Exactly a year ago this week, the Colorado Rockies' pitchers and catchers reported for spring training in Arizona amid full-scale optimism.
With Ubaldo Jiménez, Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin atop the starting rotation, and Aaron Cook and Jason Hammel filling out that group nicely, the Rockies headed into the 2011 season as the trendy pick to win the National League West and perhaps even make it to the World Series.
Now we're back to mid-February again, with spring camps opening this weekend, and it's hard to believe how much different the atmosphere is surrounding Colorado. In fact, there's a chance that the Rockies' entire starting rotation when the 2012 season begins April 6 at Houston will consist of pitchers who weren't even on the Opening Day roster a year ago.
Jiménez is gone to Cleveland, where he hopes to revive the dominance he showed as an All-Star in 2010. De La Rosa is still recovering from elbow surgery and won't return until June at the earliest. Cook and Hammel are gone after their underachieving ways finally sapped the front office's remaining patience. And Chacin, after showing so much promise and being counted on heavily to continue his progress, apparently blew off working out in the offseason and is totally out of shape, meaning he could even start the year in Colorado Springs.
Given all that, you begin to understand why the Rockies aren't creating even the slightest buzz now. These guys are so new, their first order of business has to be just getting to know each other — and pitching coach Bob Apodaca, who probably is on the hot seat himself.
Just a month ago, Chacin figured to have a good shot at being the No. 1 starter. Now he's in the doghouse, with his attitude in question. Instead of winning 15 to 18 games as hoped in an anchor role for the rotation, he could be a huge disappointment.
What does that leave? Here's a quick synopsis, but don't get your hopes up:
Jeremy Guthrie, just acquired from Baltimore, went 9-17 last year but has averaged 200-plus innings for the past four seasons. At this point, that could be enough to make him the Opening Day starter, and that alone should tell you something. Nobody else looks close to Guthrie.
From there, it's a mish-mash of (previously) inconsistent newcomers and promising kids. Guillermo Moscoso, a 28-year-old with one season as a starter in Oakland (8-10 but with a good 3.38 ERA), came to the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith. Drew Pomeranz, one of the prospects who came from Cleveland in the Jiménez deal, has good stuff but only four previous major-league starts. Alex White, the other young arm from Cleveland, could make the rotation but just as likely could start the year in Colorado Springs. Tyler Chatwood, just 22, made the Los Angeles Angels' rotation in 2011 but with so-so results (6-11, 4.75 ERA, 166 hits in 142 innings, and 71 walks). Josh Outman, also part of that Oakland trade, never has started a major-league game.
Oh, and let's not forget veteran Jamie Moyer, trying to hang on at age 49 (really!), but not a realistic option.
There will be other names in the mix, such as Juan Nicasio making a gutsy attempt to come back from that broken neck last summer, and up-and-down Esmil Rogers (he was 6-6 but with a 7.05 ERA in 2011) trying again for a bottom-end spot. But that won't be scaring the rest of the division.
Don't be counting on much from the bullpen, either. Rafael Betancourt might be decent as the closer, but the other long and short relief roles are anything but certain. And that's why general manager Dan O'Dowd actually has told some Denver media that he's more concerned about the bullpen than the starting rotation.
So if you're thinking that batch of pitchers can make Colorado a division contender, then you're simply delusional. Perhaps enough of them could develop this summer and eventually make some positive noise in 2013, but not now.
One last discouraging point: Of all the pitchers battling to make the rotation, only one of them (Rogers) spent any time in Colorado Springs last year. In other words, the farm system has hit a dry spell.
Just like the Rockies.