DENVER -- During the 2 1/2 weeks until the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Rockies can focus on their main need: the bullpen.Historically, the club has sought to bolster its starting five, but rookies Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland and Jeff Hoffman proved themselves to be formidalbe when injuries hit
DENVER -- During the 2 1/2 weeks until the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Rockies can focus on their main need: the bullpen.
Historically, the club has sought to bolster its starting five, but rookies Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland and Jeff Hoffman proved themselves to be formidalbe when injuries hit the Rockies' rotation early in the season. Now righty Jon Gray is back, having turned in two good starts after missing 11 weeks due to April foot surgery, and the rotation will soon welcome back lefty Tyler Anderson (surgical cleanup of the left knee) and righty Chad Bettis (testicular cancer). So, it's OK to look elsewhere.
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Greg Holland leads the Majors with 28 saves. Lefty setup man Jake McGee and versatile lefty Chris Rusin have been consistent, and righty Scott Oberg is growing into a weapon. But the Rockies' overall bullpen performance has teetered because of slumps to two key relievers: Adam Ottavino and Mike Dunn.
Ottavino has battled control issues, while Dunn hasn't been the same since back spasms put him on the disabled list in late April. The Rockies need and expect returns to form from both of them, but adding proven relievers would hedge that bet and give manager Bud Black better options in the middle innings. Trading for two righties who are working the eighth or even ninth inning for their current teams would be ideal.
Trading for relievers shouldn't cost the Rockies a lot in the way of prospects, and they won't likely part with the Major League starting-pitching depth they've spent years building, but they might have to take on a big contract.
Coming off the books next season will be the $22 million they paid Mets infielder Jose Reyes this year, and Carlos Gonzalez will be a free agent, so the Rockies have the flexibility to take on payroll. Could that put White Sox closer David Robertson -- earning $12 million this year and $13 million next -- in play? He and Holland could be a formidable duo in the eighth and ninth, and the Rockies could be protected should Holland opt for free agency this winter. Other late-innings arms the Rockies could pursue are Mets righty Addison Reed, Pirates lefty Tony Watson, Padres righty Brandon Maurer or Phillies righty Pat Neshek.
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What would clubs want in return? Teams could covet hard-throwing righty Carlos Estevez or lefty Sam Moll, who are finishing their development at Triple-A Albuquerque, or outfielder Mike Tauchman, also at Albuquerque after a brief Major League stint. Teams that want starters could look at Double-A Hartford and righties Ryan Castellani, a second-round Draft pick in 2014 who is ranked by MLBPipeline.com as the club's No. 3 prospct, and Yency Almonte, the Rockies' No. 11 prospect who has already been traded twice because clubs like his arm.
No reliever likely to be traded would merit giving up a blue-chipper the likes of infielders Brendan Rodgers (No. 1) or Ryan McMahon (No. 4).
WHAT ARE THEY PLAYING FOR?
The Rockies trail the National League West-leading Dodgers by 9 1/2 games -- not insurmountable, but not an easy lead to overcome. However, the Rockies have a 7 1/2-game lead on the Cubs for the second NL Wild Card. The D-backs hold the top Wild Card spot, two games ahead. Barring a collapse, the Rockies are most likely battling for home-field advantage against the D-backs in the NL Wild Card Game.
THE ROAD AHEAD
After visiting the Mets for three games, the Rockies have an important homestand from July 17-22 -- three games each vs. the Padres and Pirates. July finishes with a road trip of heat, humidity and competitive teams -- the Cardinals from July 24-26 and the Nationals from July 28-30.
All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado practiced for pressure when he played for Team USA's World Baseball Classic-winning team. It'll be nice if Carlos Gonzalez, who has slumped badly all year, and free-agent signee Ian Desmond, who has been on the disabled list twice (currently with a right calf injury, although he should be back soon) can produce offensively. But it is Arenado time.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH
McMahon, 22, dominated at Hartford and has continued to hit at Albuquerque, where he is hitting .390 with eight home runs and 15 doubles in his first 32 games. He spends most of his time at first base, where he is learning quickly. But he was drafted as a third baseman and took to second base when it was added this year.
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and** like his Facebook page**.