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2015 Rockies season preview: Rocky mountain lows ahead

The Rockies are in need of an overhaul, but it is unclear if they are ready to commit to it.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We are all products of our environment, right? If you are the Rockies, that is almost certainly true. Coors Field shapes the conversation about the Rockies in a way that even other extreme environments like Petco or Fenway or Yankee Stadium don't. As a result, the 2015 Rockies face the same issues the 2014 team faced and that Rockies teams have faced for most of their existence- the lack of pitching. No one wants to pitch in Coors Field, so signing free agents is always an uphill battle. Pitching prospects go bust when they get there, so even building through the minors is difficult. Even in this post-humidor age, the Rockies appear to be a team doomed to inflated offenses and pitchers with scarred psyches.

Some front offices might find a way to turn this challenge into an advantage, or at least to deal with it, but the Rockies have not possessed that kind of leadership in recent years.  New GM Jeff Bridich comes from inside the O'Dowd front office, so while things have changed, it is difficult to say just how much different the new regime will be. Bridich built a strong farm as their scouting director, so he could be the right man for rebuilding the Rockies, but he still has eccentric and meddlesome owner Dick Monfort above him, calling the the shots. Rockies fans can take some consolation in the fact that at least the days of dueling GMs are behind them.

2015 won't be much better than 2014 was on the field, but with some high-profile trade-bait on the roster, the Rockies could turbo-charge the rebuilding process this summer with a few blockbuster deals.

Departures: So long Michael Cuddyer, thanks for the pick

Position

Player

New Team

OF

Michael Cuddyer

Mets

LHP

Franklin Morales

Royals

INF

Josh Rutledge

Angels

LHP

Brett Anderson

Dodgers

C

Jackson Williams

Angels

RHP

Matt Belisle

Cardinals

RHP

Nick Masset

Marlins

C/1B

Jose Briceno

Braves

C

Chris O'Dowd

Braves

RHP

Rob Scahill

Pirates

RHP

Juan Nicasio

Dodgers

RHP

Chris Martin

Yankees

Veteran Michael Cuddyer was probably the most surprising player to be extended a qualifying offer this off-season but the gamble paid off for Colorado as Cuddyer rejected the offer and signed with the Mets for two-years, $21 million. Surprising as the offer was given that Cuddyer saw just over 200 plate appearances last season, it probably wasn't all that much of risk for the Rockies. The former-Twins star hit .332/.376/.579 in limited action, so had he accepted the offer, Colorado would have probably been fine having him around to deal in July. His signing elsewhere is even better for them though, since a team that just lost 96 games certainly needs the pick more than a solid part-time outfielder.

The other losses here hardly even register. Franklin Morales was meant to be a contingency plan for the rotation and he ended up pitching the second highest number of innings for the Rockies last year, in large part because guys like Brett Anderson, who might have been more effective than Morales' 5.37 ERA were sitting on the DL most of the season. A team that only wins 66 games isn't going to miss part-time players too much and that is all Colorado really had to part with.

Additions: Kyle Kendrick to the Rescue

Position

Player

Old Team

RHP

Kyle Kendrick

Phillies

INF

Daniel Descalso

Cardinal

C

Nick Hundley

Orioles

LHP

John Lannan

Mets

LHP

Aaron Laffey

Nationals

RHP

Jose Ortega

Tigers

RHP

Brett Marshall

Reds

RHP

Justin Miller

Tigers

C

Audry Perez

Cardinals

OF

Noel Cuevas

Dodgers

UT

Roger Bernadina

Dodgers

RHP

David Hale

Braves

RHP

Gus Schlosser

Braves

INF

Josh Vitters

Cubs

RHP

John Axford

Pirates

RHP

Jairo Diaz

Angels

RHP

Shane Carle

Pirates

INF

Omar Quintanilla

Mets

Of course, if you do manage to win just 66 games, as the 2014 Rockies did, hanging on to the guys you have probably isn't the way forward. Colorado didn't lose anyone that they will miss, but they also failed to add anyone that fans can get excited about, or even moderately interested in. When Kyle Kendrick and Nick Hundley are your biggest additions, you're not in on the hot stove action, you're working with a bic lighter and a tin can.

