2014 team preview: Colorado Rockies

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

CarGo and Tulo are two of the best players in baseball ... when they're actually on the field.
CarGo and Tulo are two of the best players in baseball ... when they're actually on the field. (USATSI)

More: Likes, dislikes | Over/unders | All Team Previews | Spring Training

The Rockies are one of baseball's toughest teams to understand. Are they going for it? Or are they trying to rebuild? Their roster moves suggest they want to win now, but two straight last-place finishes and four straight postseason-less seasons suggest a rebuild is in order. Sure, Colorado did win 10 more games in 2013 than 2012, but they don't give out awards for going from 64 wins to 74 wins. Will the Rockies fare any better in the improving NL West? Let's preview their season.

Probable lineup

  1. CF Corey Dickerson
  2. RF Michael Cuddyer
  3. LF Carlos Gonzalez
  4. SS Troy Tulowitzki
  5. 1B Justin Morneau
  6. C Wilin Rosario
  7. 3B Nolan Arenado
  8. 2B DJ LeMahieu

Bench: C Michael McKenry, UTIL Jordan Pacheco, IF Josh Rutledge, OF Drew Stubbs, OF Brandon Barnes

There's some wiggle room here, obviously. Stubbs is likely to replace Dickerson against left-handers and the backup catcher's spot is not settled. If McKenry doesn't win the job in camp, Pachedo could take over the role by default, allowing the club to carry an extra utility man like Charlie Culberson or Ryan Wheeler. The middle of the order is pretty legit though; it's easy to forgot how dynamic both CarGo and Tulo are due to all the time they miss with injuries.

Probable rotation

  1. RHP Jhoulys Chacin
  2. LHP Jorge De La Rosa
  3. LHP Brett Anderson
  4. RHP Tyler Chatwood
  5. LHP Franklin Morales

There's a pretty good chance Chacin will not be ready to start the season after dealing with a shoulder problem in camp, in which case right-hander Juan Nicasio figures to step in. That's a big blow because Chacin was fantastic last season, breaking out with a 127 ERA+ and 5.8 WAR in 197 1/3 innings. De La Rosa was also quietly effective last summer (127 ERA+ and 4.3 WAR in 167 2/3 innings) and Anderson looks electric so far in spring training, but it's Brett Anderson. Hard to count on him staying healthy given his track record.

Probable bullpen

Closer: RHP LaTroy Hawkins
Setup men: LHP Rex Brothers, RHP Matt Belisle
Middle men: RHP Adam Ottavino, LHP Boone Logan, RHP Wilton Lopez
Long man: RHP Rob Scahill

Hawkins, a member of the 2007 pennant winning Rockies team, returned to the club on a one-year contract and was named closer early in camp. Logan (three years, $16 million) signed a much larger free agent contract. Belisle is an absolute workhorse, throwing 317 relief innings over the last four years. The Rockies have some nice bullpen depth -- Nicasio could be in the mix as the long man if he isn't needed in the rotation -- so much so that Lopez has been mentioned as a trade candidate in recent weeks.

Under-the-radar offseason transaction
Hawkins. The Rockies signed him to a one-year, $2.25 million contract and named him closer, a move that figures to save the club quite a bit of money when Brothers qualifies for arbitration after the season. Saves pay very well, and the difference between going to arbitration with 20 career saves (Brothers' current total) and, say, 60 career saves is a few million bucks. Those savings carry over in Brothers' future arbitration years as well. Letting Hawkins start the ninth inning clean while Brothers is available to clean up the mess in the middle of the seventh and eighth innings is a wise baseball move too.

Fantasy bust: Michael Cuddyer
"Arenado acquitted himself pretty well for a 22-year-old rookie last season, but he showed that he still has a long way to go to approach the power and contact ratios he put up in some of his minor league stops. Not unexpectedly, Arenado's numbers at Coors Field were far more promising than those from his road games, as both his power (.115 Isolated Power, similar to that of Alberto Callaspo) and plate discipline (0.20 BB/K ratio) were subpar away from Colorado. Arenado is still young enough to deliver on the promise of home run power and crazy-low strikeout rates that he raised as a prospect, but until he can produce on the road, he may not even pay off as a late- or reserve-round flier." - Al Melchior [Full Rockies fantasy preview]

Biggest strength
The bullpen. Brothers might be the best non-Aroldis Chapman left-handed reliever in baseball, and Ottavino quietly posted a 2.64 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings last season. Logan came over from the Yankees and is a workhorse lefty who can hold his own against righties as well. Second-year manager Walt Weiss has a nice mix of righties and lefties available to him for the later innings. This is definitely one of the stronger bullpens in baseball.

Biggest weakness
The rotation, especially if Chacin is out for an extended period of time. De La Rosa's forearm has been acting up in recent days as well, which isn't a surprise given his history of elbow problems. Anderson is a major health risk and both Chatwood (elbow) and Morales (shoulder) missed a bunch of time with arm issues last season. This is very much a high risk, high reward rotation. If everyone is healthy and pitching like they are capable of, the rotation could be excellent. If everyone continues to battle injury, well then it could get really ugly, really quick. How often does everything go right, especially when talking about pitchers staying healthy? Pretty much never.

Outlook
The Rockies are clearly the fifth best team in the five-team NL West to me. The Dodgers are out in front of the pack, thanks in large part to their wallet. The Padres are improved and the Giants aren't nearly as bad as they were last season. The Diamondbacks have improved this winter as well. A lot, perhaps an unrealistic amount of stuff will have to break right -- CarGo, Tulo and the rotation stay healthy, mostly -- for Colorado to contend, but even then will it be good enough for a wild-card spot?

A third straight last place finish certainly isn't a crazy projected outcome. If that happens, you wonder if the Rockies will finally pull the plug and begin a rebuild, in which case Gonzalez and Tulowitzki may become available in trades. If that happens, boy next winter's hot stove sure will be fun.


Coming Monday: Los Angeles Dodgers

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