07/13/11 2:03 PM EST
Rox seeking pitcher for back end of rotation
Club could also add bat to bolster offense for playoff push
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
So debate all you want. Does being below .500, third in the National League West and well-behind the defending World Series champion Giants leave the Rockies in any position to hold onto their preseason expectation of winning the division and making the playoffs? It's something to talk about, but the answer doesn't affect what Colorado will do in the next few weeks.
That's because the Rockies don't have any of the long-term, big-money contracts that force teams to give up on the season and shop those players this time of year. Also, because they don't deal their top-level prospects, they aren't in position to bring in big-ticket players from other teams.
General manager Dan O'Dowd said he is seeking a solid, strike-throwing pitcher -- realistically, a back-of-the-rotation starter -- with a contract the Rockies control beyond the end of the 2011 season. That could mean a veteran on an affordable contract. That could mean a low-service-time pitcher.
As long as he can help a rotation that has struggling veteran Aaron Cook, a one-time stopper who has had a difficult time finding his form after years of injuries, and hard-throwing Juan Nicasio, who at times looks dominant and at others looks like what he is -- a pitcher called up from Double-A still trying to develop at the Major League level.
The impetus for wanting such a pitcher has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with the fact they lost No. 2 pitcher Jorge De La Rosa in May to a left elbow injury that will keep him out until May or June of next year because of Tommy John ligament transfer surgery. Their depth was depleted in the first half because righty Esmil Rogers has been out since early June with lat and midsection muscle injuries. Rogers, however, could be back soon.
"If there's a baseball deal out there that really makes sense for the present and the future, we will always go looking for it," O'Dowd said. "And if it makes real sense, we're going to do it."
The Rockies have already done one trade, bringing in second baseman Mark Ellis from the Athletics for Minor League reliever Bruce Billings. It's a typically under-the-radar deal for Colorado. Thus far it has worked. Ellis solidified the No. 2 spot in the order before injuries to Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki forced manager Jim Tracy to drop him to No. 6 while trying to keep the offense afloat.
Generally, the Rockies turn first to players from their farm system to fill holes, but they haven't been shy about acquiring a veteran to assist the team now while the younger player develops. They did it in 2007, dealing for Kazuo Matsui to play second base while Clint Barmes worked through hitting woes in the Minors. Yorvit Torrealba in '07 and '09, and Miguel Olivo in '10 received extensive catching duty because Chris Iannetta, the current catcher, was finding his way offensively.
Ellis' acquisition gives the Rockies more time to develop Chris Nelson, who showed some early promise when called up, but struggled offensively in his final days and proved to still be raw defensively at second. It wasn't until this year, even, that the club decided to try him at second, rather than make him a utility player.
If Colorado trades for a hitter, the outfield could be another place to try to find a veteran to help them through this year. It appeared prospect Charlie Blackmon was the answer, hitting .255 through 27 games and showing the potential for speed, defense and possibly power. However, Blackmon suffered a broken foot on July 7 and won't be able to do intense activity for six weeks.
Longtime backup outfielder Ryan Spilborghs is expected to get chances. The Rockies have called up Cole Garner, a longtime Minor Leaguer who was playing well at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and. But the guy they've wanted to take the reins, switch-hitting Dexter Fowler, struggled with strikeouts -- a severe problem when he was batting leadoff -- and needed to rework his swing from the left side.
But even if Colorado decides not to go with Spilborghs or Garner, Fowler will have to shorten his swing to the club's satisfaction. That could mean the Rockies will widen their net in a search for someone to give them a push in 2011.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.