DENVER -- The Rockies have looked to an old friend to help with their new pitching plan.
Right-hander Manny Corpas, the closer on the 2007 Rockies club that went to the only World Series in team history, rejoined the Rockies on Wednesday, agreeing to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training, according to Major League sources. With Corpas two seasons removed from the elbow surgery he underwent at the end of the 2010 season, the Rockies believe he can fill a hybrid relief role.
Corpas, 30, who earned 19 saves in the regular season and five in the postseason after taking over as closer during the 2007 campaign, was with the Rockies from 2006-10, with the final years affected by elbow problems. After sitting out the 2011 season, Corpas made 48 appearances for the Cubs last season and went 0-2 with a 5.01 ERA. Corpas became a free agent when he refused outright assignment to the Minors after the season.
The Rockies' 40-man Major League roster is full, which is why Corpas is coming to camp as a non-roster invitee. But the club, counting on him to return to the slider that made him special, sees him as a serious candidate to claim one of the bullpen spots.
The pursuit of Corpas sheds light on how the Rockies plan to build their bullpen in 2013 under new manager Walt Weiss.
During the latter part of last season, with Jim Tracy managing, the Rockies went with four starting pitchers and three hybrids, throwing on a rotation, who would take over after the starter threw roughly 75 pitches or was facing the lineup the third time. The plan didn't take root, as Tracy often felt hamstrung in setting matchups and was nervous about how long extra-inning games would affect the staff in following days. The Rockies went back to five starters before the regular season ended.
But the Rockies found value in the hybrid role. There will be a five-man rotation and the pitch count will be relaxed somewhat -- to upwards of 90 pitches but not likely to much over 100. Corpas is a candidate to be one of the hybrids, who will be expected to face right- and left-handed hitters and be versatile enough to pitch multiple innings or come in and escape jams.
The Rockies believe these hybrids can be late relief-types, like Corpas or organization arms such as Edgmer Escaolona, Will Harris or Rob Scahill. They also could be starter-types, which would give those who don't make the starting rotation a landing spot. Righty Adam Ottavino, a former starter with the Cardinals, had positive results in a hybrid role last season. Someone like lefty Josh Outman, who will be given a shot at the rotation, or Daniel Rosenbaum, a Rule 5 pick from the Nationals, also could fit in the hybrid role.
The rest of the projected seven-man bullpen would be right-handed setup men Matt Belisle and Wilton Lopez, left-handed setup man Rex Brothers and veteran closer Rafael Betancourt.
The structure would eliminate two roles that the Rockies felt didn't have as much value -- long reliever, who would eat up innings if a starter were to exit early, and the left-handed specialist.
Being against the roster limit also is a complication as the Rockies seek a proven starting pitcher who profiles well at Coors Field -- meaning low walks and a high percentage of ground-ball outs. The Rockies are known to be looking at low-risk pitchers, some who could be signed under Minor League contracts. To add a significant free agent with a Major League contract, the Rockies will have to clear room and want to also clear some salary.
The Rockies acknowledged last week that they will be present at the throwing session of former Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb, who has not pitched in the Majors since 2009 because of shoulder problems.
Other free agents that could be on the team's radar are right-handers Derek Lowe, Chris Volstad and Carl Pavano. The team also could take a look at Jeff Karstens and Aaron Cook, who did the best pitching of his career with Colorado.
The Rockies were listening to offers for arbitration-eligible center fielder Dexter Fowler -- not wanting to deal him but believing they could settle their pitching needs with the right trade. However, talks with various teams seem to have lost traction.
The Rockies also could move veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez, due $3.2 million this year to complete his two-year deal. They also could listen if teams call about lefty Jorge De La Rosa, who was injured in 2011 and missed most of 2012. De La Rosa, reported to be healthy, is due $11 million this season. Dealing him would clear plenty of payroll, but the Rockies would either have to receive the pitcher they want in return or clearly have a bead on such a pitcher in free agency.