Saunders: Sizing up the Rockies’ quiet offseason. What has the team done to improve?

Any evaluation of the Rockies’ offseason must begin with owner Dick Monfort’s pledge to the fans after the club’s 68-94, last-place finish.

“Our expectations were high going into the 2022 season, but unfortunately, we did not meet those expectations,” Monfort wrote in his annual letter to season ticket holders in October. “It has now been four years since our last postseason appearance, and this is not acceptable. … Excuses serve no purpose, and we are committed to devoting all our efforts this off-season to improving this team for 2023.”

So what have the Rockies done to improve?

Clearly, they have not made the types of moves that contending teams make, because, let’s face it, the 2023 Rockies are a miracle removed from the playoffs.

Monfort, in the business to sell tickets, won’t say that, of course, but he must know it.

Still, you might be surprised to learn that the front office has been busy this winter. Not flashy, by any means, but busy. But does busy mean productive?

If you count re-signings to the major-league club, such as right-handed starter Jose Urena, and minor-league acquisitions, such as claiming right-hander Nick Mears off waivers, the Rockies have added 16 pitchers to the organization.

The most immediate impactful pitching move was signing free-agent right-hander Pierce Johnson to a one-year deal. The former Padres reliever is penciled in to replace the late-game relief spot left vacant when Carlos Estevez signed a two-year, free-agent deal with the Angels.

The most intriguing position player acquisition is Nolan Jones, the corner infielder/outfielder obtained from Cleveland in a swap for second base prospect Juan Brito. Jones has a chance to make the opening-day roster.

Entering the offseason, general manager Bill Schmidt said there were two main things the Rockies were seeking: A left-handed hitting center fielder and pitching depth, both in the rotation and the bullpen.

Unless the Rockies make a surprising move between now and spring training, they will have failed to land their center fielder, meaning that Randal Grichuk and Yonathan Daza will likely share time there. But Schmidt also said that he doesn’t want to sign veterans to long-term deals because they would block the path of centerfield prospects such as Brenton Doyle (a possible 2023 debut) and Benny Montgomery (2025).

“I know I said we wanted to sign a left-handed hitter, but so did a lot of other clubs, and there weren’t a lot of those guys around,” Schmidt said Friday, less than four weeks before spring training opens. “Plus, it was never our intent to block any of our young kids.”

As for shoring up the pitching depth, Schmidt said there is still work to do and he didn’t rule out making a couple of moves before camp opens.

“We are better than we were a year ago,” Schmidt said, noting that lefty Ryan Rolison (shoulder) and right-hander Peter Lambert (elbow) are both expected to show up to camp ready to go.

“We have created some competition for some guys,” Schmidt added. “And, overall, our organizational depth is better.”

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Last spring, the Rockies made headlines by signing left-fielder Kris Bryant to a seven-year, $182 million contract, but they have since returned to their conservative game plan. If Rockies fans are hoping for a more competitive and entertaining team this season, with a forecast of brighter seasons in the near future, it will be up to the club’s core players, and rookie shortstop Ezequiel Tovar, to live up to expectations.

The core includes right-hander German Marquez, lefty Kyle Freeland and third baseman Ryan McMahon, all of whom disappointed in 2022. Most of all, it means that Bryant must stay healthy and play like an All-Star.

“I thought we had a fantastic start last year,” Bryant said, noting that the Rockies were 10-5 out of the gate. “We were playing teams really tough. But I think, looking back on the long season, a lot of the guys would tell you that they underperformed, myself included.

“But I think guys are going to come out hungrier and wanting to prove that what happened last year is not who we are. We would love to change the record. We have to look at what we have within and make this a really good story — this year.”

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