At 46-50, it is hard to imagine that the Colorado Rockies would be seriously considering buying a the trade deadline, but thanks to the National League West being a collective disappointment, the Rockies find themselves just 4.5 games out of the division lead. For a franchise with memories of "Rocktober" still fresh in their minds, that gap seems almost inconsequential. Add to that the recent return of star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and there is just enough ammunition for Colorado to convince themselves that they have a shot at a post-season berth.
But should they follow those playoff dreams? All the evidence thus far suggests that the Rockies are every bit of their 46-50 record. Their run differential of +1 hardly screams underachievers. They certainly aren't a bad team, but they definitely aren't a good one. The fact remains though that the only reason they are even still in contention is because the rest of their division has underachieved. The problem with that is that Colorado can't exactly count on that continuing to happen.
The Diamondbacks currently lead the division and have threatened to pull away a few times. With their pitching rich farm system, they have the goods to make big time moves at the trade deadline to give themselves the edge on the rest of the division. Colorado would also have to leapfrog past the Dodgers who they trail by two games. Unfortunately, they also trail the Dodgers in spending power. LA already beat Colorado to the punch on Ricky Nolasco due to their financial resources and are undoubtedly going to add more pieces at the deadline, possibly significant ones.
The Rockies, however, don't have the same kind of resources. Colorado isn't a small market team, but they have never been free spenders. Even if they were willing to drop coin on trade acquisitions, they will never be able to measure up to the Dodgers. From a prospect standpoint, the Rockies have a solid system. What they don't have much of though is prized pitching prospects which is the primary currency of the deadline. Trades can certainly be pulled off without shiny pitching prospects being involved, but it does increase the level of difficulty, thus putting them at a disadvantage as a buyer when compared to Arizona.
Therein lies the rub, Colorado is already trailing two teams, both of whom figure to be active at the deadline. With the Rockies being at a resource disadvantage, they will be lucky if they can pull off a deal or two that simply allows them to keep pace with their divisional rivals.
If there is one thing they have going for them that the D-Backs and Dodgers don't is that the Rockies already made an acquisition of sorts. That would be the return of Troy Tulowitzki. Resources be damned, neither Arizona or Los Angeles is going to be adding a player that can play at an MVP-level like the Rockies essentially just did. Tulo alone could be worth three additional wins over the rest of the season as his big bat good defense really transforms the Colorado lineup. There is no denying that when Tulo is in the lineup, the Rockies are a much more dangerous team.
That, of course, is the catch. Can the Rockies really move forward counting on Tulowitzki to be healthy? Can they risk forfeiting pieces of their farm system to chase a division title when they know full well that they are one Tulo groin strain away from irrelevancy?
If they do decide to become risk takers, they have no shortage of holes that need to be filled. They are getting almost no production from their second basemen, which could put the Rockies into the Chase Utley sweepstakes. They also aren't getting much from rookie third baseman Nolan Arenado, but they'd have to think twice about damaging his confidence by replacing him and sending him to the minors. If they do pursue a trade at third, Michael Young would seem to be right up their alley. Then there is the elephant in the room that is the under-producing team leader Todd Helton at first base. By all rights the Rockies should be seeking an impact bat to put at first base, but they might not be able to do so out of respect for Helton.
Complicating matters further is that, to little surprise, the Rockies need rotation help. They have a solid top three in Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood, but the back of their rotation is a mess. Finding back-end starters is not a difficult thing to do at the deadline, but for the Rockies it is fraught with peril as they need to find a pitcher that can handle the extreme conditions of playing at altitude. Given the pitchers that have struggled in Coors in the past, one has to wonder if a mid-season acquisition can adjust to Coors Field quickly enough to make a difference.
With all the difficulties and uncertainties around the Rockies becoming buyers, it would seem obvious that they should sell instead. But even that isn't a clear cut decision. The thing about this Rockies squad is that they don't have much to sell at the moment. Most of their best players are young and locked into multi-year contracts. With the Rockies clearly at least getting close to being real contenders, they aren't going to be breaking up their core. The only real obvious trade pieces they have are closer Rafael Betancourt and reliever Matt Belisle. Betancourt could certainly be replaced with Rex Brothers, but the Rockies like Rafael and still have a club option for him for 2014. The same goes for Belisle, though he isn't having a very good season, making him not that attractive as a trade target.
The only other significant piece is Michael Cuddyer. Considering how far above his own head Cuddyer is playing right now, the Rockies would be foolish not to trade him at the peak of his value, but they are, again, very attached to the veteran for his clubhouse presence. He is also signed through 2014, so they might be tempted to hold on to him if they believe they can stock up for a real playoff run. You'd think that moving Cuddyer for some big prospects would help them towards that goal more than hoping that Cuddyer wildly overachieves in 2014, but the Rockies have given no indication thus far that they are even considering moving Cuddyer.
What seems most likely is that the Rockies will hold out until the last possible minute to make a decision. They are one winning streak from being obvious buyers and one losing streak from being obvious sellers. By then it might be too late to make a big move one way or the other which would be just about the most Rockies thing ever.