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Rockies heading to camp with similar plan

Bullpen restocked as club looks to build on Wild Card year
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- The Rockies took last year's trip to the postseason as confirmation in their building plan. In building the 2018 team, which begins Spring Training with the first pitchers and catchers workout on Valentine's Day, general manager Jeff Bridich stayed with what is working.

Since taking over as GM after the 2014 season, Bridich has adhered to clear principles -- develop a starting rotation and lineup core, then target key veterans for important bullpen roles and augment the lineup. After 2017 resulted in the Rockies' first postseason trip since '09 -- something they expected, although few outsiders did -- they have eschewed calls to add an experienced starter or a multiyear contract for a corner bat.

DENVER -- The Rockies took last year's trip to the postseason as confirmation in their building plan. In building the 2018 team, which begins Spring Training with the first pitchers and catchers workout on Valentine's Day, general manager Jeff Bridich stayed with what is working.

Since taking over as GM after the 2014 season, Bridich has adhered to clear principles -- develop a starting rotation and lineup core, then target key veterans for important bullpen roles and augment the lineup. After 2017 resulted in the Rockies' first postseason trip since '09 -- something they expected, although few outsiders did -- they have eschewed calls to add an experienced starter or a multiyear contract for a corner bat.

This offseason's big expenditures were in the bullpen, where the Rockies signed three-year contracts with closer Wade Davis ($52 million), lefty Jake McGee ($27 million) and righty Bryan Shaw ($27 million). Contracts totaling $104 million for the bullpen may seem like a splash, but it's more of a continuation.

Last year, the Rockies signed Greg Holland to a one-year deal, already had McGee in tow and traded for Pat Neshek at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Essentially, the Rockies replaced setup men -- well, McGee replaced himself -- with similarly accomplished pitchers, and locked them up for three years so they don't have to keep revisiting the issue.

Rockies Spring Training info

The plan was similar at catcher, where they traded with the Rangers for Jonathan Lucroy at the Trade Deadline last year and replaced him with Chris Iannetta, who returns where he started his career, for two years and $8.5 million.

Video: Black discusses Rockies putting emphasis on pitching

As for the rotation, the Rockies continue to value talent and competition over accomplishment elsewhere -- something that hasn't translated to success often in the team's previous 25 seasons. Righty Jon Gray (10-4, 3.67 ERA), lefty Tyler Anderson (6-6, 4.81) and righty Chad Bettis (2-4, 5.05 in nine starts after recovery from testicular cancer) have demonstrated when healthy that homegrown pitching works. Four rookies helped, and at times flourished last year -- righty German Marquez (11-7, 4.39), lefty Kyle Freeland (11-11, 4.10), righty Antonio Senzatela (10-5, 4.68) and righty Jeff Hoffman (6-5, 5.89). That's more starters than spots for the rotation, which means spring competition.

Behind them is even more youthful competition -- righty Yency Almonte, lefty Sam Howard, righty Zach Jemiola and lefty Harrison Musgrave, all of whom pitched at Triple-A Albuquerque last season, plus righty Ryan Castellani, who pitched at Double-A Hartford at age 21. None has thrown in the Majors, but consider this: Last spring, Bettis left camp to begin chemotherapy, Gray was touch-and-go for Opening Day with a foot injury, and Chris Rusin had an oblique injury that moved him to the bullpen (where he was an asset). At no point did the Rockies comb other camps for starters, and Senzatela and Freeland made their debuts in the Major League rotation. So there is opportunity.

The homegrown pitching plan appears sustainable. Looking at the current rotation, the Rockies don't have to deal with free agency until Bettis is eligible after 2020 and Gray and Anderson become eligible after 2021.

The Rockies contemplated a big contract for the lineup by talking with former Indians first baseman Carlos Santana, but Colorado stayed on the sidelines as the Phillies signed him for three years at $60 million. It's not as if the Rockies have been afraid of multiyear position players. Bridich signed outfielder Gerardo Parra, whose three-year, $27.5 million deal ends this year, and versatile Ian Desmond's five-year, $70 million contract is in its second season.

They still may sign a veteran, by re-signing outfielder Carlos Gonzalez or first baseman Mark Reynolds. But it's not certain the Rockies will sign either of them. If they do sign one, it could be for one year and not much more. So opportunity will be there for Rockies prospects.

Video: Harding discusses moves Rockies could still make

The farm system has produced the bulk of the lineup -- leadoff man Charlie Blackmon, star third baseman Nolan Arenado, shortstop Trevor Story and even second baseman DJ LeMahieu, who was acquired from the Cubs before he became established. So who is next?

Rockies' top 30 prospects

Ryan McMahon has a chance to earn left-handed at-bats at first base, after a solid year in Double-A and Triple-A. In the outfield, the Rockies have Raimel Tapia, who bounced between Triple-A and the Majors but was a key piece by season's end; David Dahl, who flashed power when called up in 2016 but didn't play in the Majors because of a rib issue last season; and Mike Tauchman, a 10th-round Draft pick who hit for average and displayed speed throughout his Minor League career, and added power last season to earn his first Major League callup.

Also, 2016 top Draft pick Brendan Rodgers, 20, a shortstop who has played some second base and will learn third just in case, will be in his first Major League camp. He is a fast mover who, with health and a good year, could be a candidate for the Majors sometime this season.

The Rockies haven't reached their championship goals. But they're taking a team to Spring Training that indicates they believe they have a winning strategy.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies