar through the mile-high atmosphere. More likely, they’ll be out of a very competitive NL West division race by the All Star break. This will be when they’ll hopefully realize that trading players like Michael Cuddyer, Dexter Fowler—and maybe even Tulo and CarGo—for multiple assets is the only way to go, because model homes have fuller cupboards than the Rockies do right now.
If that happens, the talent level at Coors Field will sink to AAA levels. And maybe that’s a good thing. For the past five years, the Rockies have tried to ensure their fans that they want to field a winner while making move after move that propelled them in the opposite direction. It’s time for the least-promising organization in baseball to start owning its mistakes.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
—Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.