DENVER -- The Rockies have third baseman Nolan Arenado, who is beginning his big earning years this winter as he enters arbitration eligibility, and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez as stars. They have solid players all around the diamond.
But if the Rockies don't improve the starting pitching, they risk again wasting a year from a star in his prime. After two postseason trips in the first three years with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki on the roster, the Rockies had just one additional winning season and spent these playoffs watching him help the Blue Jays.
The club has always carried the feeling that the offense is good enough to support a winner, if the pitching makes a major leap. Can the Rockies make the right moves so that their stars are participants, rather than spectators?
Free agents/options: The Rockies have declined their end of a $9 million mutual option with first baseman Justin Morneau, will allow righty starter Kyle Kendrick to leave, have outrighted backup catcher Michael McKenry and allowed the Dodgers to claim righty reliever Brooks Brown. Arbitration situations that bear watching are first baseman Wilin Rosario and lefty reliever Rex Brothers, both of whom spent time at Triple-A this year.
Needs: Beyond starting pitching, they could stand to add power to the bullpen and shore up the bench.
Potential targets: The Rockies' fan base, hungry for dramatic improvement, would love the club to take a shot at lefty David Price or righty Johnny Cueto, but history shows that they have a hard time measuring up financially. Pitchers of that ilk also are not keen on risking their next big contract by having Coors Field affect their numbers. But can the Rockies be creative with trades, or at least go for a brave veteran of accomplishment who wants the challenge?
Trade assets: Shortstop Jose Reyes, acquired from the Blue Jays for Tulowitzki, has a $48 million commitment over the next two years (including a $4 million buyout on a $22 million club option for 2018). Moving him would likely involve taking back other costly contracts. Will the Rockies entertain the option of moving top prospects such as shortstop Trevor Story (which likely would mean keeping Reyes) or outfielders such as David Dahl or Raimel Tapia for the pitching they need?
Financial situation: The Rockies, who entered last season with a payroll at more than $97 million, have $63.4 million on the 2016 books. Accepting a Reyes salary that is $2 million more than Tulowitzki drove that figure up slightly. But the payroll is in decent future shape. Only Reyes and Gonzalez, at a total of $40.4 million for 2017, are signed beyond next season.
Bottom line: This roster screams for pitching help, or else the Rockies will be dependent on the pitchers they have becoming stars.