MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Title contention a realistic Rockies goal for 2017

Title contention a realistic Rockies goal for 2017

The National League West has become the playground for the Dodgers and Giants. The two teams have combined to make the postseason seven times the past five seasons.

The Dodgers will go into 2017 having won four consecutive division titles, and the Giants have been a Wild Card invitee to the postseason two of the past three years and won the NL West in 2012.

And along come the Rockies, who have suffered through six consecutive losing seasons, losing an average of 92 games a season over that stretch and finishing an average 23 games out of first.

Things, however, could be about to change. Colorado is approaching the offseason focused on winning in 2017, and with reason.

There's no fire sale. Yes, Carlos Gonzalez will be a free agent a year from now, and the Rockies do have some outfield depth, but they are not looking to get rid of Gonzalez. He, after all, has the type of ability to help a contending team win.

Gonzalez's two-run single

And that's what the Rockies feel they are -- a contending team, not a team looking to land a package of prospects in exchange for one of the more talented outfielders in the game.

Just the opposite. The Rockies are looking this offseason for the missing pieces to their puzzle that will allow them to make a run at the first division title in the history of the franchise that was created out of expansion in 1993.

That's why when it came time to hire a manager, they opted to go with the experience of a Bud Black rather than provide an opportunity to a first-time manager.

And that's why there are growing indications that Colorado is quite serious in its pursuit of Mark Melancon, who not only is one of the game's most consistent closers in recent years, but also is a Denver-area native, who when asked about success he has had a Coors Field smiles and explains, "I learned how to pitch at altitude. It doesn't bother me."

Now if the Rockies can come up with the kind of deal that the team and Melancon can agree on.

Back end of the bullpen help is what the Rockies need, and finding a legit closer, who would then free right-hander Adam Ottavino and lefty Jake McGee to slide into the seventh-/eighth-inning roles, depending on who is coming up when, could make Colorado a legit contender in the NL West.

McGee wasn't what he and the Rockies had hoped for last year, but he tried to pitch despite an achy knee that will have time to heal up in the offseason. Ottavino showed glimpses of his ability to dominate in the final two months last season, and with an offseason to focus on getting in pitching shape after spending the past year trying to heal from Tommy John surgery, it is reasonable to feel Ottavino could combine with McGee for a dominating lefty/righty bullpen duo.

McGee escapes a jam

Truth be told, there's not a whole lot else the Rockies are missing. They have an explosive lineup, a dominating defense and a young rotation filled with power arms.

The one uncertainty in the lineup is first base, but given the surplus in the outfield with veterans Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon and Gerardo Parra, and the in-season arrival of prime prospect David Dahl along with the late-season callup of Rafael Tapia, Colorado has flexibility there that could provide first-base protection.

The Rockies do have that outfield depth. They do have a third baseman, Nolan Arenado, who is in the discussion for the best player in the game. They do have a second baseman, DJ LeMahieu, who wins batting titles and Gold Gloves. They do have a shortstop, Trevor Story, who was going head to head with the Dodgers' Corey Seager for the NL Rookie of the Year Award before Story's season ended two months early with a broken hand. And they have a promising rookie catcher in Tom Murphy.

Story's two-run smash

And Colorado has the makings of a strong-armed rotation built around former first-round picks Jon Gray, a right-hander, and Tyler Anderson, a left-hander, both of whom proved they belong a year ago, as well as right-hander Chad Bettis, whose 14-8 record included going 8-2 at Coors Field, and Tyler Chatwood, who returned last season from Tommy John surgery to go 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA.

There also is a handful of options out of the farm system to step into that No. 5 slot, including Jeff Hoffman, the key to the Troy Tulowitzki deal with Toronto prior to the 2015 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and German Marquez, the key player in the deal that sent Corey Dickerson to the Rays last offseason and also brought back McGee.

Is that enough to allow the Rockies to finally win a division title? Only time will tell.

It is, however, enough to give the Rockies reason to feel a championship is a realistic goal.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.