It is hard to blame the Rockies for not being aggressive on the free-agent market this off-season.   As Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post recently pointed out, there is little chance that the Rockies will ever be players in the bidding for the top free agent pitchers under Monfort, since they would have to pay a hefty premium to entice top pitchers to come work in Coors Field. The shadow of the Mike Hampton deal still casts its pall over the team in that respect. Improving the rotation was the biggest need and the market this year didn't offer many solutions outside the top three, who all carried a price tag the Rockies couldn't pay. Rather than risk another Hampton-style fiasco, the team will see if they can build around prospects like Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray. Adding a pitcher like Kendrick helps them bring those guys along more carefully and that is more of a priority than winning in 2015.

Where the Rockies do deserve more criticism is in their approach to the trade market. With Bridich now at the helm, the team is at least listening in on guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon, which is an improvement over the O'Dowd front office, but until they manage to turn some of these assets into pieces they can build around in the future, the Rockies will be in rebuilding limbo. To make matters worse, the deals that the Rockies have made are not exactly eye-catching. David Hale and Gus Schlosser are both young arms but neither one has been all that impressive in the minors or in limited exposure to the majors with the Braves. Bridich looks good for landing a high-upside relief arm like Jairo Diaz for a utility player like Josh Rutledge, but this team needs to do much, much more if they are going to turn things around.

The common theme in all of the Rockies off-seaon moves is clearly adding pitching depth and that's probably a good strategy for a team that end up depending on Franklin Morales as a regular rotation member last season. Unfortunately neither their big league signings nor their minor league additions really scream upgrade in any way. The Rockies had the worse ERA- in baseball last season and they haven't done much to improve on that for this coming season.  At the same time, they haven't dealt for anyone that looks like a significant major league contributor in the future. Bridich is still new to the gig, but nothing he has done so far shows that he is preparing the team for a radical change in course. Considering that Monfort basically refused to look at candidates outside the organization, this might be what the man in charge wants. More losing might force that change on them, however, and that is exactly what they appear to be set up for this season. For fans, it would probably be better to pull the band-aid off a little quicker.

Payroll Obligations: $100 million and falling (maybe)

The Rockies have an approximate payroll just a hair over $100 million ($101.3 million, according to baseball-reference) for the upcoming season, which puts them in the bottom third of spenders in the league. However, with most of that tied up in Tulowitzki and Gonzalez, they could end up spending a good deal less by the time the season is over. Even those deals are not terrible though and if the Rockies do find a way to compete in the next few years without dealing their two stars they should be fine with those expenses. The good news for the Rockies is that other players they might look to build around, guys like Corey Dickerson and Nolan Arenado are still pre-arbitration and potential impact arms like Butler and Grey have yet to even start their arbitration clocks. There really aren't any regrettable deals on the Rockies books, but considering just how bad they were last season and the steep odds they face in competing in the NL West in 2015, this is a bit more than they probably should be spending. Dealing Tulo or Gonzalez will change that quickly though.

Odds (Via Bovada)

World Series odds: 150/1

The Rockies are tied with the Phillies for the worst World Series odds in the game. Considering that they have a potential MVP in Tulowitzki, and a near-MVP-cailber player in Gonzalez, that might seem harsh. It is important to remember though, that neither of those two has been healthy much lately and even if Tulo and Gonzo both overwhelm opponents at the plate, the outlook for the Rockies pitching is just that bad. Those fans  new baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is talking about who love high-scoring games should be all about Rockies home games. If you are the kind of fan who prefers baseball games where pitchers occasionally get guys out, however you might want to look elsewhere.

Bottom Line

If everything goes perfectly, the Rockies will still have almost no chance of topping the mighty Dodgers, the rebuilt Padres and the defending champion Giants in the division. And there is no reason to think things will go perfectly. Even if Butler and Gray are the future of the Rockies rotation, it would be hopelessly optimistic to think they will both arrive and instantly transform the rotation. If Tulowitzki is healthy, he could win an MVP, but he might win it in another uniform. Carlos Gonzalez needs to prove he is healthy before he can even be traded for a decent return.The Rockies are in for an ugly year and unlike Philadelphia, they have not even fully committed to rebuilding just yet. That means the most interesting thing to watch in Colorado this season will be the trade market. That is only place the Rockies are likely to emerge as winners this season.