Even though the Broncos season ended effectively before the Rockies had even let the ink dry on the 2010 season, we can’t help but immerse ourlselves in the drama that is the current Denver Broncos for a while. While the crisp chill of Colorado winter still hangs in the air, the looming approach of the Super Bowl (am I allowed to say that, or will I get sued?) can mean only one thing – spring training is right around the corner. The Rockies had some definite ups and downs in the 2010 campaign, with a couple brief pushes towards a playoff spot in August and September, but the inconsistency that plagued them in the second half was too much for even a monstrous September for Tulowitzki to overcome. As Tulo came back from injury and put up numbers that rivaled Babe Ruth himself, the rest of the team (with a few exceptions) couldn’t find the groove that eluded them all year and left the Rockies just short of October baseball. Here’s hoping the odd-year season brings another run at October. This year figures to have some pretty stiff challenges within the division, starting with the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. How do the Rockies of 2011 look to stack up? There have been a few departures (Barmes, Francis, Mora, Olivo), and a few additions (Wigginton, Lindstrom). None of the transactions have shaken the boat – it’s the new contracts to current players that have made noise in the baseball world. First Tulowitzki signs a long-term deal, and right on his heels Scott Boras client Carlos Gonzales inks and extension to stick around for the long haul. Here’s the first part in a series looking at how the Rocks 2011 roster is shaping up.
We’ll start with an easy one. It’s clear what Rockies management is communicating with this move. They let Olivo go, declined to resign Torrealba, who had departed to the Padres after a good run with the Rockies through 2009. A year ago this month, the Rockies signed Chris Iannetta, the perennial “future talent”, to an extension through 2012, with a club option for 2013. Iannetta will make $2.5M this year, and $3.5M next. Make no mistake – this is his last chance. Iannetta has been given Â the catching job, and it’s his to lose. Of course, the last couple years, he’s done just that. But the refusal of Rockies management to sign a veteran catcher is a clear signal to Iannetta that this is his time to become the solid starting catcher, otherwise the franchise is ready to move on. Youngsters Jordan Pacheco and Mike McKenry figure to be the backups.
Another position where the Rockies are heading into the season with a high-potential young player who needs to make a play for his job is third base. Ian Stewart figures to be the penciled in starter, although his contract status is still uncertain. Stewart, who made just under $500,000 last season, is asking for $2.6M, according to the Denver Post. The team has offered $2.15M to the arbitration-eligible Stewart, and will likely find a middle ground on a one-year deal. Clearly, the Rockies aren’t all that excited about increasing Stewart’s salary by over 4 times, based on the inconsistency that plagued Stewart at the plate last season. However, he’ll show flashes of brilliance that, like Iannetta, make you want to see him succeed because you know he could be an anchor if you could just get some more solid production out of him. Stewart is your classic power-hitter though, complete with the astronomical strikeout rates. Unlike the Iannetta situation, the Rockies have a more developed contingency plan here. While of course they hope for the resurgence of Stewart, they did sign infielder Ty Wigginton for $8M over two years, who will be much more useful on the first base side, could fill in at third where needed. With the departure of Mora, if Stewart falters it will fall to Wigginton. The Rockies also made another move to shore up that corner by signing former All-Star Joe Crede to a minor league deal today. That signing just smacks of ‘contingency plan’ – something the Rockies may well need at third base if the last two years are any indication.
Up next – a look at the rest of the infield. And for the record – pitchers and catchers report to the Rockies brand spanking new spring training facility on February 14th – let the countdown begin!