NL West Hot Stove preview (cont.)
2010 Results: 73-89
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 735/774
Pythagorean Record: 77-85
Free Agents: 2B Mark Ellis, SP Aaron Cook, SP Kevin Millwood, RP J.C. Romero
Prospects on the Verge: SP Drew Pomeranz, C Wilin Rosario, LF Charlie Blackmon, CF Tim Wheeler
Building For: A rebound after the underachievement of 2011.
Strengths: A pair of everyday superstars, bullpen depth.
Biggest Holes: Starting pitching, a third genuine power bat, the play of Ian Stewart
Targets: OF Josh Willingham, a place-holding starting pitcher.
The Plan: The Rockies were, quite simply, the most disappointing club in the majors in 2011. The superstars at their lineup's center -- shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who posted his third straight .900+ OPS, and center fielder Carlos Gonzalez, who missed 35 games but still hit .295 with 26 homers, 92 RBIs and 20 steals -- tried their best, but still they could not prevent the team, which was tabbed as the NL West's favorite by many experts, from losing 10 more games than it had in 2010. A lot of the Rockies' problems stemmed from misfortune, such as that which befell pitchers Jorge De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio, who started a combined 23 games due to a torn UCL (De La Rosa's) and a broken neck (Nicasio's). But it also came from surprisingly poor performances, such as that of ace Ubaldo Jimenez, who had an ERA of 4.46 before being traded to the Indians, and of 26-year-old third baseman Ian Stewart, who slugged 53 homers between 2008 and '10 but hit not one in 136 plate appearances in '11, contributing to a putrid OPS of .464.
While they hope for a rebound for Stewart, the Rockies should look to sign A's slugger Willingham, who has over the past six seasons averaged 22 home runs while never calling a ballpark anywhere near as friendly to hitters as is Coors Field home. Willingham could split his time between first base and left field, leaving Seth Smith and Todd Helton to share the rest of the at-bats available to those positions. The bullpen should be fine, led by Rafael Betancourt, Huston Street and 23-year-old lefty Rex Brothers. The real problem for GM Dan O'Dowd will be the rotation -- at least until De La Rosa and Nicasio return, which should be sometime this season.
This, however, is not a good winter to be in need of a starting pitcher, especially one who might be lured to Coors Field. There simply aren't many quality options out there, and those that are, such as C.J. Wilson, will be snapped up at salaries that far exceed their quality. O'Dowd, then, will hope that his "ace," Jhoulys Chacin, will continue to improve (he was 11-14 with a 3.62 ERA); that Pomeranz, 22, and Alex White, 23, acquired from the Indians for Jimenez, will perform beyond their years; and that he can get lucky with a low-cost veteran fill-in -- maybe someone like the sinkerballing former Angel Joel Pineiro. The Rockies' offense, then, should be improved, but the chances that their rotation will be made good enough to turn them a winner seem as thin as their ballpark's atmosphere.
2010 Results: 71-91
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 593/611
Pythagorean Record: 79-83
Free Agents: CL Heath Bell, SP Aaron Harang, RP Chad Qualls, 1B/OF Brad Hawpe
Prospects on the Verge: 1B Anthony Rizzo, OF James Darnell, SP Robert Erlin, SP Casey Kelly, SP Joe Wieland, 3B Jedd Gyorko
Building For: Probably 2013 and beyond, though there is some immediate sleeper potential here.
Strengths: Farm system, outfield depth, the element of surprise
Biggest Holes: Closer, veteran starter, middle infield
Targets: Bell, SP Jon Garland, SS Rafael Furcal, 2B Mark Ellis
The Plan: The Padres crashed back to earth after winning 90 games and falling one win short of the NL wild card in 2010, but their relatively slim run differential -- and Pythagorean record -- suggests that they were not quite as bad as they appeared. Their post-Adrian Gonzalez lineup produced the third-fewest runs of any big league club, but did feature some bright spots, such as 24-year-old center fielder Cameron Maybin, who did enough (.264, nine homers, 40 RBIs, 40 SBs) to suggest that the Marlins prematurely cut bait on the former top prospect. Maybin's fellow outfielders, Kyle Blanks and Will Venable, also intermittently showed promise, although Venable is already 29. The offense could be immediately buoyed by the full-time promotion of Rizzo, acquired from the Red Sox for Gonzalez. The 22-year-old Rizzo last season struggled in 128 at-bats with the Padres (he hit .141 with one home run and nine RBIs), but he had an OPS of 1.056 with Triple-A Tucson -- the second-highest in the Pacific Coast League.
All of this is to say that new GM Josh Byrnes -- promoted after Jed Hoyer left to work for former Sox boss Theo Epstein with the Cubs -- likely won't do much to address his lineup this winter. He might seek a low-cost, short-term veteran middle infielder as an upgrade on incumbents Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett -- both of whom bombed in their first seasons in San Diego (they combined to hit .246 with nine home runs and 83 RBIs, and neither played particularly good defense) -- but it won't be a priority. Byrnes's focus, instead, will be on re-signing Bell for the long-term, and then on moderately improving a rotation that returns only two locks in Mat Latos and Cory Luebke and loses the steady Harang.
A low-cost veteran such as Garland -- who missed most of last season with the Dodgers due to injury, but who excelled as a Padre two years ago -- could help stabilize things until the organization's trio of terrific Double-A arms, Erlin, Kelly (another player in the Gonzalez trade) and Wieland, is ready. While that could happen this season, and those players could make the Padres a darkhorse contender once more, the commencement of a real, long-term resurgence is likely a year away.