2011 Organizational Rankings: #10 – Colorado

Colorado will never lead the league in payroll. It’s unlikely that someone will write a book about its front office or coaching staff. Yet, the Rockies have been to the playoffs two out of the last four years and should contend for the next several seasons. Above-average results with average resources is what makes Colorado a Top 10 organization in baseball.

Present Talent – 85.00 (T-5th)

Rockies Season Preview

Future Talent – 80.00 (T-15th)

Rockies Top 10 Prospects

Financial Resources – 78.85 (13th)

Baseball Operations – 78.33 (T-16th)

Overall Ranking – 80.74 (10th)

While Denver is a medium-sized city, the 18th-largest U.S. television market, the Rockies have an advantage which helps them out-spend their market size: isolation. The closest baseball city to Denver is Kansas City, a nine-hour drive down Highway 70. Having no baseball teams within a 600-mile radius gives the Rockies a regional following which helps them finish in the top-half of attendance nearly every season (10th in 2010, 11th in 2009, 13th in 2008).

Despite staying out of the free-agent fray, Dan O’Dowd and the Colorado front office had a very eventful offseason, signing Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to multi-year contract extensions. By promising $230-plus million dollars between their two offensive studs, the Rockies flexed their moderately-sized financial muscles. It’s total cliche, but only time will tell if these deals will be worth the money. Any long-term deal is a gamble, but these look like fairly well-calculated risks. First, Tulowitzki and Gonzalez are very, very good. They ranked fifth and ninth in the league in WAR, respectively. The years and dollars can be debated, but neither player looks to have been grossly overpaid. Further, the Rockies chose to hitch their wagon to position players who, even with Tulowitzki’s history, have a greater likelihood of staying on the field than pitchers. From a mile-high view, the Rockies could have spent $200 million a lot worse.

The Rockies were 16th in the majors in payroll last year at $84 million, and this is probably a comfortable level for the near future. Todd Helton’s salary finally drops significantly after this year, but the future deferred money will still have to be accounted for, and this will not likely open up a new pool of money to spend. The big dollars in Tulowitzki and Gonzalez’s contracts begin to kick in after this year as well, as the duo is due only $6.5 million in 2011, but then $13.25 million in 2012, and $17.25 million in 2013.

Colorado ranks 5th (tied with Atlanta) in terms of current MLB talent, so the roster is obviously strong, but it’s also extremely well-put together. O’Dowd has assembled a home-grown team which is versatile, well-rounded, deep conscious of its unique home park. The pitching staff, led by longtime coach Bob Apodacta, is full of arms which can succeed at Coors Field. All five starters in the Colorado rotation had K/9 over 7.0 and at least a 46-percent ground ball percentage in 2010. When Aaron Cook returns from injury, and presumably joins the rotation, he is the exception in terms of strikeout rate, but he has been able to overcome the thin air due to his elite ground ball skills.

In the debate about baseball’s best franchises, Colorado is in the conversation, but definitely a notch below the elite franchises. The Rockies moved a lot of chips to the middle of the table this offseason, banking on Tulowitzki and Gonzalez to be the cornerstones of a contending team for the next several years. Those moves are defendable for the time being, but the Rockies and their fans know all too well how a bad contract can cripple a mid-market team for years.

Jesse has been writing for FanGraphs since 2010. He is the director of Consumer Insights at GroupM Next, the innovation unit of GroupM, the world’s largest global media investment management operation. Follow him on Twitter @jesseberger.

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12 years ago

A little surprised that they rank 5 in present talent. Seems a bit favorable.

The Typical Idiot Fan
12 years ago
Reply to  Telo

Maybe a bit. But if you look around their field players, spot a hole. If the worst thing you can come up with is Jose Lopez at second base, it’s probably a pretty good team overall.

An outfield of Gonzales, Fowler, and Smith is pretty good offensively and defensively, though Fowler still remains a bit of an enigma.

An infield of Stewart, Lopez, Helton, and arguably the best short stop in baseball? Helton is perhaps done, but finding a decent replacement first baseman isn’t that hard.

Starting rotation probably could use a little work, but the bullpen is fine.

It’s a defensible argument. The Rox have quietly put together a very good team.

12 years ago

Jose Lopez is kind of not good.

12 years ago

Jose Lopez was supremely unsuited for Safeco Field. His talents (right-handed, pull, flyball hitter) will play much better at Coors. He’ll have a big bounce-back year.

12 years ago

“Helton is perhaps done, but finding a decent replacement first baseman isn’t that hard.”

The difficulty in replacing a first basemen shouldn’t affect the present talent rating. The fact still remains, he’s their first basemen and probably needs replacing.

I’m not saying I totally disagree with the ranking. I wouldn’t put them 5th, but I can see how 4th-10th would probably be close enough that voting could place any of them anywhere.

12 years ago

@ U-G,

Even if the Jose Lopez career resurrection fails in Colorado, they still have a lot of depth behind him in Nelson, EYJ, and Herrera.

Aaron Whitehead
12 years ago

Tied for 5th does sound high. But if they’re using a standard grading curve, the 85 grade on present talent is a solid B, which sounds about right. It seems like there should be more teams ranked ahead of them, but how many teams in baseball obviously have more talent on hand? Five or Six?

12 years ago

I see 6 holes: Lopez, obviously; Ianetta, a burst of talent a couple of years ago; Stewart and Smith, good platoon players who must now hit lefties as well; Helton, done; Fowler, promising but not proven.
That leaves the admittedly top-rate Tulowitzki and Gonzalez, who’s had one good season.
In addition, the pitching staff looks average to me.
I like the Rockies potential, but their reality is average at best. Only playing in the NL West makes them a legitimate contender.