Added depth gives Rockies reason for optimism

The Colorado Rockies are trying to rise from historic depths, having finished last in consecutive seasons for the first time in their 21-year existence.

They improved 10 games to 74 wins in 2013, but endured a third straight losing season, something that last happened during their franchise-record run of six consecutive losing seasons from 2001-06.

The Rockies needed to address their rotation and bullpen and find a replacement for first baseman Todd Helton, all of which they did so during an offseason that was unusually busy and likely provided some much-needed depth.

First baseman Helton retired at the age of 40, having spent his entire 17-year career with the Rockies. Center fielder Dexter Fowler was also traded to the Houston Astros.

First baseman Justin Morneau will replace Helton, having signed a two-year, $12.5 million contract as a free agent. Morneau's power numbers have declined since the first of two concussions in 2010, but output that includes 20 home runs and a slew of doubles seems reasonable with home games at Coors Field.

In return for Fowler, the Rockies received right-handed pitcher Jordan Lyles, a fly ball pitcher -- not ideal for Coors Field -- who will contend for the fifth spot in the rotation but could open the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs after being rushed to the majors by the Astros. The Rockies also received Brandon Barnes, a reserve outfielder in the deal. That seems like a minimal return for Fowler, but the trade had financial implications. Fowler will make $7.35 million this season, and the Rockies were able to put that money toward other needs and fill center field with Carlos Gonzalez, who has played the position well.

The Rockies ranked last in the National League in ERA for both their starters (4.57) and relievers (4.23) and took steps to upgrade both the rotation and bullpen.

Left-hander Brett Anderson was acquired from the Oakland A's, and if he is healthy -- and that has been an issue in recent seasons -- should give the Rockies a fourth decent starter to go along with right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, left-hander Jorge De La Rosa and righty Tyler Chatwood.

In addition to Lyles, righty Juan Nicasio and left-handers Franklin Morales and Christian Friedrich will vie to become the fifth starter. However, Morales, who was acquired from Boston but began his career with the Rockies, could remain in the bullpen where he pitched for the Red Sox. Friedrich is finally healthy after being hampered by a stress fracture in his lower back each of the past two seasons. Barring an extraordinary spring, Friedrich, who has one option remaining, is likely to open the season at Colorado Springs where he can get back to the routine of starting and log innings in a less stress-free environment.

Other players to watch in spring training include right-hander LaTroy Hawkins, 41, who pitched for the Rockies in 2007 when they made their only World Series appearance, and signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He comes to camp as the closer, a role performed well for the New York Mets in the final two months of 2013.

Spring training will determine whether the Rockies have a spot in the bullpen -- maybe two if they decide to open the season with eight relievers -- for right-handers Chad Bettis, Nick Masset, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2011 and signed a minor league contract, righty Tommy Kahnle, taken in the Rule 5 draft from the New York Yankees, and right-hander Manuel Corpas, signed to a minor league contract.

Other players to watch in spring training are catchers Jordan Pacheco and Mike McKendry, who began his career with the Rockies and returns on a minor league contract. They are competing to back up Wilin Rosario.

Drew Stubbs, acquired in the offseason from the Cleveland Indians, Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon will compete in spring training for the left field job. A platoon is possible, since the right-handed hitting Stubbs is far more effective against left-handed pitchers, and both Blackmon and Dickerson bat left-handed.

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