Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.
2012 Organizational Rankings
#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York Mets
#19 – Los Angeles Dodgers
Colorado’s 2011 Ranking: #10
2012 Outlook: – 50 (17th)
The Rockies has a disastrous 2011 season, finishing 4th in the NL West, 21 games behind the Diamondbacks and 17 games off the wildcard pace. The Rockies led the NL West in runs scored with 735, but the Astros were the only team in the NL to give up more runs than the 2011 Rockies. The team threw in the towel on the season at the trade deadline, sending its ace pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez, to the Cleveland Indians for a package of prospects including highly regarded pitchers Drew Pomeranz and Alex White.
The Rockies responded to the 2011 debacle by making a plethora of offseason moves. The team added two position players through free agency, signing Michael Cuddyer (3/$31.5m) to play right field and Ramon Hernandez (2/$6.4m) to play catcher. It is unclear that either of these moves represent upgrades however, as Cuddyer (2011 wOBA .354) replaces Seth Smith (2011 wOBA .357) who was traded to Oakland, while Hernandez (2011 wOBA .339) replaces Chris Iannetta (2011 wOBA .347). It is true that Hernandez may see a boost in his offensive production in Colorado, but Iannetta is the younger player and Hernandez has not played in more than 100 games since George W. Bush was president.
The Rockies did clearly upgrade at second base, getting Marco Scutaro (2011 wOBA .343) for an inventory arm. However, third base is potentially a black hole as the Rockies released Casey Blake and are now depending on Chris Nelson (2011 wOBA .289) and Jordan Pacheco (2011 wOBA .305) to man the hot corner until top-propsect Nolan Arenado is ready.
These newly acquired players join Troy Tulowitzki (2011 wOBA .389), arguably the best position player in the NL, Carlos Gonzalez (2011 wOBA .383), Todd Helton (2011 wOBA .368), and Dexter Fowler (2011 wOBA .346) to form a lineup that should score a lot of runs.
As noted above the big problem for the Rockies in 2011 was preventing runs. To that end they brought in Jeremy Guthrie (2011 FIP 4.48) in a trade from Baltimore and Tyler Chatwood (2011 FIP 4.89) in a trade from Los Angeles. Neither of these pitchers is very exciting, but at least Guthrie has pitched more than 200 innings in each of the last 3 seasons. They will join a rotation that likely will include a lot of young pitchers with potential, but question marks. Jhoulys Chacin (2011 FIP 4.23, ERA 3.62) outpitched his peripherals last year and may be due for regression. Juan Nicasio is lucky to be alive after surviving a scare neck injury, but if he can pitch like he did before the injury (3.65 FIP in 71.2 innings) he will be a major asset. Drew Pomeranz and Alex White are both talented, but as of yet, unproven. With White moving to the bullpen at this point it looks like ageless wonder Jamie Moyer (age 49!) may be the 5th starter to start the season.
The Rockies underperformed based on their run differential in 2011 so they may have an improved won/loss record in 2012 despite little change in the team’s talent level. Other than the upgrade at second base, their multitude of offseason moves has done little to improve the product on the field. If their young pitchers have breakout years in 2012 they could potentially contend, but that is asking a lot for a team that plays in a tough environment for pitchers.
2013+ Outlook: 48 (18th)
The long term deals for Tulowitzki and Gonzalez insure that the team’s offensive core is in place for a few more years, but they do carry downside risk if either of them end up injured or lose effectiveness as they age out of their prime years. According to Mark Hulet, the Rockies farm system ranks 21st, but they do have a number of good prospects that are near major league ready including Nolan Arenado, who is arguably the best corner infield prospect in baseball. Lefty Drew Pomeranz, the key get in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, will start the year with big league club and could develop into a staff ace. Alex White, a former 1st round pick, still has potential, but his fly ball tendencies and off the field issues are a concern and it is not clear if he’ll be a starting pitcher in the long run. Wilin Rosario is the heir apparent to Hernandez at catcher, Rockies fans should hope that the team handles him better than they did Chris Ianetta. As Marc Hulet notes the system has some interesting players, but not a lot of depth due to team’s reluctance to go over-slot to sign players in the draft. If the young pitching develops they could become perennial contenders, but relying on young pitching is a risky strategy.
Financial Resources: 47 (19th)
Forbes ranks the Rockies 18th (note the similarity in ranking) in franchise value at $464 million, with an estimated operating income of $14.4 million in 2011. The Denver area is the 14th largest combined statistical area in the U.S. with just over 3 million residents, an increase of over 17% since 2000. The Rockies are also geographically isolated from other teams, which enhances the team’s ability to extend its fan base beyond the Denver area. Their TV ratings were 10th in the league in 2010, which should allow them to cash in on the rising prices for TV rights when their deal expires in 2014. Their attendance figures have typically been just above the middle of the pack, but could increase if the population of the area continues to grow. The restructuring of Todd Helton’s contract has freed up some payroll room in the short run, however, the long term deals for Tulowitzki and Gonzalez could limit the Rockies options in the coming years. If they are sold on their young pitchers they may want to think about buying out some of their arbitration and free-agent years in order to provide cost certainty moving forward.
Baseball Operations: 43 (24th)
The Rockies recent transaction record is mixed. Most praised the Scuataro and Jimenez trades, but the premature contract extension for Tulowitzki demonstrates that the Rockies have yet to internalize the lesson that long-term contracts rarely work out. This is, after all, the same franchise and GM that signed Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle, and Todd Helton to long term deals totaling more than $300 million and got no where near that much value in return. Of all their long-term deals, Tulowitksi’s is the best bet to payoff, but is still a big risk for a team that is not at the top of the league in revenue.
The Rockies front office seems to place more weight on the “character” of players than do other organizations. One of GM Dan O’Dowd’s primary goals this offseason was to upgrade the teams culture and character as much or more so than its talent level. This has been a long-term goal of the franchise according to the 2006 piece in the USA Today. In a recent interview on the MLB Network’s Clubhouse Confidential, O’Dowd claimed that in evaluating players the Rockies equally weight three factors: (1) character, (2) stats, and (3) instinctive judgments of talent. Needless to say this is not the weighting that most statistically inclined analysts would recommend. The Rockies recent moves also go against the grain by assembling an older roster for 2012 by either re-signing or acquiring Hernandez, Scutaro, Moyer, Rafael Betancourt, and Jason Giambi all of whom are on the wrong side of 35, despite most teams moving to younger players. This seems like a peculiar strategy given the extra fatigue that comes with playing 81 games a year at high altitude, but it does fit it with O’Dowd’s stated goal of improving the character of the clubhouse.
Overall: 47 (18th)
Even with the humidor and a decreased run scoring environment throughout the league, the Rockies still have not found an effective formula for winning consistently at altitude. In the interview linked above O’Dowd stated that ideally the Rockies would have a lot of ground ball pitchers, but to date they have struggled to assemble such a staff. With a core of good position players and young pitchers with upside there is room for optimism about the Rockies’ future. The combination of the expanded playoffs and the recent struggles of the Dodgers and Padres means that there is hope for the team to be in contention in the near future. The recent sale of the Dodgers likely means that the Dodgers will not be dormant for long, which will increase the long term challenge faced by the Rockies.
I am political science professor at the University of North Carolina. I grew up watching the Braves on TBS and acquired Red Sox fandom during the 1986 World Series. My other hobbies include cooking, good red wine, curing meats, and obsessing over Alabama football---Roll Tide! Follow me on Twitter @ProfJRoberts.