Colorado will never lead the league in payroll. It’s unlikely that someone will write a book about its front office or coaching staff. Yet, the Rockies have been to the playoffs two out of the last four years and should contend for the next several seasons. Above-average results with average resources is what makes Colorado a Top 10 organization in baseball.
Present Talent – 85.00 (T-5th)
Future Talent – 80.00 (T-15th)
Financial Resources – 78.85 (13th)
Baseball Operations – 78.33 (T-16th)
Overall Ranking – 80.74 (10th)
While Denver is a medium-sized city, the 18th-largest U.S. television market, the Rockies have an advantage which helps them out-spend their market size: isolation. The closest baseball city to Denver is Kansas City, a nine-hour drive down Highway 70. Having no baseball teams within a 600-mile radius gives the Rockies a regional following which helps them finish in the top-half of attendance nearly every season (10th in 2010, 11th in 2009, 13th in 2008).
Despite staying out of the free-agent fray, Dan O’Dowd and the Colorado front office had a very eventful offseason, signing Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to multi-year contract extensions. By promising $230-plus million dollars between their two offensive studs, the Rockies flexed their moderately-sized financial muscles. It’s total cliche, but only time will tell if these deals will be worth the money. Any long-term deal is a gamble, but these look like fairly well-calculated risks. First, Tulowitzki and Gonzalez are very, very good. They ranked fifth and ninth in the league in WAR, respectively. The years and dollars can be debated, but neither player looks to have been grossly overpaid. Further, the Rockies chose to hitch their wagon to position players who, even with Tulowitzki’s history, have a greater likelihood of staying on the field than pitchers. From a mile-high view, the Rockies could have spent $200 million a lot worse.
The Rockies were 16th in the majors in payroll last year at $84 million, and this is probably a comfortable level for the near future. Todd Helton‘s salary finally drops significantly after this year, but the future deferred money will still have to be accounted for, and this will not likely open up a new pool of money to spend. The big dollars in Tulowitzki and Gonzalez’s contracts begin to kick in after this year as well, as the duo is due only $6.5 million in 2011, but then $13.25 million in 2012, and $17.25 million in 2013.
Colorado ranks 5th (tied with Atlanta) in terms of current MLB talent, so the roster is obviously strong, but it’s also extremely well-put together. O’Dowd has assembled a home-grown team which is versatile, well-rounded, deep conscious of its unique home park. The pitching staff, led by longtime coach Bob Apodacta, is full of arms which can succeed at Coors Field. All five starters in the Colorado rotation had K/9 over 7.0 and at least a 46-percent ground ball percentage in 2010. When Aaron Cook returns from injury, and presumably joins the rotation, he is the exception in terms of strikeout rate, but he has been able to overcome the thin air due to his elite ground ball skills.
In the debate about baseball’s best franchises, Colorado is in the conversation, but definitely a notch below the elite franchises. The Rockies moved a lot of chips to the middle of the table this offseason, banking on Tulowitzki and Gonzalez to be the cornerstones of a contending team for the next several years. Those moves are defendable for the time being, but the Rockies and their fans know all too well how a bad contract can cripple a mid-market team for years.
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