The Rockies are much closer to contending than it might seem. Looking at their Pythagorean win expectation, this 83-79 ballclub should have had more like 86 wins, bringing them much closer to contention than the 9 games back they ended up finishing. However, they do have room to improve, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The Rockies rotation, led by Ubaldo Jimenez’s 6.3, were best in baseball with 18.9 WAR. As you’d expect of a Coors Field-based team, their pitching was successfully based on inducing worm-burners from their opponents, at a 46.5% GB rate that tied them with the Phillies for fourth in the majors. With effective pitching, the Rockies do have some strength to build on, so they now need to fill in the positional players that will allow their pitching to thrive and get some support.
The Rockies 767 runs placed them 8th in baseball, and their wRC+ of 99 is essentially exactly average. However, unlike in football, basketball, or hockey, average doesn’t get you to the playoffs in baseball, so they should be working to improve their lineup and also improve their defense, which finished with –19.4 UZR overall last season. They’ve got some cash to work with, as Todd Helton gets significantly less expensive in 2011 (his previous contract was restructured in March of last year to redistribute the $19.1 million he was owed this year and his $4.6 million buyout for 2012 into $10.6 million in 2011, $6 million in 2012, and $13.1 million deferred up until 2023 at 3% interest (all of this is from Cots Contracts, which is a fantastic resource for MLB contract info). Brad Hawpe and Jeff Francis also came off the books, as did Jorge de la Rosa (though GM Dan O’Dowd resigned de la Rosa to a 2 year, $21.5 million contract with an $11 million option for 2013).
The Rockies should be looking specifically to improve their situation at second base, where Eric Young Jr. is penciled in as their starter. Young put up –0.4 WAR and has a career UZR of 0.8 in 301.1 innings at second. He had a wRC+ of 65 last season, and while he was a top-10 prospect for the Rockies in 2010, he’s may not be ready to take over the position full-time. While the Rockies seem to be content to start with Young starting the season at second, I’d probably look to bring in a more established option, as Rockies’ second basemen had an overall 0.3 WAR, fourth worst in baseball.
The second-base market is pretty slim this season, but does offer a few attractive options. Foremost among them is probably Orlando Hudson. Hudson’s only 33, and is coming off a 3.1 WAR season with the Twins. The year before he put up 2.9, so he’s been fairly consistent over the last couple years, and he was rewarded for it with a two year deal, the first time he’s known where he’s going to be for the next 365 days since 2008. He’ll be in San Diego, making $11.5 mil over two years.
He’s a great value, as for 3 WAR, today’s market would generally dictate a player would be paid close to $15 million dollars (market rate is about $5 million per win). Hudson’s put up a career 2.2 UZR/150 at second, and a fantastic 9.8 UZR in 2010, third best among all second basemen. He put up a wRC+ of 100, which makes him better than the large majority of second basemen.
Hudson is the Rockies’ Perfect Pickup because he allows them to immediately insert above-average play at a position in which they were extremely weak last season. They should be in the thick of things in the NL West, and the 3 wins or so they’d probably get from Hudson could make or break their playoff chances. While Young may be able to mature and become an effective hitter in the bigs, the Rockies should be looking to find a bridge to allow Young to develop until he’s ready to be a big leaguer. Hudson would be the perfect player to allow them to compete now, and he’s a great value if he performs at or even a little below the level at which he’s been over the past several years.