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Rox have solid nucleus to build around for '17

Despite manager uncertainty, club well-equipped to improve on promising season
October 2, 2016

The Rockies enter the offseason with a solid homegrown roster that pushed into contention just after the All-Star break before faltering, primarily due to bullpen struggles. This puts them in good position for 2017, but it also leaves them at a crossroads.The club announced on Monday morning that Walt Weiss

The Rockies enter the offseason with a solid homegrown roster that pushed into contention just after the All-Star break before faltering, primarily due to bullpen struggles. This puts them in good position for 2017, but it also leaves them at a crossroads.
The club announced on Monday morning that Walt Weiss decided not to pursue a return for a fifth season as the Rockies' manager. Weiss' contract expired at the end of the regular season.
This is also a club that hasn't participated in recent big-name free agency -- with most of the veteran acquisitions being character guys -- and has chosen to trade mainly for players on the cusp of the Majors. As a result, the Rockies struggled at first but now have a lineup worthy of a contender to go with a talented starting pitching staff.
Rox poised for more after season of growth
At the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Rockies chose not to deal their veterans, but they also couldn't swing a deal to augment what they have. Do they continue the current roster plan, or is there a big expenditure that can shock the process further?
Here is a look at where the Rockies stand heading into the offseason.
Arbitration eligible: 3B Nolan Arenado, CF Charlie Blackmon, RHP Tyler Chatwood, LHP Jake McGee, RHP Jordan Lyles
Free agents: LHP Jorge De La Rosa, INF-OF Daniel Descalso, C Nick Hundley, LHP Boone Logan, OF Ryan Raburn, 1B Mark Reynolds
Rotation: For years, the call has been for the Rockies to sign a veteran, but success has been scant. The 2016 rotation struggled in April and didn't finish strong, but in May, June and July the club received upper-echelon work from De La Rosa and Chatwood, who were acquired before they were established, and homegrown products Chad Bettis, Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson. All but De La Rosa, 35, are assured to return.
There are opportunities for Jeff Hoffman -- ranked by as the club's No. 2 prospect -- German Márquez (No. 6), who received limited work at season's end, and Antonio Senzatela (No. 8), with whom the team was careful because of a shoulder issue. Denver native Kyle Freeland (No. 7) and lefty Harrison Musgrave (No. 25) are on the cusp. Behind them, Peter Lambert (No. 11), Ryan Castellani (No. 12) and Yency Almonte (No. 19) had solid years that could put them on the big league radar.

Bullpen: The moves that didn't work will be tough to correct. Righties Jason Motte and Chad Qualls were barely usable because of injuries and ineffectiveness, and they are due $8.75 million next season at the end of two-year contracts. It would be difficult to swing trades. McGee struggled because of a knee injury and the subtle delivery changes that occurred upon his return, but it makes sense to give him a shot at regaining form. Adam Ottavino will be in his second year after Tommy John surgery and will have a chance to prove he can work against lefties enough to be a solid closer or remain a devastating right-on-right weapon. Lefty former starter Chris Rusin was a revelation. Lyles, a former starter who had his moments, is an interesting arbitration decision.

What will determine the long-term success will be how righty Carlos Estévez learns from the experience he gained this year and young power arms Jairo Díaz, Miguel Castro and Scott Oberg recover from injuries. Also, can some of the starting talent break in by augmenting the bullpen?
With no bona fide closer, there will be calls to go after someone such as Colorado native Mark Melancon via free agency.
Catcher: Hundley is eligible for free agency, which gives the Rockies a philosophical challenge similar to their pitching situation. Lefty-hitting Tony Wolters was an immediate impact defender who showed incremental offensive improvement, and prospect Tom Murphy (No. 10) is a solid right-handed power bat even though his defense is a work in progress. Do they re-sign Hundley or another vet, or do they go with younger catchers like Dustin Garneau, who has seen brief action the last two years?

First base: Reynolds had his best year in terms of batting average and on-base percentage, but the Rockies are more likely to seek the power Reynolds provided in his younger days. It's available on the free-agent market in Mark Trumbo, whom the Rockies flirted with acquiring from the Mariners last winter before watching him bust fences in Baltimore, or one-time Rockies star Matt Holliday, whose history of injuries could mean a shift to first from the outfield. Gerardo Parra played first toward the end of the year while working through injuries, but this could be a place where on-base threat Jordan Patterson (No. 18) could forge playing time.

Second base:DJ LeMahieu is, put simply, an unassuming star. With a Gold Glove and an All-Star Game in his history, and fresh off a stellar offensive season, he provides stability not seen at the position since Eric Young in the 1990s. Plus, count on him for 150 games a year.
Third base: Arenado added "super" to his star status by continuing the otherworldly defense and top-of-the-NL home run power, while increasing his batting average and on-base numbers. And 2016 was his second straight year of playing in nearly every game.

Shortstop: Rookie Trevor Story's July 30 left thumb injury, which cost him the remainder of the season, didn't just prevent him from individual marks -- he set an NL rookie shortstop record with 27 home runs, and likely would have eclipsed Nomar Garciaparra's Major League-record 30. The Rockies lost much-needed right-handed power when he and Reynolds, who was disabled twice by left hand injuries, were gone.
But here's what's exciting: Story, in 97 games, was better than Arenado over 113 games as a rookie in 2013 in batting average (.272 to .267), home runs (27 to 10), RBIs (72 to 52) and on-base percentage (.341 to .301). And Story spent two months studying the Arenado of today.

Outfield: The Rockies have quality -- right fielder Carlos González is a longtime star and center fielder Blackmon put himself on the short list of top leadoff men in the game. There's exciting youth, with David Dahl having arrived with high expectations and exceeded them, Raimel Tapia having shown his hit tool can work in the Majors as it did in the Minors, and Patterson knocking hard enough at the door to deserve a chance. Yes, there is disappointment, with Parra starting with impatient at-bats and less-impactful defense than advertised and finishing with an ankle injury that cost him 46 games and never fully healed.

This is a front-office challenge. Would trading Parra, owed $19.5 million over the next two years, give the younger players a chance or bring much back? Do they go forward with Blackmon, who has filled what used to be a void at the top of the order, or trade him at the top of his value? Will years of rumors involving Gonzalez lead to a trade? Is doing nothing, and operating from a position of depth, a legitimate strategy?
Bench: Descalso and Raburn were important, not just because of Descalso's ability to provide offense and versatility and Raburn's prowess against left-handed pitching. They helped salvage a rough year in terms of acquisitions. Descalso turned around a 2015 season during which he struggled and his signing was criticized. Winning teams noticed them, and the Rockies will be challenged to re-sign them.
Also, switch-hitting infielder Cristhian Adames spent most of the season hitting in the low .200s, but he was near .300 as a pinch-hitter and had solid on-base performances in pinch-hit and substitute roles; in other words, he's solid when not forced to play for long stretches.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and** like his Facebook page**.