The Colorado Rockies have problems, this is well known. Constantly having to deal with playing in such an extreme environment is and always will be a major complication for anything they do. Headed into the franchise's 22nd season of existince, they still haven't fully figured out what they need to do in terms of roster construction to have sustainable success.
Coors Field is an overarching problem for the Rockies, but if they want to take steps forward in 2014, they need to focus less on the big problem and more on the smaller problems. The first of which is their lousy offense.
Yes, it can happen. A team can play half of their games in Coors Field and struggle to score runs, at least in relative terms. In 2013, the Rockies finished second in runs scored, but finished eleventh in wRC+ with a 90 wRC+ for the team. What that metric does is adjust for park, taking all of that loud Coors Field noise out of their bloated offensive numbers.
While it may not make sense that the Rockies have a hard time hitting, it makes a lot more sense when you actually look at the line up. Sure, they have Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, two players who would be bona fide star hitters no matter where they played their home games, but their supporting case leaves a lot to be desired.
Last year, the Rockies got virtually nothing out of their second basemen as D.J. LeMahieu, Josh Rutledge and Jonathan Herrera combined for a wRC+ of 69. Nolan Arenado turned a lot of heads with his sparkling defense, but his bat only produced a .706 OPS and 79 wRC+. The mummified remains of Todd Helton posted an 89 wRC+. That left the Rockies with two black holes an underperforming bat from a prime offensive position plus the pitcher's slot in their batting order, and that's during the rare instance in which Tulo and CarGo were both healthy at the same time. That's no bueno.
The thing is, the Rockies offense could be even worse this year. They are still stuck with LeMahieu and Rutledge at second and there is no guarantee that Arenado is going to improve by leaps and bounds at third. Justin Morneau will now get all of Todd Helton's plate appearances, but he is coming off a season in which he finished with 102 wRC+, so it isn't as if he is a massive upgrade. Compound matters is that the team deemed fit to part ways with Dexter Fowler and his .369 OBP in the leadoff spot. Replacing him will be the Drew Stubbs, Corey Dickerson, Charlie Blackmon and Brandon Barnes combo platter. Even if they are leveraged in an optimal platoon manner, the Rox would be lucky if they got a .320 OBP from that bunch. Even knowing that, they are going to be the ones leading off, because apparently center fielders just have to hit lead off for the Rockies no matter what their offensive talent level is. Finally, if Colorado thinks that 35-year old Michael Cuddyer is going to hit .331 with a 140 wRC+ again, then I have box of curveballs and a key to the batter's box I would like to sell to them.
Even if Tulowitzki and Gonzalez can avoid the injury but this year, the Rockies aren't going to be able to count on their lineup to carry them to another Rocktober in 2014. That's probably a good thing because nobody needs to hear the term Rocktober ever again.
If the Rockies are actually going to make any noise this year, as weird as this might sound, it is going to be because of their rotation. Jorge De la Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood all posted an ERA- of 81 or better in 2013 and now they are being joined by Brett Anderson. That group isn't going to rival what the Dodgers have in their rotation, but it is good foundation. The problem is that their margin for error is so very thing because the Rox have almost no depth behind them.
Already, the Rockies are counting on converting Franklin Morales to a starter to round things out. That is a gamble that could pay off, but counting on someone with 25 career starts as part of your Opening Day rotation speaks volumes about the depth, or lack thereof, behind him. Juan Nicasio would probably get the next crack at the rotation after Morales, but Nicasio spent most of 2013 in the rotation and finished with a 120 ERA-. After that comes Jordan Lyles, who has been horrific in parts of three season with the Astros. The dark horse then is Chad Bettis, who looked overmatched in his first taste of the bigs last season.
If that crew was all duking it out to be the fifth starter, Colorado would be fine. The real issue is that one or two or maybe even all four plus a few more will be needed for large chunks of time in the rotation because the front four is so risk-laden. Anderson, De la Rosa, Chacin and Chatwood have all spent a significant amount of time on the DL in either 2012 or 2013 (or both, in Anderson's case). In other words, it is very good bet that the injury bug is going to bite the Rockies rotation hard in 2014 and this roster just doesn't have the depth to survive that kind of attrition.
As long as the rotation stays intact, Colorado might be fine. But once guys start dropping, things could get real ugly, real fast in Denver. As it just so happens, the Rockies announced yesterday that Chacin was being shutdown indefinitely due to shoulder soreness. The season hasn't even started yet and already their depth is a problem.