The Colorado Rockies are a talented team that now must turn into a good team, general manager Jeff Bridich said. It is a realistic expectation, as new manager Bud Black is taking over a club on the rise.
Black's hiring was the most notable move of an offseason that included three key free agent signings. The Rockies gave Ian Desmond a five-year, $70 million contract -- the largest they have ever handed a free agent position player -- with the intent of having him play first base, a position he has never played in his 1,083 career games.
The Rockies also took steps to shore up their dreadful bullpen.
They signed left-hander Mike Dunn to a three-year, $19 million contract -- the largest the Rockies have ever given a reliever. Colorado also signed Greg Holland, who didn't pitch last year while recovering from Tommy John surgery but whom the Rockies believe can regain his status as an elite closer. Colorado guaranteed him $7 million in a deal that includes a 2018 option.
The Rockies enter their 25th season against a backdrop of uninspiring franchise history. Although they improved by seven wins to 75 last season, they have endured a franchise-record-tying six straight losing seasons.
Colorado has made the postseason three times, always as a wild card, and is the only National League West club never to win the division. The Rockies also have experienced just seven winning seasons, three coming in the first five years of the franchise's existence.
Black is the team's seventh manager and the first former pitcher. He says he looks at the game through a pitcher's eyes, which can only help the Rockies, given the pitching perils inherent in Coors Field and the fact they will have a young rotation.
The Rockies went to spring training with four starters set and several prospects vying for the fifth spot. Chad Bettis was expected to be an anchor in the rotation, its oldest member at 27 and the team leader last year in wins (14) and innings (186). But Bettis has begun chemotherapy after a recurrence of testicular cancer. There is no timetable for his return, but he will miss at least half the season.
In his absence, Jon Gray, 25; left-hander Tyler Anderson, 27; and Tyler Chatwood, 27; will start in a rotation where left-hander Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela and to a lesser degree left-hander Harrison Musgrave are competing for the final two spots. Marquez pitched for the Rockies in September; the other three await their major league debuts. They have impressed Black with their talent, which he knows is fine up to a point.
"The only thing we have to be cautious about is that it takes time for these guys to really become major league pitchers," Black said. "It happens fast for some guys, but for most it takes longer."
The success of their rotation will go a long way toward determining whether the Rockies can make the sizeable leap needed to contend for the postseason.
The Rockies had to deal with injuries in spring training. They will be without Desmond (broken left hand), outfielder David Dahl (rib, stress reaction) and catcher Tom Murphy (broken right forearm) for a portion of April. Left-hander Chris Rusin (right oblique strain) isn't expected to be ready on Opening Day but should return soon thereafter.
Dahl, who was slated to start in left field after making his major league debut in late July and hitting .315 with an .859 OPS in 63 games, summed up his idle spring with an outlook the Rockies share when they contemplate the returns of him, Desmond, Murphy and Rusin before too long.
"It's tough to sit, for sure," Dahl said, "but I suppose it's better for it to happen now instead of at midseason."