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Pitching upgrades atop Rockies' offseason list

DENVER -- The Rockies are looking for a few pitchers they can trust -- a standard easier said than met. The search should intensify when baseball officials, scouts, managers and coaches from each team gather in Nashville, Tenn., at the Winter Meetings.

The most positive way to come to terms with a 64-98 season that featured a young, shaky starting pitching staff is that some of those pitchers will grow older and more solid. But Bill Geivett, the Rockies' senior vice president of Major League operations, said the process could be helped if the Rockies can find a dependable starter. The same also goes with the bullpen, where the Rockies are seeking at least one left-hander after trading Matt Reynolds to the D-backs last week.

But the Rockies know they can't merely shop for experience.

Last year, the Rockies ended up trading with the Orioles for right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, whose history of durability made him an attractive option. However, Guthrie struggled at Coors Field, lost his spot in the rotation and was traded to the Royals midseason. And to add insult, Guthrie did for the Royals exactly what the Rockies thought he'd do for them. Last week, Guthrie signed a three-year, $25 million deal with Kansas City.

Guthrie became the latest case illustrating the difficulty in predicting pitching performance in the Mile High atmosphere. The club has had productive talks with lefty Jeff Francis, who returned to the club last season after a year-plus absence, about re-signing. The Rockies also vow to carefully study any pitcher they want to sign or acquire in a deal.

"We're looking at predictability and we're not going to worry about what the service time is," Geivett said. "I think you want to look at starting pitching or maybe a guy in the bullpen with a little bit more predictability in terms of performance. That's how we look at it."

The team already has a couple of leading rotation candidates, with Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin -- pitchers who have had success in a Rockies uniform -- expected to be healthy after dealing with injuries for much of 2012. Adding another experienced pitcher or two will mean the other youthful arms who made the bulk of the starts in 2012 will be competing for the back-of-the-rotation spots that are more appropriate for their experience levels.

"Probably the best way to put it is our young pitching is an area of strength for us," Geivett said. "If we sign a veteran, it'll push some of those guys into competing for the fifth spot. But at the same time those are the guys we're looking to our future with."

Financially, the Rockies are in decent shape whether they want to sign free agents or add salary through trades.

The club has $46.4 million committed to nine players, including the final $500,000 owed to reliever Huston Street, whom they traded to the Padres last winter. Center fielder Dexter Fowler, heading into his second year of arbitration, is due a raise from the $2.35 million he earned last season. Others up for arbitration are Chacin, infielder Jonathan Herrera, left-hander Josh Outman, and outfielder Tyler Colvin.

Injuries to key position players helped many prospects gain experience. The Reynolds trade added to the corner-infield depth, with strapping prospect Ryan Wheeler coming from Arizona.

Some teams use this type of depth to make deals for more experienced players. The Rockies aren't ruling such deals out, but their history of using homegrown players and controlling payroll that way suggests they'll hold onto the depth.

"I think we're always going to listen to what's going on and what people say, but I don't think we're in the position of looking to move anybody," Geivett said. "Right now as we stand, we have the potential to be a pretty good club. We'd like to add a starter or a reliever to the young pitchers we already have, but we feel we are a good young team that will get better as we get more experience."

Colorado Rockies, Jhoulys Chacin, Jeff Francis, Jorge De La Rosa