Upgrading pitching atop Rockies GM Bridich's to-do list
Adding big-time starter, impact reliever among key decisions entering Hot Stove season
DENVER -- It's been a busy time for new Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich, who is still building his front office. But the task people care about most is building the 2015 roster. Here is a look at the decisions facing the new Rox regime.
One of the biggest offseason decisions is the $12 million option for 2015 for lefty Brett Anderson. The same attributes and questions remain. Anderson was electric when he was on the mound, but a broken left index finger in April and a back injury in July that required season-ending surgery limited him to eight starts. On Saturday, the club announced it had declined the left-hander's option, making him a free agent.
Righty LaTroy Hawkins pitched at a high level in the closer's role, and his $2.25 million option was picked up on Friday. Hawkins is willing to pitch in other roles if Colorado finds a new closer, but he showed this year he can hold down the ninth inning if someone else doesn't emerge.
The Rockies extended a $15.3 million qualifying offer to outfielder-first baseman Michael Cuddyer, who has put up strong offensive numbers when healthy and has been the leader they envisioned when they signed him for three years and $31.5 million before the 2012 season. The problem is Colorado has Justin Morneau at first base and plenty of exciting homegrown options in the outfield. Cuddyer has no interest in being a part-time player, and he could command a healthy contract in the open market. Unless the Rockies decide they wanted to deal Morneau or outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, and they do it quickly, retaining Cuddyer is doubtful.
It's expected that the Rox will part ways with righty reliever Matt Belisle, who had strong performances early in his career with Colorado, but struggled after dealing with a heavy workload. Belisle picked up toward the end of this past season, and he could be a find for another club. Lefty Franklin Morales and righty Nick Masset are other free agents.
The Rockies' need for impact starting pitching plus depth is perennial and vexing. Spending too much on an impact pitcher reduces the team's chances of building depth. The bullpen struggled under the weight of low innings from an injury-prone starting staff. Although there are bullpen assets, it couldn't hurt to find an impact right-handed arm.
After big contracts for Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle hamstrung the franchise just after the turn of the century, Colorado has sworn off such pursuits. But what would be the harm in phone calls to James Shields, Max Scherzer and Jon Lester? Shields' leadership of the Royals' staff was key; the standard rose when he arrived.
Just below that trio is an intriguing group that includes Jason Hammel, Francisco Liriano, Justin Masterson, Brandon McCarthy and Ervin Santana. It would behoove the Rockies to pursue free-agent pitching, especially after declining Anderson's option.
Colorado could go in a different direction at catcher by bringing in a defensive stalwart to help the staff. The Pirates are under much pressure to retain Russell Martin, but the Rockies figure to bid on him. Wil Nieves, David Ross and Geovany Soto could be free-agent targets.
In the bullpen, righty Luke Gregerson's experience in the National League West with the Padres, before pitching for the Athletics this past season, makes him a prime candidate for a multiyear deal. Colorado also should make phone calls to Pat Neshek, Andrew Miller and Rafael Soriano.
There could be suitors for NL batting champ Morneau, a bargain at $6.75 million, with a $750,000 buyout at the end of the 2015 season. But part of the reason the Rockies aren't in a rebuilding frenzy is hitters like Morneau make them believe they can contend if they stay healthy.
Two intriguing trade possibilities are catcher Wilin Rosario, whose bat could serve an American League club at catcher and designated hitter, and outfielder Drew Stubbs, who was an asset as a part-time starter and attracted some interest at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Another trade asset could be first baseman Kyle Parker, a recent top Draft pick, who is blocked by Morneau and may have been surpassed in 2014 by Ben Paulsen. It could be, however, that Parker, like Paulsen, is awaiting his turn to receive his big league opportunity.
Anything can happen, but Colorado's two stars -- shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Gonzalez -- do not figure to be moving this winter. The front office has changed, but there has been no indication ownership wants to move the contracts of Tulowitzki and Gonzalez, and the fact they had season-ending surgery likely means teams aren't going to give up a package worth the Rockies' time.
The Rox need to increase the level of pitching and the leadership in regard to pitching -- whether it's from hurlers on the staff, new ones or the catching position -- to match the expected performance of their lineup.