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Familiar names dot Rox' All-Decade squad

Familiar names dot Rox' All-Decade squad

DENVER -- The first decade of the new century for the Rockies brought two memorable seasons and many unforgettable performers.

The challenge of determining an All-Decade team was taking the full 10 years into account, rather than handing honors to those who played in the glory years -- the National League championship year of 2007 and the playoff squad of last season.

Four spots were easy -- first baseman Todd Helton, a man for all seasons in the decade; shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who settled a position that had several good performers but no permanent solution; left fielder Matt Holliday, who became an All-Star at a position that previously was distinguished by instability; and left-handed closer Brian Fuentes, whose three All-Star Game appearances are the most for any pitcher in club history.

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The five rotation spots also were not difficult. Right-hander Jason Jennings (2001-06) was the only one who didn't pitch on one of the playoff teams. Righty Aaron Cook set the team's career wins mark. Lefties Jeff Francis and Jorge De La Rosa each had a playoff year in which he led the staff in wins. Righty Ubaldo Jimenez is a candidate for honors in the future, but his work in recent years qualifies him for this team.

Many other positions, though, yielded legitimate comparisons and questions regarding players who toiled during unsuccessful years and those who saw precious postseason time.

Brent Mayne, Charles Johnson or Yorvit Torrealba at catcher?

Garrett Atkins or Jeff Cirillo at third base?

Brad Hawpe or Larry Walker in right field?

Taylor Buchholz, Steve Reed or Justin Speier as the primary setup man?

Two other positions were close. Center field came down to two dynamic players, Juan Pierre and Preston Wilson. Second base, a position of instability for much of the decade, came down to Kazuo Matsui, the main performer in 2007, and Clint Barmes, who made the position his in 2008 and 2009.

Another factor was the 2002 move by the club to begin storing baseballs in a temperature- and atmosphere-controlled environment, better known as "the humidor." Before then, baseballs gradually hardened and became slippery. Add that to an atmosphere in which fly balls carried, and no wonder Coors Field was the site of unprecedented offense. Normalizing the baseball helped normalize performance.

Rockies All-Decade team
POS Player
C Yorvit Torrealba
1B Todd Helton
2B Clint Barmes
SS Troy Tulowitzki
3B Garrett Atkins
OF Matt Holliday
OF Juan Pierre
OF Larry Walker
SP Jeff Francis
SP Aaron Cook
SP Jason Jennings
SP Ubaldo Jimenez
SP Jorge De La Rosa
SU Justin Speier
CL Brian Fuentes
MGR Clint Hurdle

Three figures who saw more games than anyone helped sort through the decade. They were Drew Goodman, who is heading into his ninth season as Rockies play-by-play broadcaster; Paul Egins, the director of Major League operations, who has been with the club in various positions in the Minor League and Major League operations since 1991, a year before the Rockies first took the field as an expansion club; and Jay Alves, their vice president of communications and public relations who is heading into his 13th season with the club.

The author, who began covering the team in 2000, had a voice in this as well.

Here's a look at some of the winners, and just as intriguing, some of the arguments.

Catcher
The winner: Torrealba

Goodman: "It's a position where the Rockies haven't had a bona fide star, someone to put his foot down for four or five years. So you have to look at Torrealba. The two postseason years, he became the everyday catcher down the stretch. He had his throwing-arm issues, but it's about winning ballgames, and he was a big part of that. He brought a passion that I hope the Rockies don't miss."

Harding: Mayne hit .311 in 166 games 2000-01. His being dealt to the Royals in '01 was a signal that the Rockies didn't believe their expenditures for high-priced pitchers Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle were going to result in a title.

Harding: Johnson' 20 home runs and 61 RBIs in 2003 marked one of the best offensive years for a Rockies catcher, but he hit .233 in two seasons in a Rox uniform.

Second base
The winner: Barmes

Egins: "I had names coming from everywhere. Kaz Matsui, Ronnie Belliard -- Luis Gonzalez had a good year with us there. Terry Shumpert was in there. Mike Lansing started the decade there. We've had a ton of guys.

"Though he played the majority of the decade at shortstop, Barmes' year last year was probably the biggest single year of impact a second baseman has had for us. There were the power numbers [23 home runs, 76 RBIs], and he played arguably Gold Glove defense as well."

Goodman: "Matsui had a nice year in 2008, and his huge grand slam in Game 2 in Philadelphia [in the NL Division Series] turned out the lights on the Phillies. I really think the Rockies missed him tremendously in 2008 hitting at the top of the order. The part of the story that's not often told is Kaz was great in the clubhouse even though there was a difficult language barrier. I'd take Barmes, but you can make a case for Kaz."

Third base
The winner: Atkins

Egins: "Atkins played with consistency, and look at his production, minus 2009. Prior to that, he was a very good offensive player and very good run producer for us [he led the club in RBIs three times in four years] and the hits. Cirillo was good, but Atkins did it for much longer.

Alves: "Cirillo could flat-out pick it at third base, and he was a good hitter -- 115 RBIs in 2000. We didn't win as many games when he was here, but he was a very good clutch hitter. He also played in an All-Star Game."

Center field
The winner: Pierre

Egins: "One, Pierre's our guy -- we drafted and signed him. This kid was the epitome of a Rockie. He was prepared. He did everything in his power. He wasn't a big guy, but he gave you every ounce of everything he had, consistently."

Pierre led the league in steals in 2001 and hit .308 for the Rockies 2000-02.

Egins: "Preston Wilson hit home runs, hit for average, played great defense, drove in runs. That one year [.282, 36 homers, 141 RBIs in 2003] was unbelievable. You can't go wrong, either way."

Right field
The winner: Walker

Goodman: "Larry Walker is on the short list of the most gifted players of his era. You talk to scouts and he was the best baserunner the Rockies have ever had. The deke you see Brad Hawpe do on balls over his head, he learned from watching Walker in right. Larry had a strong, accurate arm. A lot was made of Larry Walker ducking Randy Johnson in the All-Star Game, but what people forget was when he started playing against him he hit close to .400 off the Big Unit."

Harding:There's no denying Walker's greatness and athletic ability. But Hawpe, a first baseman in college, has developed a strong throwing arm. And, mainly because injuries slowed Walker, Hawpe has appeared in as many All-Star Games. Also, even though it has more to do with the quality of the club, the Rockies have won with Hawpe, who was a key to the 2007 playoff run.

Setup man
The winner: Speier

Alves: "He wasn't afraid. He was a good teammate and he came in and pitched to win (12-5, 4.04 ERA from 2001-03). He was a young guy who was never intimidated. I remember a game in Dodger Stadium where he wasn't afraid of the tight situation and pulled us through. He went after people."

The problem with all the others is the same problem with the setup role in general. Performance was unpredictable from year to year, and the cast of characters changed constantly. The best non-closer performance was by left-hander Gabe White, who went 11-2 with a scant 2.17 ERA in 2000, but went 1-7 with a 6.25 ERA the following year.

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

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