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Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Rockies' big decision: Trade Holliday or not

By John Shea
Special to ESPN.com

The Rockies slipped only one notch in the standings, but it was a world of difference. In 2007, they finished second, then won the National League wild-card berth and pennant. This year, they finished third, 14 games under .500 and 10 games out of first place.

COLORADO ROCKIES
GM: Dan O'Dowd
Manager: Clint Hurdle
'08 record: 74-88, 3rd NL West
Rockies '08 payroll: $68.7M, 20th MLB
Runs scored: 747, 8th NL
Runs allowed: 822, 14th NL
OPS: .751, 8th NL
ERA: 4.77, 15th NL
Fielding percentage: .985, 6th NL

Manager Clint Hurdle, who had four coaches dumped after the season, and GM Dan O'Dowd need to prove themselves (again) with one year left on their respective contracts.

Primary needs

The Rockies must figure out whether to re-sign or trade their best player, Matt Holliday, who can be a free agent next winter.

Adding a quality starting pitcher would help take the load off Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez. The rotation went 55-47 in 2007 but 54-61 in 2008. The staff ERA fell from 14th in the majors to 26th.

Free agents

LHP Brian Fuentes, LHP Glendon Rusch, RHP Livan Hernandez, C Scott Podsednik, RHP Matt Herges

It'll be tough to keep Fuentes, who earned 30 saves and will receive big offers elsewhere (from the Mets, for instance). The Rockies would like to bring back Rusch but not Hernandez, and Podsednik could return as a backup.

Second baseman Jayson Nix became a free agent after he was removed from the roster. Herges' club option was declined.

Holliday

Trade bait

Like Holliday, who will make $13.5 million in the final year of his contract, Garrett Atkins ($7.5 million in 2009) can be a free agent after next season. The Rockies could improve their pitching staff by parting with either, although they'd rather move Atkins because they're OK at third base with Ian Stewart.

Holliday, through agent Scott Boras, declined a multiyear extension in spring training and then put up numbers that were solid, but not as impressive as his 2007 performance: .321 average (down 19 points), 25 homers (down 11) and 88 RBIs (down 49). Other possible trade chips include infielder Clint Barmes and outfielder Willy Taveras, both eligible for arbitration, and catcher Yorvit Torrealba.

Farm aid

Switch-hitting center fielder Dexter Fowler, who broke into the majors in September, hit .335 in Double-A and has star potential. Second baseman Eric Young Jr., who looks and plays like his dad, a former Rockies second baseman, is moving closer to the majors.

Reliever Casey Weathers, the eighth overall pick in the 2007 MLB draft, will miss the 2009 season after hurting his elbow in his first appearance in the Arizona Fall League. He'll need Tommy John surgery.

Outlook

The Rockies went on a 21-1 tear that pushed them to the 2007 World Series, then nearly stood pat with their roster. But their disappointing '08 has forced them to be active this offseason.

They took a statistical dive on the mound, at the plate and in the field, but they also were hit hard by injuries: Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton, Yorvit Torrealba and Francis, among others, missed serious time.

Tulowitzki, after signing a six-year, $31 million deal, was shelved twice -- once for messing up his left hand by pounding his bat to the ground in frustration -- and slipped from 99 RBIs to 46.

John Shea is the national baseball writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.