What were the indications that the Rockies were "contending" at the trade deadline? Well, they were 11 games under .500 (now 12). They've been outscored, substantially, for the season. Their second-best pitcher and their third-best hitter are both on the DL.
But the real reason that I'm waking up out of a fog of false optimism and realizing that the Rockies were foolish to do nothing at the deadline? Jorge De La Rosa and Kip Wells are on the active roster. They're "contributors." One is still in the rotation, and somehow has made 14 starts this season despite an ERA that now stands at 6.94 after yesterday's shellacking by the Marlins.
The Rockies can't win with useless, BP-fastball throwing tomato cans like De La Rosa and Wells (and Glendon Rusch, and Valerio de los Santos) throwing substantial innings. If Clint Hurdle keeps sending them out there, Colorado will continue to absorb at least one humiliating butt-whomping a week. That costs them wins in games started by pitchers who don't completely suck, because the bullpen has to come in as early as the second inning to clean up the steaming pile.
To be fair, Jeff Francis is injured. You have to find guys to start games somewhere, and what we have is what was available on our budget. Still, suppose in 2009 Francis comes back healthy and as good as he was last year. Aaron Cook should be an All-Star again. Ubaldo Jimenez is rounding the corner. That's a pretty good top three. But where are the Rockies going to find #4 and #5? Franklin Morales? 5.69 ERA in Colorado Springs right now. Jason Hirsh? He wasn't that good when he was healthy, and he's a flyball pitcher. The answer is, most likely, more garbage dredged from the sewer will fill out Colorado's rotation next season. If the three guys who don't completely suck don't get hurt, the Rockies can maybe contend for the wild card if the defense is perfect and the offense can bail out the crappy pitching in the inevitable two or three games a week in which they get hammered. You know, assuming Matt Holliday doesn't get traded and Todd Helton's precipitous decline takes a season off.
Those are too many ifs for me. Maybe the Rockies were wise to hold on to Brian Fuentes, as the market for relievers never seemed to much overheat. But what about Garrett Atkins? He's having a good year, but his numbers are Coors-inflated and his OBP is low. He's got hands of stone at third while Ian Stewart has become a Web Gems regular from the instant Helton got hurt and Atkins shifted over to first. Atkins has trade value. Good starting pitching prospect value, even. Possibly two or three, had the Rockies bundled him with Fuentes or Yorvit Torrealba (made expendable by Chris Iannetta's emergence) in a deal with the right team.
But the deadline has passed. The Rockies are not going to make the playoffs. The Dodgers' acquisition of Manny Ramirez nails the door shut, but it was absurd of us to imagine that they could make a comeback even before that, given the fact that they're climbing uphill in three of every five games they play thanks to the foul starting pitching. So given that the postseason is out of the question, what has Colorado accomplished this year? Cook's great season is about all you have to hold on to, although Cook was quietly pretty great last year too. Ubaldo Jimenez has definitely made positive progress, while Jeff Francis has nosedived and Morales is lost in a fog of walks and home runs. Troy Tulowitzki at best will get back to the point he was at last year by the end of this season. Helton is fading, honorably but irrevocably.
We say it all the time, but I don't know if anyone is listening. The Rockies have to produce their own pitchers. Polished free agents simply will never come to Denver unless they have no other choice, which is why we've got the rogues' gallery of hapless incompetents we have now -- and have had for the first ten brutal years of the franchise's existence. Enough of this already! The insanity must end!
Atkins is obviously the position player the Rockies have who is expendable. How we managed to approach the deadline with absolutely no discussion of his being traded -- and I'm as guilty of this as anyone, having blindly followed the ESPN.com headlines with rumors about Fuentes -- is silly. They can still flip him in the offseason, obviously, but it's at this time and not at the winter meetings that teams get stupid and give away players like Scott Kazmir.
The Rockies cannot sit around and wait for 2007 to happen again. They can't. It would consign us to another 10 years of second-division invisibility. They must constantly be improving, scrambling to collect enough affordable talent to win before their current core gets to free agency. Right now there is no indication that next season is going to be any better than this one. After Fuentes leaves, it could be worse (although if they're completely dead-set against starting him, Taylor Buchholz would be a highly satisfactory choice as replacement closer). I feel like the organization still has fairy dust in their eyes from last season. We all still do a little, even me, and I'm the pessimistic product of an 80's childhood spent following the Cubs and the Red Sox.
So around to the elephant in the room -- Matt Holliday. If Atkins might get a good prospect and an OK one, Holliday ought to bring two great ones and change. He's an MVP candidate and everybody knows he can hit at any altitude at which you set him down. The Rockies apparently weren't even fielding offers this year. Why? I suspect that they think they can re-sign him. I worry that they will continue to hold this attitude until it's too late and Holliday walks. Unlike Fuentes, Holliday is positively worth more than a first-round pick and a sandwich pick. Listen, you don't hire Scott Boras if you want to sign a hometown discount contract.
Yesterday's atrocious loss to Florida was like a bucket of cold water in the face. Good! We need more. The honeymoon is over in Colorado and it's time to get back to work.