Jussel: Rebuilding again in the cards for Rox

The offseason approaches for the Colorado Rockies, yet another attempt at respectability and the playoffs down the toilet.

Todd Helton has announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season. A replacement, be it Michael Cuddyer in house or someone currently manning a first base or outfield slot on another Major League team, will be brought in.

Names floating around include outfielders Nelson Cruz, Josh Willingham and first basemen Kendrys Morales and Justin Morneau, all free agents to be.

Replacing Helton, a long, drawn-out process that started several seasons ago, will be another step in the team’s ongoing rebuilding project (think repaving First Street south of Patterson Road).

And if the smoke turns into fire, the Rox may go into next season without one or both of their best players, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.

It’s never too early for the rumor mill to start grinding, and here we go, courtesy of the New York Daily News and columnist John Harper, who says:

“It’s no secret the Mets would love to trade for Carlos Gonzalez, and one baseball executive with insight into the Rockies’ thinking says Colorado is likely to seriously consider offers for Gonzalez and even Troy Tulowitzki this winter as it looks to rebuild. ... The Rockies would be looking for a package built around young position players, as opposed to pitching, making it unlikely the Mets would be a good match. ...

“While the Rockies may well be motivated to trade Gonzalez, who is guaranteed $63.5 million over the next four years, or Tulowitzki, who has $130 million coming over the next five years, it seems the Mets would have to get creative if they want to deal for either player.  It’s possible, with their surplus of pitching prospects, that they could get a third team involved in such a deal.”

Yes, all of the above is just speculation, but think about what has happened yet again to the Rockies: The team will again have a sub-.500 record with CarGo and Tulo on board, hogging much of the team’s limited payroll.

The Rox, it seems, can finish 72-90 with or without their two best players. Why pay out roughly $40 million per year to these two, both of whom are injured on a regular basis, when you can bring in cheap replacements and maybe, just maybe, find a way to pick up another pitcher or two?

Don’t get me wrong. I love CarGo. He, not Tulo, is the face of the Rockies, the guy you see carrying a tray of tacos to fans, banging the bell and smiling.

CarGo is constantly working the crowds, especially the youngsters. The highlight of my summer was a CarGo hug with 5-year-old grandson Cody, his huge grin and a couple of minutes conversation pregame at Coors Field.

CarGo gets it. He loves Colorado, and Colorado loves CarGo.

But, the Venezuelan is facing finger surgery that will not magically fix a problem that has kept him out of the lineup for much of the past two months.

If all goes well, he would again be one of baseball’s true five-tool players batting in the third slot in the lineup. If all does not go well, however, he could become what he says he detests, a slap hitter who lives for singles, hitting first or second in the order.

Singles hitters, unless you are Rod Carew and hitting near .400, are not worth $15 or $20 million a year.

As for Tulo, he is the best offensive shortstop in the game and a two-time Gold Glove winner. He also is aloof with the media and fans and seemingly not enthralled with having to play with the small-market Rox.

He has missed 296 games from injuries in seven full seasons, close to two full seasons.

While Harper suggests the Mets have an interest in Tulo, there is also another New York team that is in desperate need of a shortstop with surefire Hall of Famer Derek Jeter on the way out: Yes, the Yankees. And the Yankees, as all baseball fans know, repeatedly get what they want.

It’s not a bad scenario to see a lineup that goes CarGo, Tulo, Michael (Cuddyer) and, say Nelson Cruz hitting 3-4-5 and 6 in the middle of the order.

And it could end up that way.

But it’s not out of the question that we see something totally different next season, a lineup that will be without either or both Gonzalez and Tulowitzki — for 162 games, not just a stray month or two.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.


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