Welcome to the All-Time Franchise Starting Lineup, where we review one of the 30 current MLB franchises every other week to determine the best players by position in franchise history. This week, we’re onto one of the newest franchises, the Colorado Rockies. If you’re interested in any of our prior installments, you find them here.
The Ground Rules
- Each player’s WAR with the franchise was the primary driver of the selections. We used two WAR calculations, one from Fangraphs and the other from Baseball-Reference. When the WAR between players was similar, we considered other factors, such as stats and awards, to break the tie.
- We only considered statistics earned with the franchise in question for each player. For example, someone like Albert Pujols won’t be the Dodgers’ first baseman since he only played there for part of a season near the end of his career.
- Players with multi-position eligibility can play any position they played for a reasonable period in their career.
- Outfielders can be shifted between center, left, and right as long as it makes sense defensively – especially for center field.
- Since we have universal DH now, we will assign one DH per team. Doing so also allows us to get more deserving hitters into the lineup who played at a log-jammed position.
- Three pitchers will be named – one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter, and one reliever.
The Rockies’ franchise was born in 1993 as part of MLB’s expansion efforts in the 1990s. MLB expanded in pairs, and the Rockies and Marlins debuted in ’93, followed by the Diamondbacks and the Rays in 1998.
The thin air in Denver has made Coors Field, where the Rockies play, a hitter’s paradise, and a pitcher’s nightmare. It has also made it difficult for the franchise to win. In the Rockies’ 30-year existence, they own a .469 winning percentage and have only made the playoffs five times. The franchise’s lack of postseason experience is even more futile, considering that MLB introduced the Wildcard round shortly after their creation.
Colorado did make it to the 2007 World Series, and their run that year was quite incredible. The Rockies were four games over .500 after their game on September 15 and in fourth place. After that, they only lost one more regular season game, finishing the year on a 13-1 run. The Rockies caught the Padres on the last day of the season, then beat them in a one-game playoff for the Wildcard.
Colorado continued to roll, sweeping the Phillies in the NLDS and the Diamondbacks in the NLCS. Their run ended abruptly in the World Series when the Red Sox swept them, but their path to the series was one of the most memorable in MLB history.
Catcher: Jeff Reed
Catchers have not been one of the Rockies’ strong points, which is evident by Jeff Reed’s low WARs with the club. The other candidate was Chris Iannetta, who played for the team quite a bit longer. However, Iannetta was a below-average defender and hitter, so the nod goes to Reed despite his relatively short tenure in Colorado.
Reed joined the Rockies as a free agent prior to the 1996 season. He’d already been a major-leaguer for 12 seasons by then, spending time with four different franchises. Reed was a marginal offensive player coming into Colorado, but the thin air agreed with him, and he put together three solid seasons behind the plate from 1996 through 1998. His best season was 1997 when he slugged 17 HRs and drove in 47 runs with a .297 average while splitting the catching duties with Kirt Manwaring.
In 1999, the Rockies turned to the younger Henry Blanco as their primary catcher, and they released Reed in July. It was a short but productive run for Reed in Denver.
First Base: Todd Helton
In contrast to Reed, Helton is the franchise golden child. He spent his entire 17-year career with the Rockies and led the franchise in WAR by a fair bit. Helton debuted in August of 1997 and played outfield primarily that season as Andres Galarraga occupied first base. After the season, the “Big Cat” left via free agency, and Helton stepped into the Rockies lineup as the starter in 1998.
It didn’t take Helton long to establish himself. He batted .315 his rookie season with 25 HRs and 97 RBIs, finishing second in the Rookie-of-the-Year vote. In 2000, Helton had his best season, leading the league in hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, OBP, SLG, and OPS while slugging 42 HRs. He was an All-Star for the first of five times that season and won his first of four Silver Sluggers. Despite his offensive dominance, he only finished fifth in the MVP voting as the Coors Field effect worked against him. In addition to the offensive accolades, Helton won three Gold Gloves in 2001, 2002, and 2004.
Helton was a fixture in the Rockies lineup until his retirement in 2013. He played on the 2007 World Series team and hit .333 over the four games. His tenure with the team is by far the longest in club history, and he leads the franchise in most offensive categories, including hits, doubles, home runs, runs, RBI, and walks. The Rockies made Helton’s #17 the first jersey to be retired by the club shortly after his retirement. He has been on the Hall of Fame ballot since 2019 and had his highest vote % this year at 52%.
