>3 Question: Colorado Rockies

>By The Common Man

Each year, the Rockies manage to surprise everyone and field a competitive squad. We won’t get fooled again. Colorado is in the crosshairs today with 3 questions.  As always, you can find previous installments of 3 Questions here.

Question 1: Have they worked out their rotation issues?
Dan O’Dowd handed out a two year, $21.5 million dollar deal, with a one year player option at $11 million to Jorge De La Rosa this offseason, locking up arguably the second best pitcher on the free agent market. That said, The Common Man still has significant questions about the Rox rotation. For one thing, De La Rosa is, by no means, a sure bet. Keith Law likes him a lot, but that doesn’t change the fact that De La Rosa has a 5.02 career ERA (92 ERA+), is coming off an injury shortened season, and walks more than 4 batters a game. Another lefty, in 2009, was one of the most sought after free agents on the market, with a better career ERA+, and now the Mets are running out of ways to hide his horrible pitching. While promising, De La Rosa still essentially needs to prove himself, and paying him in excess of $10 million a year to do so is a very risky move.

The rest of the rotation is rounded out by the excellent Ubaldo Jimenez, the workman-like Jason Hammel, the very young Jhoulys Chacin, and the overpaid Aaron Cook. Esmil Rogers and Greg Smith are uninspiring depth. Frankly, the Rockies would be well served to pick up some additional insurance in case things go South.

Question 2: Is there anyone else whose contract they can extend?
Seriously. Groundskeepers? The bullpen catcher? The Troy Tulowitzki deal is unfathomably irresponsible, given his injury history and the years he was already under control. And now the Rockies are considering doing the same thing with Carlos Gonzalez. While Gonzalez was excellent in 2010, he also has an injury history and it would be nice to see him continue to build on his excellent year and a half in Denver before committing to a long term deal.

If any team and any general manager should have learned the perils of long term contracts, it’s the Rockies and Dan O’Dowd, who has been the team’s GM for 11 seasons so far. O’Dowd, of course, famously signed Mike Hampton to an eight year contract (and Denny Naegle to a five-year deal) that turned out to be a disaster and running joke, as the Rox kept having to pay him despite seeing him move on to two other franchises. Likewise, the Rockies’ incredible 9 year extension (plus an option) of Todd Helton’s contract in 2001 has been a millstone around the neck of the team as it looks to upgrade its production at 1B and add players to other spots in the lineup. Frankly, the Rockies don’t do long-term extensions well, and would be better served to reduce long term risk by increasing short-term costs.

Question 3: Will the Rockies continue to screw with Chris Ianetta’s career?
The Rockies tried to sign Russell Martin to take over behind the plate this offseason, and thought hard about whether to retain Miguel Olivo as well. Ultimately, they were unsuccessful. And that’s a good thing, because they have a perfectly acceptable, young, and cheap catcher available who they have continually blocked. A catcher that, as recently as 2008, hit .264/.390/.505 with 18 homers in 407 PAs. Even after signing him to a three year deal to cover his arbitration years, the Rockies used him just 8 times in April before sending him to AAA and handing the job to Olivo (who did a fine job, it should be pointed out). Even after he returned, Ianetta functioned as the backup and not given consistent playing time.

The Common Man isn’t exactly sure why Ianetta has been thwarted at every turn by a club that loves him enough to pay him like a starter, but refuses to play him (he looks like such a nice young man, after all). He has a poor throwing arm, but the prospect of having a catcher who can hit 25 homers and get on base should be enough to overcome any fears about controlling the running game. As Zach Sanders argued in this space about a month ago, there’s almost no way that benching an offensively minded catcher in favor of a defensively-minded catcher is worth the trade-off in run differential.

Finally, though, the Rockies seem to have run out of guys to throw in Ianetta’s way, and are poised to enter the spring with him as their starter. Barring a trade, Ianetta will have a full season to prove that his offensive contributions far outweigh his defensive shortcomings. It’s an important step for a club that will need his offensive contributions to counterbalance the presumably subpar production they’re likely to get out of Helton.