Even in the unlikely event of having a healthy Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies are still a long ways away from contending.
This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 27: the Colorado Rockies.
2014 Record and Finish: 66–96 (.407), fourth place in NL West (29th overall)
2015 Projected Record and Finish: 69–93 (.426), fourth place in NL West (27th overall)
The Case For
The Rockies have some talent but they need a few things to go their way, namely: Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez must stay healthy; outfielder Corey Dickerson must fulfill high expectations; third baseman Nolan Arenado must continue to mature into a two-way star; first baseman Justin Morneau must prove his 2014 comeback season was not a fluke; and Drew Stubbs and Charlie Blackmon must form a productive platoon in center. If all that happens, Colorado will have a powerful offense to go with an outstanding defensive infield and a defensive upgrade at catcher with Nick Hundley.
The Case Against
Colorado won 66 games last year and its off-season additions to the 40-man roster were Hundley, a 31-year-old defense-first catcher; Kyle Kendrick, a 30-year-old pitcher with a career 91 ERA+; David Hale, a 27-year-old righty who struck out 4.5 men per nine innings last year; Daniel Descalso, a utility infielder whom the Cardinals non-tendered; John Axford, a former closer who will turn 32 before Opening Day and is on his fifth organization since August 2013; and rookie relievers Jairo Diaz and Jorge Rondon, neither of whom is likely to make the team. The Rockies have won no more than 74 games in any of the last four seasons and, despite switching general managers for just the second time ever, they did nothing substantial this offseason. They are putting all of their eggs in the baskets labeled “Tulo” and “CarGo” and hoping they won’t break.
Even if those two stay healthy—something they haven’t both done in the same season since 2009, when Gonzalez was still a part-time player—Colorado lacks the pitching to be a serious contender. Last year, the Rockies had a staff ERA+ of 88, and both their team ERA (5.05) and fielding independent pitching mark (4.43) were major-league-worsts, and not by a little. Kendrick, Hale and Axford aren’t going to fix that, and Jhoulys Chacin looked so bad this spring that he was released despite being owed $5.5 million this season. And even if top prospect Jon Gray, who has impressed in camp and projects as a future ace, does reach the majors this year, he’ll likely do so no earlier than midseason and will have an innings limit, to boot.
The Rockies need some sort of upgrade to the rotation, be it from within or via a trade, but with defensively-challenged catcher Wilin Rosario their top trade chip, such a move is all but impossible. All this makes a winning record for Colorado unlikely. Contention seems impossible.
X-Factor: Tulo and CarGo
The Rockies’ fates revolve around these two fragile stars right now. Will they stay healthy and help the team exceed expectations? Will they get hurt and drag Colorado down? Will they be traded, netting prospects and payroll flexibility? Will they remain and limit the team’s ability to acquire either? It’s tempting to say that we have no idea what to expect, but the sad truth is we do: They’re very likely going to get hurt.
Gonzalez, who is owed $53 million through 2017, has averaged just 110 games per year since playing in a career-high 145 in 2010. The only reason the two-time Al-Star outfielder avoided the disabled list in '12—the only year since then that he has—was that the injury that would have sent him there, a hamstring strain, didn’t happen until after rosters expanded in September. Tulowitzki has actually played in 140 or more games in a season three times, but he last did so in '11, when he also had a September injury: bursitis in the same left hip that cost him the second half of last season. He has averaged just 88 games per season since then. Now 30, his prime is behind him, and he only seems to be getting more fragile. That's not a good sign for a shortstop who is owed $114 million over the next six years, plus a $4 million buyout in 2021.
Number To Know: 12.0 bWAR
From 2010 to '13, Tulowitzki and Gonzalez’s combined for 12.0 Wins Above Replacement per 162 games, according to Baseball-Reference.com’s version of the stat. That’s the difference between a 70-win season and an 82-win season. However, since the extra wild-card spot was added for the 2012 season, no team has made the playoffs with fewer than 88 wins. The Rockies fell four wins shy of 70 last year, and Tulo and CarGo didn’t even miss the entire season (though Gonzalez was so bad, posting an 89 OPS+, that he might as well have).
Those two combined for 4.8 bWAR last year, meaning that even if they both have representative 162-game seasons (which they won’t) it will only add roughly seven wins to the Rockies’ record. Even with the most optimistic math, building off Colorado’s 72.5 third-order wins from last year, a healthy Tulowitzki and Gonzalez alone won’t get the Rockies up to .500, never mind into contention.
Most Overrated: Charlie Blackmon
“I think a lot of people jumped on his bandwagon early last year and thought he was going to be a real special player. I see him settling in as a platoon guy. He’s streaky. He has a complicated approach. He’s got some length to his swing. There’s some moving parts in that approach. His timing needs to be right for him to get on a roll. I think he’s probably a little closer to what he was toward the second half of last year [Blackmon hit .264/.314/.384 after the All-Star break] than the hot start he had.”
Most Underrated: Corey Dickerson
“I love him. He probably has as good a barrel-to-the-ball ability as any young hitter I’ve seen in a long time. He controls the strike zone very well. I think he’s only going to get better versus lefthanded pitching. He has a very confident approach, good bat speed, uses the whole field. His defense is a little bit of another story, but as far as a hitter, I think he’s definitely coming. He’s going to grow into an above-average player.”