TUCSON, Ariz. -- The first thing Jim Tracy told the Rockies this spring was that they should be proud of 2009. The second thing he told them was that 2009 wasn't good enough.
If you're wondering how the Rockies will deal with the expectations raised by their 72-38 tear and surprise playoff appearance, you should know that the Rockies themselves are trying to raise those expectations a little higher.
Or a lot higher.
"We've got to win a world championship," general manager Dan O'Dowd said this past week. "If not, we ultimately fell short. That is now our standard. If we're not the one playing at the end of the year, standing at the end of the year, then we fell short.
"It's time that we ramped up."
The Rockies haven't had back-to-back winning seasons since 1996-97. They've never won a division title in their history, and a year after making a magical wild-card run to the 2007 World Series, they slipped to 88-loss obscurity in 2008.
There's plenty they could do that would be seen as tremendous progress, but instead they're announcing to the world that they want to be judged by whether they win it all.
"That is our benchmark," Tracy agreed.
It's easy to talk big in the spring, especially easy coming off a year that was such a joyride nearly from the day that Tracy replaced Clint Hurdle as Rockies manager last May 29. The Rockies were 18-28, and while they lost four of the next six under Tracy to go 20-32, they soon began the run that didn't end until the loss to the Phillies in the playoffs.
More from Rockies camp
THINGS TO KNOW
|Rockies schedules & predictions|
Thread: Rockies' expectations!
The Rockies see a connection with the Phillies, who they beat in the first round in 2007. The Phillies players remember that after that three-game ouster, Ryan Howard walked around the clubhouse saying, "Remember how this feels."
From that point, the Phillies developed into maybe baseball's toughest team, a group that has won one World Series and played in another in the two years since then.
And sure enough, when the Phils ended the Rockies' season in Game 4 last October, Tracy told his team, "Remember how this feels."
The Rockies seem to listen to Tracy, whose positive, fun approach makes him a better fit for this group than Hurdle was.
"Our personality as a group and his personality as a manager were able to mesh," closer Huston Street said.
Are they listening?
Well, as I sat with Tracy in the first-base dugout at the Rockies camp, Todd Helton walked by and said, "Strive for perfection, even as you know it's unattainable."
Which, of course, is one of Tracy's favorite sayings.
If Helton is on board, that's a good thing, because there's no doubt that this is his team. While many point to the managerial change as the most significant event of the Rockies' 2009 season, Street talks of a Helton speech a few days earlier.
"He said he'd been on a lot of teams, and you don't always get an opportunity to show up at the ballpark every day and play with people you like," Street said. "We have that, and we're giving it away. He said if we don't take advantage of the special thing we have here, they're going to get rid of us."
Sleeper ... Carlos Gonzalez: He hit an eye-popping .320 with 12 homers, 24 RBI, 42 runs and 11 steals in 62 games and 194 at-bats. If you extrapolate that to a full season, you would get: .320-31-62-110-29. That would make Gonzalez a potential early round pick next year. It is always dangerous to assume a second half can quickly become a complete breakthrough season, though. Consider him a must-get in the middle rounds of most leagues, especially in leagues that put a premium on stolen bases.
Bust ... Miguel Olivo: Olivo is coming off a career year with the Royals, popping 23 homers, and some might expect his numbers to improve with the more favorable hitter's park in Colorado. We obviously don't believe you should be counting on Olivo as a regular in Fantasy. His 2009 numbers suggest otherwise.
Breakout ... Ian Stewart: Stewart hit just .228 last season, but his power potential is apparent with his 25 homers. He also stole seven bases, but we could see him in double digits, perhaps even a threat for 20 if the Rockies choose to be aggressive on the bases with him lower in the order. Stewart might not open the season as a starter in every Fantasy league, but the bet here is he will finish as one.
-- Eric Mack
Top Rockies Prospects (2010 destination)
1. Christian Friedrich, SP, Double-A
2. Jhoulys Chacin, SP, Triple-A
3. Eric O. Young, 2B, Triple-A
4. Esmil Rogers, SP, Triple-A
5. Samuel Deduno, SP, Triple-A
|Rockies outlook | 2010 Draft Prep Guide|
As it was, the Rockies began to win, and by the end of the year O'Dowd and Tracy hardly wanted to get rid of any of them. The team that came to camp this spring is almost exactly the same group that faced the Phillies last October.
"We wanted to keep stability," O'Dowd said. "We like our talent level very well, but beyond our talent level we like the character and integrity of our players exceptionally well.
"Their expectations of me are no different than their expectations of themselves. If I bring in a guy, I'd better make sure it meets the standards of what they expect."
O'Dowd is beginning his 11th season as GM, and there were times during that tenure that his job seemed to be in serious jeopardy. He went through six straight losing seasons, and gave out some big contracts that proved to be disasters.
But the World Series team in 2007 showed up at the right time, and the decision to trade Matt Holliday paid off with the performances of Street and Carlos Gonzalez. Looking at the Rockies now, it's easy to like the club that O'Dowd has built.
In Gonzalez (24), Dexter Fowler (23), Troy Tulowitzki (25), Ian Stewart (24) and top starter Ubaldo Jimenez (26), the Rockies have a young group that shows signs of getting better. Gonzalez didn't join the lineup until last June (the Rockies were 53-17 in games he started), and Fowler was in his first season above Double-A.
"The upside for improvement is huge," O'Dowd said.
As are the expectations, from outside the organization and also from the Rockies themselves.
"The best teams, they expect those expectations," Street said.
The best teams don't mind when you judge them by whether they win the World Series. The Rockies say that's now how they want to be judged.
And it's up to them to prove they deserve it.