The Rockies acquired De La Rosa for cash just before the 2008 season, and he struggled in the beginning, going 3-5 with a 7.26 ERA in his first 14 games, including 11 starts. Since then, he went 31-19 with a 4.08 ERA -- numbers that may have been better had he not suffered a middle finger injury in 2010 and missed 12 starts. De La Rosa finished the season 8-7 with a 4.22 ERA.
De La Rosa's turnaround started under previous manager Clint Hurdle, who saw him progress in 2008 and committed to him before 2009 even though there were questions about his consistency. Current manager Jim Tracy, who saw him come from an 0-6 start in 2009 to finish 16-9 and become the team's No. 2 starter, wants the relationship to continue.
"I have a sense that what I have seen, he's learned an awful lot here," Tracy said. "There is no other place, if you looked at his resume, that would suggest that he has reached the type of comfort level in getting the most out of his ability than Denver, Colorado. I know it's very, very safe to say that."
The reasons are numerous.
There was a patience and confidence from managers that De La Rosa had not experienced. He also developed a close relationship with pitching coach Bob Apodaca, whose method of asking questions before offering advice gave De La Rosa ownership of his days on the mound. De La Rosa also took to the teachings of team sports psychologist Ronn Svetich, to the point that he asked his wife to translate written materials into Spanish so he could better internalize them.
After his final start of the 2010 season, De La Rosa expressed gratitude to the Rockies.
"I never felt as comfortable as I've felt with this organization, and I've played for a couple organizations before," De La Rosa said. "I feel comfortable with Dac and all those coaches. They've helped me a lot. It's a great team. They were good to me when I tried to come back this year [from the injury]."
However, whether this close relationship continues depends on the Rockies' offer and the market.
Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd and De La Rosa's agent, Bobby Barad, are honoring an agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association in regard to free agency and limiting their comments to the media about negotiations. However, this is how the situation appears to be developing:
The sides are in a waiting period. De La Rosa's success with the Rockies makes him one of the top left-handers on the market. But how teams value De La Rosa could depend on the teams that lose out in the sweepstakes for Cliff Lee, the top lefty on the market.
Observers believe the Rockies could offer something similar to the three-year, $30 million extension they signed right-hander Aaron Cook to after the 2007 season, which kicked in for 2009. Cook's contract ends with an $11 million mutual option or a $500,000 buyout for 2012.
The Rockies are believed to be able to compete, dollar-wise, with other clubs as long as a team doesn't go far beyond the Rockies in the length of the contract.
Until the solid offers begin to land, all there is to go on is a strong relationship between club and player.
"I would love to come back here and be a Rockie for more years," De La Rosa said at the end of the season. "But I don't think too much about that. I'll just enjoy my family this winter and let my agent do his thing."