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Rockies could stay conservative in free agency

DENVER -- The Rockies are in the odd position of coming off the worst season in their 20-year history, yet they have some justification for being wallflowers during free agency.

The club has just three eligible free agents. Two could be back, although the circumstances for one might be unusual.

Teams can start signing free agents beginning after 10 p.m. MT on Thursday.

Veteran left-hander Jeff Francis, who gave the team a lift when he joined in June, said at season's end he wanted to return, and manager Jim Tracy's resignation in October was not a deal-breaker. First baseman Jason Giambi, who battled injuries, likely will leave if he continues to play, but he interviewed for the managerial position and will retire if he's hired. Left-hander Jonathan Sanchez was injured shortly after being acquired from the Royals and had little impact.

Much of what went wrong in the Rockies' 64-98 season could lead to a brighter future with a mostly homegrown roster. Crippling injuries, especially to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and pitchers Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa (who spent most of the year recovering from last year's elbow surgery), forced the Rockies to go to young players. Some thrived, some (especially pitchers) proved to be not quite ready. Many fit into both categories.

But in 2013, the Rockies will have players to fill the holes in the roster. Tulowitzki, limited to 47 games by a left groin issue that required surgery, should be healthy. So should outfielder-first baseman Michael Cuddyer, who went on the disabled list twice with oblique strains, and veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez, whose hand and hamstring injuries forced rookie Wilin Rosario into more playing time than was intended. First baseman Todd Helton, looking to finish a long and successful Rockies career, also hopes to return from a torn labrum in his right hip.

Rosario, along with rookie infielders Jordan Pacheco, Josh Rutledge and DJ LeMahieu, had enough encouraging moments that the Rockies might not have to seek much depth in free agency. The same could be said of third baseman Chris Nelson and Tyler Colvin, who played well in the outfield and at first base when injuries created opportunities, as well as outfielder Eric Young Jr.

The youthful starting pitchers didn't perform nearly as well as the position players, but if Chacin and De La Rosa return healthy as expected, there will be less demand on the youngsters. Francis also could provide sorely needed leadership if he re-signs. The Rockies won't make big waves in free agency, but a smart decision could bolster the starting staff.

The loss of Giambi's bat could leave the Rockies in search of a power bat off the bench, but they may have that in Colvin -- if he's not in the starting lineup.

At least the Rockies enter the offseason knowing they are paying strictly their own players. The club ate $5.34 million in salary for former players last season but owes nothing to former players going into 2013.

Contract issues

There is not much in this department. De La Rosa has a player option in 2013 worth $11 million that he's certain to exercise.

Areas of need

Starting pitching: A perennial need for the Rockies, but not since signing Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle after the 2000 season has the club chased highly coveted free agents.

Powerful bat: It would be nice for the Rockies to increase their power offensively, but they could choose to wait on top prospect Nolan Arenado, a third baseman, to finish his development and make his debut next season.

Lefty reliever: The left-handers in the bullpen are young, and the Rockies could decide to add experience.

2013 payroll

If Colorado doesn't make a splash in free agency, it can go into next year with a payroll much lower than the $81 million-plus it started with in 2012.

When De La Rosa exercises his option, the club will have nearly $52 million committed to seven players, and center fielder Dexter Fowler, who had his strongest season, heads into his second year of arbitration and is due a raise above the $2.35 million he received in 2012. He is a candidate for a multi-year deal.

Beyond that, the Rockies have several players eligible for first-year arbitration and many others with low service time.

Colorado Rockies, Jeff Francis, Jason Giambi, Jorge De La Rosa, Jonathan Sanchez