For most of last weekend, heading into baseball's All-Star break, my schedule included watching the Colorado Rockies playing a road series against Washington, wrapped around the game's best rivalry with the New York Yankees visiting Boston.
Part of the motivation was to produce a midseason assessment for the Rockies, while also checking out what separates them from contenders in both leagues. (Granted, Boston has had a rough time so far this season, but the Red Sox always wind up near the top in September.)
As Front Range fans know, it's been an ugly first half. Colorado's at 33-52 even after winning two of three at Washington. When you have the majors' worst pitching statistics and rank last for runs scored on the road, you're in trouble.
Yes, the Rockies have a lot of young pitchers and position players. But the front office didn't project 2012 as a rebuilding year. Instead, the franchise's 20th season was proclaimed Year of the Fan, with a team capable of the playoffs if enough pieces fell into place.
The pitching has been a disaster, ruining an entertaining offense (at least at Coors Field). Injuries have hurt, and it's painfully apparent that the staff miscalculated in bringing back the pitchers from their various maladies.
Jorge De La Rosa (elbow) was expected to return in May or June, then July, and now perhaps not at all. Juan Nicasio, out since June 2 with a knee problem, is looking at minor surgery that could ruin his chances to be baseball's Comeback Player of the Year. Jhoulys Chacin, who hasn't pitched since May 1 with what has been strangely described as a chest nerve injury, might have a second chance in August, but it's hard to see him salvaging anything from this season. Jeremy Guthrie, the Opening Day starter, has fizzled so badly that he's likely to be traded — especially after a decent outing Sunday at Washington (but he's still 3-8 with a rotten 6.05 ERA).
What should the Rockies do now? Start over. Erase that "Year of the Fan" logo from behind home plate, for symbolic reasons but also for reality's sake. Then get to work building for the future. The word is that they might trade Guthrie, catcher Ramon Hernandez, backup first baseman Jason Giambi and infielder Marco Scutaro. But "might" isn't strong enough. The front office "must" take action now.
Colorado's only untouchables in the trade market should be outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer, plus shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. (We're assuming first baseman Todd Helton wants to stay and has earned that right.) Everyone else, and I'd include outfielder Dexter Fowler as well as closer Rafael Betancourt, should be fair game.
Meanwhile, any prospects in the minors — including some with Colorado Springs — should have honest auditions over the remaining months, accelerating their chances going into next spring. That group might include third baseman Nolan Arenado, outfielder Charlie Blackmon, catcher-first baseman-outfielder Matt McBride and second baseman D.J. LeMahieu.
So what might be the starting rotation for 2013? Drew Pomeranz and Christian Friedrich are looking more and more worthy. The group could include De La Rosa, Nicasio and Chacin — though the next pitching coach has to focus on how to motivate Chacin. Jeff Francis could be insurance. Alex White might work into the mix or wind up in the bullpen. But there isn't a No. 1 guy, and the only chance to fill that hole will be free agency.
Many followers of the Rockies also are convinced general manager Dan O'Dowd has used up his second chances, and they're right. When you watch a team like Washington, nurtured from also-ran to contender in just a few smart seasons, you realize the time has come for a new outlook, a new approach.
That usually happens in the offseason. This time, July makes more sense.