Rockies push to improve in 2007

Rockies look for moves to improve in 2007

DENVER -- If you liked the forward steps the Rockies took in 2006 and believe they'll continue moving forward in 2007, the club agrees.

Certainly, fans were jarred by the trade of No. 1 starting pitcher Jason Jennings to the Astros for three players -- right-handed pitchers Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz and center fielder Willy Taveras. And the changing of two positions on the coaching staff, with Alan Cockrell (hitting) and Glenallen Hill (first base) replacing Duane Espy and Dave Collins, respectively. But otherwise, the Rockies are much the same.

Four members of the five-man rotation, and righty Aaron Cook and lefty Jeff Francis take over as homegrown leaders. Unless a huge deal comes along, only center field will be manned by a player who was not in the Rockies' 2006 lineup. Left-hander Brian Fuentes anchors the bullpen from the closer role for the third straight year.

Left fielder Matt Holliday and third baseman Garrett Atkins have emerged to lead the offense, and if first baseman Todd Helton returns to form the middle of the lineup could be formidable.

The Rockies' challenge will be to prove that more of the same can lead to a better record. Ownership has decided that it's time to put up. After granting general manager Dan O'Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle two contract extensions on faith that they would build the team the right way, the Rockies have let the pair go into 2007 having to earn more time.

 Season in Preview
A lot can change by Opening Day, but as 2006 becomes 2007, this is who is projected to take the field for the Rockies:
  2BKaz Matsui/Jamey Carroll
  CFWilly Taveras
  3BGarrett Atkins
  LFMatt Holliday
  1BTodd Helton
  RFBrad Hawpe
  CYorvit Torrealba/Chris Iannetta
  SSTroy Tulowitzki
  SPAaron Cook
  SPJeff Francis
  SPJosh Fogg
  SPByung-Hyun Kim
  SPTaylor Buchholz/Jason Hirsh
  CLBrian Fuentes
Schedules: Spring | Regular season
Tickets: Spring | Regular season
More previews:

Offseason report card: The Jennings deal raised eyebrows. It looked like the Rockies are departing from their building plan. If building from within means maintaining the same players perpetually, then maybe. But in reality, the payroll budget constraints that lead a team to build from within also means parting with a prized product is sometimes necessary. So if you're trading prospects, do it right; never have the Rockies gotten so much in a trade for a homegrown product. The Rockies continue to scour for free agents, but don't expect big names.

Arrivals: RHP LaTroy Hawkins (free-agent signing); RHPs Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsh, CF Willy Taveras (trade with Astros).

Departures: RHP Jennings (traded to Astros), RHP Jose Mesa (signed with Tigers), C JD Closser (claimed off waivers by Brewers).

The road ahead: The Rockies continue to look to improve. Taveras, who brings speed but not power, was not the answer the Rockies had in mind in center, so they're looking to deal him. The club still could use competition for the starting rotation, more late-innings depth, protection behind the plate and a left-handed bat off the bench.

Thomas Harding This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.