Rox confident in core entering Meetings

Rox confident in core entering Meetings

DENVER -- During last year's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, the question of which small-to-mid-market team will make the biggest impact was brought to Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd.

His basic response: Why not us?

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The Rockies turned out to be that team, earning the National League Wild Card before falling in a hard-fought NL Division Series to the Phillies. It would be inaccurate to say O'Dowd had ESP or something mystical. He just had confidence that the Rockies, who went to the 2007 World Series but struggled in '08, had not lost their way.

As the Rockies prepare for next week's Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, O'Dowd believes sustained success is possible if the Rox continue their course.

"I think we're in a good position, but for that to come true, it's going to take a lot of hard work," O'Dowd said. "It's going to take work from every single person in the front office, the manager, the coaches, all of the players and the people in player development."

The Rockies aren't planning to treat Indianapolis as a big shopping trip. With a frugal approach, O'Dowd expects to address the bullpen and starting rotation depth. He also said he doesn't expect any major deals unless they can significantly improve the club.

What that means is that the core of the Rockies' club in 2009 will be the same in '10.

That more or less answers the big question that arose after the playoffs, whether Colorado would deal right fielder Brad Hawpe. After making it to the All-Star Game for the first time, Hawpe struggled in the second half and saw little playing time in the playoffs against a Phillies team that was heavy on left-handed pitching. Hawpe hit .243 against lefties in 2009.

However, Hawpe hit .282 against left-handers in 2008, and he pummeled pitching from both sides during the Rockies' late-season run in 2007.

The Rox's overall struggles against left-handed pitching -- they were not only dominated in the playoffs, but hit .253 against southpaws during the regular season -- gave rise to the theory that they needed to trade some of the left-handed hitting for right-handed production.

But O'Dowd said that isn't necessary.

"The year before last ... Brad Hawpe and [third baseman] Ian Stewart can hit left-handed pitching better than they did -- Ian Stewart was one of the best hitters against left-handers in the National League [.377 in a half-season] the year before," O'Dowd said. "I think last year was an aberration.

"Guys like them and [catcher] Chris Iannetta are good hitters, and they need to be better. Carlos Gonzalez [a lefty-swinging outfielder who had a big second-half impact] is going to get better."

O'Dowd said the team has not made much progress in its attempt to retain free-agent reliever Rafael Betancourt, who filled a void as right-handed setup man. The Rockies are still trying to bring him back, but are also looking for similar relievers. Taylor Buchholz, who missed 2009 because of elbow surgery, and one-time closer Manuel Corpas, who underwent elbow surgery during last season, also will augment the bullpen.

As for the rotation, the Rockies are prepared to lose All-Star right-hander Jason Marquis to free agency, but the return of left-hander Jeff Francis from shoulder surgery should offset that.

Francis, who is healthy and just needs game action, should join Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa and Jason Hammel -- all of whom won in double figures last year. The Rockies also have prospects Jhoulys Chacin, Esmil Rogers and Samuel Deduno on the cusp of making an impact, but are expected to look for some experienced, but low-cost, pitchers for competition.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.