Can money buy a National League West title? Against all odds, this is the season we find out the answer. Extravagance is in style with the Colorado Rockies.
No doubt, this is a surprise. Cheapo once defined the franchise.
Owners Charlie and Dick Monfort took the thrifty route and watched their team flirt with 100 losses in the lost seasons of 2004 and 2005. The Monforts declined to pay the massive money required to keep Matt Holliday. The Monforts, it seemed clear, were unwilling to sign the checks required for this team to rule the baseball universe.
Cheapo no longer defines the Rockies. During the offseason, the once-cheap Monforts spent $275 million on contracts, locking up shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez for the next seven seasons and squashing, at least for now, doubts about their hunger for a World Series title.
These are the good old days for the Rockies. With Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado boasts a youthful, talented nucleus that could carry the franchise to good times for the next decade.
Optimism is running rampant and with good reason.
But leaps of faith are required for those who believe the Rockies are destined to rule the National League West, home of Tim Lincecum and the World Champ Giants.
Some of these leaps make sense. Some don't.
Let's take a look at three of the most important leaps.
Leap 1: Jimenez's depressing collapse in the second half of 2010 was a fluke.
During April and May 2010, we watched one of the most impressive pitching performances of modern times. Jimenez kept his ERA under 1.00 until June 11 as he terrified batters with fastballs that flirted with 100 mph.
During the first half of the season, Jimenez collected 15 wins and one loss. He was dazzling and overpowering.
During the second half of the season, Jimenez finished with four wins and seven losses. He failed to deliver in the Rockies' late-season crash when they lost 13 of their last 14 games to tumble out of playoff contention. His fastball lost its punch. He was merely average.
Conclusion: We won't again see the early 2010 version of Jimenez when he resembled Bob Gibson in 1968. We won't see that kind of dominance from Jimenez. We might not see it from anyone.
We will see Jimenez win 20 games this season. He won't be as spectacular this season. He will be more steady.
Leap 2: Todd Helton will travel back in time after vigorous offseason workouts.
Helton resembled an old man in 2010 while he battled back troubles and lack of focus. He struggled to only 37 RBIs and eight home runs in 398 at-bats.
He's announced a fresh dedication to the game. He trained with a special hunger in the offseason and hopes to return to days of old. Remember, Helton hit .325 with 86 RBIs as recently as 2009.
Conclusion: Here's the problem: Helton is old. He turns 38 in August. Yes, he's crafted a superb career as a hitter and a leader, but his slow fade will continue in 2011.
Leap 3: Third baseman Ian Stewart will quit hinting and finally start delivering on his considerable promise.
There's no doubt Stewart has talent. He hits with power. He has superb range on defense.
But . . .
He can't solve left-handed pitching, hitting only .203 in 2009 and 2010 against lefties, and he struck out on nearly 30 percent of his at-bats last season.
Stewart is 25. That's not old, but it's not young, either. Tomorrow has arrived for the man once known as the Rockies' third baseman of the future.
Conclusion: Stewart, when he gets healthy, will make good on his promises. He'll keep his strikeouts under 100, smack 25 home runs and hit .275.