For the fifth consecutive season, the Colorado Rockies finished fourth or worse in the National League West with a losing record in 2015, which makes this offseason a significant one for the arc of the franchise.
Operating in a small market with a solid core of young players in place puts the onus on general manager Jeff Bridich to put a competitive field on the team while keeping the young core intact.
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While the odds are stacked against the Rockies in a division that includes the powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, a well-orchestrated offseason could resurrect them from the NL West cellar in 2016.
Three things Colorado must address this offseason:
1. Assemble a serviceable pitching staff. The 68-94 Rockies scored the fifth-most runs (737), hit the seventh-most home runs (186), and compiled the third-highest OPS (.748) in MLB in 2015. Those stats demonstrate just how much their pitching detracted from their success. As a unit, Colorado's pitching staff allowed a 5.04 ERA, 844 runs, and a .278 opponent batting average, all of which were MLB worsts.
Apart from Jorge De La Rosa and Chad Bettis, the Rockies' starting rotation was atrocious in 2015, which makes fixing it a top priority this offseason. The bright side for Colorado is that it can use the free agency market to remedy its rotation, but it can't afford to acquire another bust like it did last year in veteran right-hander Kyle Kendrick.
While the Rockies likely won't stretch their payroll and acquire a top-tier starter like David Price or Johnny Cueto, they could pick up a solid starter like Doug Fister, Mike Leake, or Jordan Zimmermann. They also can look forward to the first full season of highly touted right-hander Jon Gray, who flashed major potential despite an inflated 5.53 ERA in nine starts this past season.
2. Cash in on CarGo and Reyes. Carlos Gonzalez has contributed tremendously in his seven seasons in Colorado, and while he would like to remain with the Rockies and the Rockies would love to hold on to him for sentimental reasons, now is the optimal time to trade him for a big return.
Gonzalez is coming off one of the best second halves in MLB, and is owed $38 million over the next two seasons. At 30 years old, and with constant injuries affecting his availability, the Rockies must seize the opportunity to offload CarGo's big contract and simultaneously net a wealth of top prospects and potentially a few pitchers to add to their rotation or bullpen. There is no shortage of interest in the smooth-swinging right fielder, so it will be more about striking the best deal for the franchise's future.
A player that isn't garnering as much interest who also shouldn't be wearing a Rockies uniform next season is shortstop Jose Reyes, who was brought to Colorado in the deal that sent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto.
From the moment he touched down in Colorado, Reyes has unsubtly hinted that he doesn't want to play for the Rockies, which wouldn't be a major issue if he performed well. However, the declining shortstop, who is a .290 career hitter, batted .259 in 47 games with the Rockies this season. His attitude, attrition, and hefty contract make it imperative that Reyes is traded as soon as possible. Although he's not as appealing as he once was, the 32-year-old will still draw at least a few suitors on the trade market.
3. Officially make Arenado the face of the franchise. With Tulowitzki gone, third baseman Nolan Arenado has taken over as the face of the Rockies franchise. In his third full season in the majors, Arenado asserted himself as a candidate for the NL MVP award by hitting .287 with 42 home runs and 130 RBI in addition to upholding his sensational fielding at the hot corner.
The third baseman, who will turn 25 next season, is due for arbitration in 2016, but the Rockies need to offer him a long-term deal before then and firmly declare him as the face of their franchise. Not only is Arenado a leader on the field with his high level of performance but he raises the bar in the clubhouse with his impressive work ethic.
In essence, Arenado is the type of player you build a franchise around, and it's imperative the Rockies do so if they want to be competitive again.