Inbox: How do young arms affect Rox's future?

Beat reporter Thomas Harding answers questions

Inbox: How do young arms affect Rox's future?

DENVER -- The Rockies' 2017 season has ended, but the window to contend has just opened. Today's Edward Jones Beat Reporter's Inbox explores ideas for pushing forward.

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I'll always come back to starting pitching. The Rockies' rotation was especially young this season, featuring rookies Kyle Freeland, Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela and second-year arms Jon Gray and Tyler AndersonChad Bettis made it back before season's end after recovering from testicular cancer. All seven of those starters are under club control for the foreseeable future and will be the pitchers Colorado relies on moving forward.

The Rockies used just eight starters this year. Only the Giants, Indians and Pirates used fewer (seven each). The last time Colorado used so few was 2010, the last time before this season they finished above .500. From 2011-16, they averaged about 12 starters a season, so if issues arise moving forward, how set is the current roster?

Freeland fans Slater

If Tyler Chatwood signs elsewhere in free agency, seven of the eight starters from this season are set to to return in 2018. The Rockies can add to their starting depth by stretching out Chris Rusin, who had a 2.65 ERA over 60 relief appearances this season, as a starter in Spring Training and keep him in the bullpen until necessary as a starter.

By having Senzatela and Freeland in the season-opening rotation, the Rockies showed they aren't afraid to go with inexperienced arms. That could bode well for right-hander Yency Almonte (2.91 ERA in 22 appearances between Double-A and Triple-A), non-roster left-handers Sam Howard (3.32 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A), Ryan Carpenter (4.15 Triple-A) and Harrison Musgrave, who nearly made the Major League rotation out of Spring Training but missed much of the season with broken finger, and right-hander Zach Jemiola, who struggled this season while dealing with an oblique injury. Expect prospects Ryan Castellani, Peter Lambert and Riley Pint to get looks in spring to see how close they are to being Major League factors.

As for Carlos Gonzalez, we'll see if the Rockies offer him a $17.4-million qualifying offer for 2018, which would allow them to receive Draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere. If Gonzalez doesn't return to Colorado, expect the Rox to look into adding an experienced middle-of-the-order bat, preferably a left-handed hitter.

Free agency hasn't started, so any link between the Rockies and Eric Hosmer, or any other free agent, is all speculation. But if you're any power hitter, especially a left-handed one, Colorado has to be on your list. Ian Desmond's versatility allows the Rockies to explore many different positions when looking to add to their lineup.

The Rockies always have to be careful about lengthy, expensive contracts after seeing how, for example, they struggled to fill other holes after giving Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki hefty extensions. In each of the three players mentioned in the question, I see their value. The Rockies also are developing talent in the Minors behind all three, although center fielder Charlie Blackmon and third baseman Nolan Arenado are among the best in the Majors at their position.

Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu are in their last year of arbitration and will be free agents after next season, while Arenado is under club control until 2019. What the Rockies have working for them is their young starting pitching. Six of their eight starters from this season aren't eligible for free agency until at least after the 2021 season, which is when Anderson and Gray could test the market. That could give Colorado some financial flexibility to extend the likes of Arenado, Blackmon and LeMahieu.

Arenado's consistency

Desmond (left hand, right calf) never took off, which meant he couldn't pick up the slack for Gonzalez and Trevor Story's struggles at the plate, which Mark Reynolds did with a 30-home run season. Missing David Dahl (ribs) hurt, since his power could have helped when Gerardo Parra was injured and Gonzalez was struggling. Catcher Tom Murphy's right thumb and wrist injuries slowed him in his competition behinid the dish with Tony Wolters. The Rockies eventually took care of their catching situation, though, by adding veterans Ryan Hanigan and Jonathan Lucroy during the season.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.