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Productive offseason has Rockies optimistic for 2014

The Colorado Rockies are coming off back-to-back last-place finishes. They have lost 275 games the last three seasons.

That hasn't kept the Rockies from feeling that they can be a factor in the National League West.

Based off their moves so far this offseason, the argument can be made that the Rockies have done as good a job of any team addressing their offseason concerns.

The offseason began with a debated trade of center fielder Dexter Fowler to Houston for right-handed pitcher Jordan Lyles and outfielder Brandon Barnes, neither of whom is assured of a spot on the Opening Day roster. The Rockies, however, were looking at creating payroll flexibility, and they have put the $7.3 million savings from Fowler's 2014 salary to use.

They've signed Justin Morneau, filling a gaping need for a left-handed hitter and first baseman in light of Todd Helton's retirement. He received a two-year, $12.5 million contract. They added needed bullpen depth with the free-agent signings of LaTroy Hawkins, a right-hander who was given a one-year, $2.5 million deal, and Boone Logan, a left-hander signed to a three-year, $16.5 million deal. They also selected right-hander Tommy Kahnle from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft.

Most of all, the Rockies were able to acquire Brett Anderson in a trade with Oakland, which was looking to move Anderson's salary.

Beset by assorted injuries in the past four years, Anderson was the A's Opening Day starter last season and has top-of-the-rotation potential. If he can just step into the No. 4 spot in the rotation, the Rockies will be thrilled.

The Rockies had a quality top of the rotation last season, but they had a major void in the final two spots. They were 49-32 in the 81 games started by Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood, who combined for a 3.96 ERA. They were 25-56 in games started by eight other pitchers, who combined for a 5.25 ERA in their starting assignments.

If Anderson can step into the fourth spot, the Rockies would then look at a spring battle for the fifth spot with Lyles, Juan Nicasio, and Christian Friedrich, with quick-rising prospects Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray both expected to be ready to impact the rotation at some point.

The Giants are evidence of problems created by a short-handed rotation. They won only 76 games and finished just two games ahead of the last-place Rockies in 2013, due in large part to the struggles of a rotation that was pivotal in their two World Series championships in the three previous seasons.

The Giants' rotation was 49-56 with a 4.37 ERA, the club's third-highest ERA in the first 14 years of this century. The 946 innings pitched by Giants starters ranked 10th in the NL, and the Giants had only two complete games.

The only alteration to the rotation the Giants have made this offseason is the signing of free agent Tim Hudson, who finished the 2013 season on the disabled list in Atlanta recovering from a broken right ankle. He is being asked to take over for Barry Zito, who was 5-11 with a 5.74 ERA in 30 appearances (25 starts) in the final year of his seven-year, $126 million deal.

The Giants did make a preemptive bid to re-sign Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million contract despite the fact he was 20-29 with a 4.76 ERA the past two seasons.

Numbers game
Morneau will wear No. 33 in Colorado. The number has not been worn in a regular-season game by a Rockies player since Larry Walker. Morneau, like Walker, is Canadian. As a kid, Morneau played on Larry Walker Field in Maple Ridge, British Columbia -- Walker's hometown. Morneau also wore No. 33 in Minnesota in honor of Walker, who endorsed Morneau wearing No. 33 in Colorado as well.

"I wished him well with #33," Walker tweeted. "He will wear it well."

The Rockies do not have a retired number, but that could change in the spring. The expectation is that Helton's No. 17 will be the first number retired by the franchise. Walker's No. 33 could be next.

The Rockies, Marlins and Mariners are the only Major League teams without a retired number, other than No. 42, retired by all 30 teams in honor of Jackie Robinson. At the other extreme, besides 42, the Yankees have retired 17 numbers and St. Louis 12.

Speak up
Rangers officials admitted that they don't expect Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to give up his NFL career, but they spent $12,000 to select him from Colorado in the Rule 5 Draft because they feel he could provide a lift by visiting Spring Training and speaking to the players.

The Rockies signed Wilson as a fourth-round Draft pick in 2010. He played 93 games over two years in their organization before quitting baseball in favor of the NFL. Wilson hit only .229 in the time split between short-season Tri City and low Class A Asheville. He primarily platooned at second base with North Carolina State.

He also was a 41st-round Draft choice of Baltimore when he came out of high school in 2007.

There have been 67 players known to have played in the NFL and Major Leagues. Only seven have come since the 1970s, including Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, Brian Jordan, Drew Henson, Chad Hutchinson, D.J. Dozier, and Matt Kinzer. Jackson is the only player selected to an NFL Pro Bowl and an MLB All-Star Game.

Fame game
Eight former Major Leaguers have made the Hall of Fame in the NFL -- Red Badgro, Paddy Driscoll, George Halas, Ernie Nevers, Ace Parker, Jim Thorpe, Greasy Neale and Sanders. But no NFL/MLB crossovers are in baseball's Hall of Fame. Cal Hubbard is enshrined in both Hall of Fames, but he was inducted into Cooperstown as an umpire, not a player.

Sanders had the greatest longevity of any of the two-sport athletes, appearing in 641 Major League baseball games and 188 NFL games. He was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and played on two Super Bowl champions. Sanders led the NL with 14 triples in 1992, and appeared in the World Series with Atlanta that season.

Two-sport star Carroll Hardy did not make it into either Hall of Fame, but he's the answer to a trivia question as the only player to pinch-hit for Ted Williams, who fouled a ball off his foot and had to come out of a Sept. 20, 1960, game. Hardy also pinch-hit for Carl Yastrzemski and Roger Maris during his baseball career.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for
Read More: Justin Morneau, Tim Lincecum, Dexter Fowler, Brett Anderson, Todd Helton, Brandon Barnes, Tim Hudson, Jordan Lyles