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October 14, 2009

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Colorado Rockies

by Baseball Prospectus

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Baseball Prospectus' Pre-season Projection: 71-91, fifth place
Actual record: 92-70, second place

Coors Field is an advantage, sure, but this team can play some ball.

Buster Olney of ESPN.com's Take

What went wrong: It's really hard to find much fault in the Rockies' season, other than they didn't achieve the universal goal of winning the World Series. Led by manager Jim Tracy, the Rockies hoisted themselves out of a very deep hole in the standings and were arguably the best team in the NL for the last three or four months of the season. Young Rockies like Dexter Fowler thrived, the players acquired by Dan O'Dowd in the Matt Holliday trade mostly thrived, and pitchers Jorge De La Rosa and Jason Marquis stepped up and had big seasons. And they did all of that on what was a shoestring budget, relative to the rest of their competition; among the eight teams that qualified for the postseason, only the Twins had a lower payroll.

Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: Todd Helton's contract has hung on the Colorado budget like a 10-ton anchor for years; as a result, the Rockies have been diligent in maintaining payroll flexibility-and that means avoiding big-money deals or overpaying players. This means they will probably not be re-signing Marquis, unless he delivers himself unto them on a platter. Third baseman Garrett Atkins is a candidate to be non-tendered. The Rockies have to identify a rotation piece to replace Marquis, but there appears to be a reasonable chance that Jeff Francis will recover and be a productive member of the Colorado rotation next season. Huston Street will be looking for a multi-year deal this offseason, and it will be interesting to see if the Rockies give it to him; typically, small-budget teams like Colorado have avoided significant investments in closers. Moving forward, the Rockies are set up very well, because of the flow of strong talent coming out of the farm system.

The Baseball Prospectus Take

The Rockies destroyed limited initial expectations in three different ways:

  • First, as we noted at the time, PECOTA was way too negative about the Rockies' rotation-not that anyone saw Marquis making an All-Star team, but still.
  • Second, O'Dowd refused to sit still with his initial hand, adding Rays reject Jason Hammel and then reinforcing his bullpen with innumerable in-season additions (highlighted by Rafael Betancourt and Joe Beimel).
  • Third, the team got the benefit of what helped fuel the first Rocktober in 2007: outstanding defense, ranking among the five best in the National League. A full, healthy season from Troy Tulowitzki wasn't merely coincidental to that success.

Finally, while Tracy might get too much credit in some mainstream media circles for turning the Rockies' season around once he was tabbed to replace Clint Hurdle-and too little credit from statheads-it's important to acknowledge Tracy for making an impact where managers so often do, namely in picking the best possible lineups. Getting Ian Stewart out of the outfield and second-base muddles Hurdle hadn't sorted out by May let the club fill its hole at third while simultaneously creating the playing time for all three of Seth Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, and Dexter Fowler to contribute. That was a good win-now play that figures to let the Rocks win later too.-Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus

Key stat: 4.093

A important part of the Rockies' second-half success was their much-improved bullpen. The pen's season-long WXRL reflected here shows how much it improved after O'Dowd shook things up: the pen ended up doubling its wins-added tally from the first two months (2.326). Effectively, the three wins' worth of difference between their early-season rate and the final stretch helped sap the end of the season of much drama as far as the Wild Card being at any risk from the Braves' late-season run, and helped make the Rockies a first-round matchup nobody wanted a part of.-Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus

ESPN.com Rumor Central

Trades: Forget the altitude, a lot of teams could use a hitter who's averaged 24 homers and a .290 average over the last four full seasons, as Brad Hawpe has. That's according to the Denver Post, which noted this week, "Given the emergence of Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Seth Smith and the Rockies' Triple-A depth, Hawpe will be a trade candidate. He is under contract for $7.5 million next season, with a $10 million 2011 option that can be voided if he is dealt."

Free agency: Marquis was one of the top pitchers in the NL early in the season and compiled a steady line, which is enough to get him paid-but there's zero chance it will be in Colorado. The Rockies have Francis coming off the DL and ready to take over Marquis' rotation role. Where will money be spent? Try the bullpen, where Betancourt's $5 million option doesn't look too bad, and maybe for a little bench help. (That's right, we're looking at you, Giambino.)

Who 2 Watch 4: Carlos Gonzalez, OF

While it was only four games, the recently completed NLDS loss to the Phillies served as a bit of a coming-out party to cap the one Gonzalez enjoyed during the entire second half of the regular season, during which the Venezuelan hit .320/.384/.608. It's rare to see a talent like Gonzalez get traded before he establishes himself in the big leagues, but he was actually dealt twice (by the D-backs in the Danny Haren trade, and by the A's in the Matt Holliday trade); he was always a mercurial prospect during his minor league days, someone whose effort rarely matched his talent. Whatever magic combination the Rockies have found to unlock his potential, they're lined up to reap the rewards for years to come.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

Draft recap
Signed: 40 of 52
Spent: Just over $7.5 million
Hits: Tyler Matzek, LHP (11th overall): Matzek was, by most accounts, the top prep player in the draft, and some clubs had him second overall on talent alone. He ranked sixth on Keith Law's Top 100, and the Rockies stuck out a tough negotiating period to get their man.
Miss: It's difficult to find a bad pick in the Rockies' draft, and they didn't fail to sign any of their significant selections. So let's talk about more hits instead-after Matzek, Colorado snagged center fielder Tim Wheeler, lefty Rex Brothers, and third baseman Nolan Arenado, who could turn out to be their savviest pick.-Jason A. Churchill, ESPN.com

The Bottom Line

It's worth keeping in mind that taking chances on healthy arms with swing-and-miss stuff can generate happy rewards. Hammel, Marquis, and Jorge De La Rosa could have wound up with anybody, so credit O'Dowd and the coaching staff for getting good results where many have not, giving home-grown Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook a crew of supporting innings-eaters. Add in Francis plus prospects Christian Friedrich, Jhoulys Chacin, and Esmil Rogers, and you see an organization with pitching talent beyond the virtues of their young outfielders and a healthy Tulo. They'll be part of the NL playoff picture well into the future, even with the big-spending Dodgers to contend with.-Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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