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Know Your Enemy: Colorado Rockies

And you thought the Diamondbacks had a disappointing 2008. Probably the dampest squib on the entire senior circuit were the Colorado Rockies, who went from champions of the league to seven games under .500, never getting closer than five games out after April 21. Rookie of the Year runner-up, Troy Tulowitzki, was disappointing, when not disabled; face of the franchise Todd Helton missed half the season and hit only .264, the lowest number in his 12-year career with Colorado; and Jeff Francis imploded, going from a record of 17-9 to just 4-10.

That, however, is four more wins than he'll get in 2009, because he opted to have surgery on a shoulder, and will miss the entire season. Stepping up will be Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez, who posted sub-four ERAs last season - albeit only just in both cases (3.96 and 3.99), that's still an impressive feat in Coors. Beyond that, however, it all gets a bit dicey in the rotation. They traded for Jason Marquis, but will be paying just shy of $10m to a pitcher with a career ERA+ of 96. Maybe they wanted him for his bat: a career .206 hitter, he'll probably enjoy Coors at the plate more than on the mound. The team want youngsters like Reynolds and Morales to come through: in 2008, they started 18 games with a combined ERA of 7.63.

The team will also be without Matt Holliday, traded to the A's for three players, including two former Diamondbacks in pitcher Greg Smith and outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez. The former may make the rotation but his fly-ball tendencies are a poor fit in Denver. CarGon could fight Spilborghs for the starting spot in center-field, as Willie Taveras who started 110 games there last season is gone. His .604 OPS can certainly be replaced and improved on easily enough, but Bill James rated him the best base-runner in the majors last season, and this does increase his value beyond the hard number.

Holliday has been immense for the Rockies, even taking Coors into account - over the past two seasons, three players in the NL have a higher OPS+ - and he'll undoubtedly be missed. Last season, only two other regular Rockies were above an OPS+ of 100, potential All-Star catcher Chris Ianetta and Brad Hawpe. The team needs to get more, both out of veterans like Helton, if his back stands up to it, and regulars such as Garrett Atkins, in addition to upcoming players like Ian Stewart and Dexter Fowler - the latter is also in the mix for center. These young prospects all have plenty of promise, yet are largely untested at the major-league level. While they will need to prove their mettle, they give the Rockies additional coverage.

The relief corps also needs some new arms, with the departure of 30-save closer Brian Fuentes for the Angels, where he'll try to fill the shoes of K-Rod. Manny Corpas and the third player they received in the Holliday deal from Oakland, Huston Street, are the front-runners to replace Fuentes - the former has experience in the role for the Rockies, mostly from 2007, while Street got 94 saves in his time with the A's. Alan Embree and Glendon Rusch were signed over the winter, and will help eat up innings for the bullpen.

The team are reliant - probably even more than Arizona - on the young players stepping up and filling the gaps in production, from the absent Holliday and declining Helton, who'll turn 36 during this season. They're not helped by a brutal opening schedule. The first three weeks sees six games against us and seven against the Dodgers, plus series against the World Series champion Phillies and on the road against the Cubs, so they need to get their game on early if they're not to be out of the race by the end of April again.

Overall. Said Jeff Passan - probably more neutral than I - "Any honest assessment of the Diamondbacks and Rockies... shows that Colorado’s stagnation, not to mention offloading its best player, is a bad sign for a team that can’t afford any," and it's hard to argue with that point of view. They weren't particularly unlucky last year, with a Pythagorean record that exactly matched their 74-88 actual one, and while I can see them being a few games better, due to their prospects, the departure of Holliday is basically an admission by the team that 2009 is going to be more like 2008 than 2007. Er, if you see what I mean. Record: 78-84, fourth place.