DENVER -- The Rockies prepare for the Winter Meetings focusing on left-handed relief pitching. But they also may have a big gamble in store.
The safe bet at the Meetings, which start Monday and last for four days at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, is that the Rockies will focus on left-handed relief pitching. They've cast a wide net in looking for a lefty setup man through free agency. Name a lefty -- Joe Beimel, Alan Embree, Will Ohman, Eddie Guardado, Brian Shouse, Mike Maroth, Ron Villone -- and the Rockies have shown interest.
They also have some trading chips they can play. Center fielder Willy Taveras and catcher Yorvit Torrealba, each of whom the Rockies are in position to replace, can be had in the right deal. Righty reliever Huston Street, obtained in the deal that sent slugging outfielder Matt Holliday to the Athletics, adds to a right-handed bullpen that's the Rockies' strength, so he could be used in a trade for another need.
But the Rockies also could place their second big gamble of the offseason.
The Rockies still haven't decided whether Garrett Atkins, arguably the biggest threat in the lineup now that Holliday is gone, should also be dealt for what the Rockies desire most -- a talented pitcher who could move to the front of the rotation.
The Rockies have just enough working for them that they can enter meetings with other clubs wearing a poker face.
On one hand, they have talked publicly about being able to absorb the absence of yet another slugger, offering the potential of third baseman Ian Stewart and outfielder Seth Smith as examples of players who showed power in the Minors and are ready to take the next step. Also, right-handed hitting Ryan Spilborghs has hit well enough in a reserve role that he'll get an opportunity for regular time and production.
They also can speak of their rotation with faith. Right-hander Aaron Cook won 16 games in 2008 and lefty Jeff Francis won 19, counting two in the postseason, in 2007. Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez won 12 in 2008 -- his first full season -- and might have more talent than either. Also, there are positive enough snippets from other pitchers, such as lefties Franklin Morales and Greg Smith (also part of the Holliday trade) and right-hander Jason Hirsh, to suggest that all the Rockies need is for their young pitchers to hit their stride at the same time.
But it could come down to which team makes the best big move in a division that tends to be quite close. The Dodgers put themselves over the top in 2008 with the acquisition of impact outfielder Manny Ramirez. But in 2007, the D-backs won the division and the Rockies took the Wild Card with strong pitching. The Rockies making an acquisition like the D-backs did last winter, when they pried right-hander Dan Haren from the Athletics, could swing things in Colorado's favor.
Whether the Rockies play small or play big, they hope what happens in Vegas carries them through a successful 2009 season.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.