Relief corps to garner Rockies' attention

Relief corps to garner Rockies' attention

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Rockies left the Winter Meetings on Thursday with an everyday lineup intact. The only missing piece among their position players is a backup catcher. But with a key job left unfilled, they also have to be thankful there are some shopping days left before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

The need is for at least one durable, accomplished late-inning reliever. However, the Rockies looked at the prices in the market and decided to wait. The candidates form an impressive list. There's former Boulder, Colo., Fairview High School star Jesse Crain, Kevin Gregg, Matt Guerrier and Jon Rauch from the right side, and one-time Rockies closer Brian Fuentes and Pedro Feliciano from the left.

Part of the problem is the Rockies' need has them having to dabble with higher-priced relievers. What happened last year illustrates the importance of the role.

Rockies closer Huston Street, coming off a strong finish in 2009, suffered a shoulder injury in Spring Training. With various setbacks during rehab, he missed the first 69 games of the regular season. Left-hander Franklin Morales, who filled in capably when Street missed time late in '09, struggled with consistency then suffered a shoulder injury. Manuel Corpas, the closer in '07, took the job, with mixed results, until Street returned.

By the time they had their closer, the Rockies were a pedestrian 36-33 and four games off the pace in the National League West. Had Colorado received more consistency at the back end of the bullpen early, the late-season push might have been less taxing. The Rockies finished nine games behind the eventual World Series champion Giants, but were as close as one game out in the division on Sept. 19.

The Rockies actually could look at two relievers, one from the left and the other from the right. Joe Beimel, who held a left-handed specialist role last year but saw late-season callup Matt Reynolds supplant him in the late-inning role, is a free agent and has expressed a desire to return.

The Rockies will also look for a complement to Chris Iannetta. Russell Martin, a former Dodgers All-Star, is coming off hip surgery, and the team will monitor his rehab before making a decision on pursuing him. Minor League product Chris McKenry, who made a brief appearance as a callup last season, and non-roster invitee Matt Pagnozzi are the two current options.

At least there was good news after a few scary moments at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort. Manager Jim Tracy collapsed early Tuesday morning because of an irregular heartbeat. But by the afternoon, he was back at his offseason home in the Bradenton, Fla., and resting comfortably. No major issues were discovered during tests at an Orlando-area hospital. He'll be examined by Rockies doctors in Denver in several days.

Deals done: The Rockies signed Ty Wigginton to fill the key right-handed bat opening. Wigginton will have to fill in when first baseman Todd Helton is not in the lineup. Wigginton can play a number of other positions and can increase his playing time if he provides the run production the Rockies lacked last season.

Rule 5 Draft activity: The Rockies lost outfielder Chris Frey to the Phillies in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft and did not select anyone.

Goals accomplished: Two major roster-building goals were met before the Meetings. The trade that sent infielder Clint Barmes to the Astros brought in right-hander Felipe Paulino, who will be given a shot to win a rotation spot but can also improve the bullpen. In an even bigger move, the Rockies re-signed Jorge De La Rosa, one of the game's best left-handers the past three seasons.

Unfinished business: The relief and catching jobs are major ones to fill, but the Rockies also will need to add depth to the rotation. A veteran like Bartolo Colon or Brett Tomko could help in that regard. As it stands now, there are seven viable candidates for the five rotation jobs, so there isn't much protection in case of injury.

GM's bottom line: "When you create environments about team, when you focus on it player-to-player, the byproduct of that is you get people that are unselfish. When you get people that are unselfish, they try to buy into a bigger picture. Fortunately for us, we've been to the playoffs two of the last four years. Once guys taste that, they really realize why they're playing the game and what it's all about." -- General manager Dan O'Dowd, on the Rockies' environment

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.