Second Base: Trevor Story
Story never played second base for the Rockies, but he has played second this season with the Red Sox. If you take umbrage with this, feel free to slot DJ LeMahieu in his place. Story made the club out of spring training in 2016. He surprised many with his play, slugging 27 HRs and driving in 72 runs in only 97 games. Story tore a ligament on his thumb on the last day of July and missed the rest of the season. Despite this, he still managed to rank fourth in the Rookie-of-the-Year voting.
Story continued to put up big numbers from 2017 through 2021, with a 162-game average of 33 HRs, 94 RBI, 99 runs, 23 stolen bases, and a .272 batting average over that span. He was an All-Star twice during this period and won Silver Sluggers in 2018 and 2019. In the short 2020 season, Story led the NL in SBs and triples. He also played excellent defense, leading NL shortstops in TZR/range factor/double plays twice and putouts/assists once in Colorado.
Story left the Rockies via free agency this past offseason and now covers second base for the Red Sox. Like many in our lineup, his time in Denver was short but sweet.
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki
Tulo debuted at the end of August in 2006 and was the Rockies starting shortstop the following spring. He finished second in the Rookie-of-the-Year balloting that season after batting .291 with 24 HRs, 99 RBI, and 104 runs scored. That Rockies team was the one that made the run to the World Series, and Tulowitzki was with them all the way. However, his numbers in the postseason were well below his regular season production.
An injury shortened Tulo’s 2008 season to 101 games, but he continued to pile up gaudy statistics while on the field. In 2010, Tulowitzki made his first of five All-Star game appearances and took home the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove. He duplicated these awards the following season. After 2012, injuries began to hamper Tulo, and he never again played more than 131 games in a season.
The Rockies traded their beloved shortstop to Toronto near the deadline in July 2015. Despite his production, the team had struggled since 2011 and started rebuilding. Tulo continued to battle injuries in Toronto and a brief stay with the Yankees and eventually retired in 2019 at only 34 years old. Tulo leads all Rockies shortstops in almost every offensive category to this day.
Third Base: Nolan Arenado
Nolan Arenado looked destined to be the greatest Rockies player of all time when he signed a seven-year extension with the club in early 2019. However, one season (and a pandemic) later, he began expressing frustration with the club’s lack of commitment to winning, and in January of 2021, the club traded him to the Cardinals.
Arenado debuted with the team near the end of April 2013, taking over as the club’s starting third baseman. He put up relatively modest offensive numbers his first season, but he displayed stellar defensive abilities immediately and won his first Gold Glove. Arenado has won a Gold Glove every season since and is on pace to go down as one of the best fielders at third base ever.
In 2015, Nado’s offensive production took off. He led the league in HRs, RBI, and total bases that season and made his first of seven All-Star teams (five with the Rockies). In addition, he took home his first of four consecutive Silver Sluggers. The following season he led the league in HRs, RBI, and TBs again with 41, 133, and 352, respectively. Arenado developed into one of the game’s great power hitters and run producers and continues to put up excellent numbers in St. Louis, proving he was not a by-product of the hitter-friendly Coors Field.
Left Field: Matt Holliday
Matt Holliday began his career in Colorado but did not remain there for long like many other players in our lineup. He started 2004 in Triple-A, but after only six games in the minors, he moved up to the Show. Holliday put up solid stats in his first two seasons, but in his third season, he broke out. In 2006, he scored 119 runs, hit 34 dingers, and drove in 114 while batting .326. Holliday was an All-Star that season and represented the Rockies at the midsummer classic again in 2007 and 2008. He also won the Silver Slugger all three seasons and finished as the MVP runner-up in 2007 after leading the league in hits, doubles, RBI, and batting average.
Holliday produced big offensive numbers in the Rockies’ run to the World Series in 2007. Across the three playoff series, he hit five HRs and drove in ten runs while batting .289. In the NLCS, he was named the series MVP after hitting .333 with two HRs and four RBI in the four games. After another productive season in 2008, the Rockies traded Holliday to the A’s in a package that netted our franchise center fielder. Holliday was approaching free agency, and the club feared losing him. One year later, he left the A’s and joined the Cardinals, where he spent most of the rest of his career, producing at a high level. He returned to the Rockies for the stretch run of his final season in 2018, bringing his career full circle.
Center Field: Carlos Gonzalez
Carlos Gonzalez played 85 games in Oakland in 2008 before being traded in the Matt Holliday deal after the season. The trade turned out well for the Rockies, as Cargo ultimately won three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers for the franchise while representing them in the All-Star game three times. Gonzalez’s best season was 2010 when he won the batting title with a .336 average and led the league in hits and total bases.
