Senior Writer

Rockies camp report: Tulo, CarGo foundation for winning


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was just this week that one superstar finally forced his way out of Denver.

Troy Tulowitzki -- part-time Nuggets fan, full-time Rockies shortstop -- understood why Carmelo Anthony had to go.

"He's a great player," Tulowitzki told the Denver Post. "But I have always said if someone doesn't want to be somewhere, you are ultimately better off without them."

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Fair enough, but you're a whole lot better off when your great players don't want to go anywhere. You're a whole lot better off if your great players sign contracts that tie them to you through 2017, or 2021.

You're a whole lot better off if you're the Rockies.

I won't claim to know all the details of the NBA Melodrama. But I do know that one of the strengths of the Rockies is that there's no melodrama at all with their two best players.

Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez want to be here. They will be here.

"We're going to be together for a while," Tulowitzki said.

With his reworked contract, Tulowitzki is signed through age 36 (or 37, if the Rockies pick up the club option for 2021). At this point, you'd have to say he'll be in Colorado for his whole career, which was kind of the idea.

"Some of my favorite players played their whole career with one organization," he said, naming Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken Jr.

Gonzalez would be a 32-year-old free agent in the fall of 2017. Maybe by then, he'll want to go somewhere else.

Or maybe by then the Rockies will have turned their two stars -- plus star pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (under control for four more years) -- into a few championships.

"I want to win," Gonzalez said. "My only concern is just to win."

When the Rockies gathered for the first time this spring, manager Jim Tracy challenged them by saying that while Colorado has been good for the last four years, he wanted to know, "Are we ready to make the commitment to be great?"

Fantasy Writer

Bust ... Jorge De La Rosa: Had De La Rosa pitched a full season last year, he would have worked his way into the Top 60 starting pitchers in Fantasy. His success was owed to a career-low 1.32 WHIP, but he benefitted from an usually-low .104 batting average by opponents on flyballs in play. That low average was not only out of line with his past rates but also those of his teammates. Over a larger sample of innings, expect De La Rosa to give up more hits, putting a strain on both his ERA and WHIP, making him a riskier choice, even as a late-rounder in standard mixed leagues.

Bounce-back ... Jason Hammel: Statistically speaking, Hammel was exactly the same pitcher last year that he was in 2009. Yet despite posting nearly-identical strikeout, walk, home run, ground ball and line drive rates, his ERA jumped nearly half a run. Blame the increase on a left-on-base rate that fell by four percentage points. That might not sound like a big change, but that alone was enough to wreak havoc on his ERA. Look for Hammel to get his ERA back in the low 4.00s, which will help him to regain relevance in standard mixed leagues this season.

Late-round flier ... Seth Smith: Smith started more than 100 games for the first time in his career last year, but he didn't make as much out of the opportunity as many observers thought he would. Much of the focus wound up on Smith's .246 batting average, which was 47 points below the previous year's, but his extra-base power was every bit as apparent as it had been earlier in his major and minor league careers. Because he struggles against lefties, Smith won't play enough to merit a middle-round pick, but his power and potential for a .280-plus batting average make him a good player to target in the late rounds in mixed leagues.

-- Al Melchior
Rockies outlook | Depth Chart | 2011 Draft Prep

By guaranteeing more than $200 million over the winter to their twin stars, and also spending $21.5 million to keep pitcher Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies management went a long way to answering that question.

Some in the game questioned the decision to extend Tulowitzki, given that he was already signed through 2013. But would the Rockies really have been better off waiting, or would they have simply put themselves in the position the Cardinals are in with Albert Pujols, wondering how they could justify paying their huge star into his late 30s or beyond?

With Gonzalez, the surprise was more that a deal could get done at all, given that agent Scott Boras doesn't like to bargain away free-agent years in advance.

"I wanted to make the best decision," Gonzalez said. "And I think this was a good decision."

It's certainly good for the Rockies. In Tulowitzki and Gonzalez, you can argue that they have the best 1-2 punch in baseball, taking into account offense, defense and clubhouse presence. Both of them are plus-plus players in all three categories.

Even better, both can play up-the-middle positions (although the Rockies prefer to put Gonzalez at a corner outfield spot). Also, because Tulowitzki is American, Gonzalez is Venezuelan and the two get along so well, they are able to bring the entire multi-cultural clubhouse together.

"It's a perfect combination," Tulowitzki said.

If anything, the 26-year-old Tulowitzki seems more willing to take on a leadership role this spring, not that he shied away from it in the past. He's also not afraid to share his opinions on player moves with general manager Dan O'Dowd, or to take an active part in recruiting free agents to come to the Rockies.

In fact, O'Dowd said, it was in a late-season conversation with Tulowitzki that led to the new contract.

"We weren't going into the offseason with that in mind," O'Dowd said. "But it evolved for all the right reasons."

In addition to giving him lifetime security, Tulowitzki said the new deal has helped gain him "instant respect." It also, he figures, will help in his recruitment efforts.

"If I've committed [to the Rockies], then what I'm saying isn't a lie," he said.

What he's saying is that the Rockies are a team committed to win. What they're saying is that Tulowitzki and Gonzalez are the centerpieces of that commitment.

"You can't build a team without players who want to be part of it," O'Dowd said.

He's right. Tulowitzki was right.

If someone doesn't want to be somewhere, you're better off without him.

And if the two best players you have -- two of the best players in the entire game -- want to commit their future to your team, then you're a lot better off.

The Rockies are a lot better off.


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