Cargo was an incredibly consistent player in his ten seasons with the Rockies. His 162-game average for the club included 30 HRs, 97 RBI, 100 runs, 15 stolen bases, and a .290 batting average. He was also flexible defensively, playing all three outfield spots during his career. Colorado made it to the postseason three times while Gonzalez was with the club, and he put together an excellent postseason byline. In the nine playoff games Cargo played, he hit .412/.474/.618 with five runs, a home run, two stolen bases, and two RBI. Unfortunately, the Rockies only won one of those series – the one-game Wildcard matchup with the Cubs in 2018. Gonzalez left Colorado as a free agent after that 2018 season, but the end of his career was near. He retired the following year at the relatively young age of 33.
Right Field: Larry Walker
Larry Walker had already been an All-Star when he signed with the Rockies as a free agent after the 1994 player’s strike ended. His signing was a massive boon to the franchise, which was still in its infancy. Walker was productive from the get-go but really blossomed from 1997 to 1999. In 1997 he was the NL MVP after batting .366 with a league-leading 49 HRs and 130 RBI. He was an All-Star for the first time with Colorado that year and won his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger as a member of the Rockies. In total, Walker won seven Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers in his career, though two of the GGs came in Montreal.
From 1998 to 2001, Walker won three batting titles. He only hit under .300 twice with the team, in an injury-shortened 1996 and 2003. In addition, he was the NL leader in OBP, SLG, and OPS twice. Walker began the 2004 season on the DL, and the rebuilding Rockies moved the expensive 37-year-old to St. Louis in early August (sound familiar?), ending his time with the franchise. He trails Todd Helton in most of the career offensive categories for the club, but his .334 batting average is tops in franchise history.
Larry Walker retired in 2005 and, after ten years on the ballot, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2020. The following season, the Rockies made his jersey the second to be retired by the club, taking #33 out of circulation.
Designated Hitter: Charlie Blackmon
Blackmon is the second-longest tenured player in Rockies history and the only player in our lineup still with the team. Blackmon has split his time primarily between center and right field, but he’s our DH as his defensive prowess isn’t up there with Cargo and Walker. Blackmon debuted with the team midway through the 2011 season but bounced between Triple-A and the majors over his first three seasons. In 2014, Colorado committed to him, and he rewarded them with his first All-Star appearance. Two seasons later, Blackmon won his first of two Silver Sluggers, and he was again an All-Star from 2017 through 2019.
Blackmon’s best season was 2017 when he won the batting title with a .331 average. He also led the NL in runs, hits, triples, and total bases that season while finishing fifth in the MVP voting. Blackmon remains a productive hitter for the Rockies, though the power he displayed during his prime has waned in recent seasons. As a fan favorite in Denver, there’s no doubt that many hope he will finish his career with the team.
Right-Handed Starter: Ubaldo Jimenez
Pitching in Coors Field isn’t easy, so it was challenging to find our starting pitchers. Out of all the hurlers who have struggled through the thin Denver air, Ubaldo Jimenez found the most success. He’s one of only two Rockies’ starters with over 500 IP to have an ERA under 4.00 and was a huge part of their 2007 run to the World Series.
Jimenez got into two games at the end of the 2006 season and started 2007 in the minors. After the All-Star break, he returned to the rotation and pitched well by Rockies standards down the stretch, compiling a 4.28 ERA during the regular season. It was in the playoffs that Ubaldo really shone, particularly in the NLDS and NLCS when he allowed only two earned runs over 11.1 innings.
From 2008 to 2010, Jimenez became the ace of the Rockies’ staff, going 46-32 with a 3.43 ERA over 638 innings. In 2010 he was an All-Star and finished third in the Cy Young voting after going 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA over 221 innings. Ubaldo got off to a slow start to begin 2011, and the struggling Rockies moved him to Cleveland at the trade deadline for a package of young players, ending his time in Colorado. Jimenez pitched another six seasons but never quite found the magic he had with the Rockies.
Left-Handed Starter: Jorge De La Rosa
We also considered Jeff Francis and Kyle Freeland, but Jorge De La Rosa was with the Rockies longer and was, by and large, more successful. De La Rosa was traded to the Rockies by the Royals early in April 2008. He had been a pro for five seasons to that point with Milwaukee and Kansas City. Unlike most pitchers, De La Rosa was comfortable in Denver and re-upped with the club as a free agent after the 2010 season. He remained with the team for nine seasons and became the franchise leader in wins and strikeouts. He also ranks second in Rockies history to Aaron Cook in games started, and innings pitched.
De La Rosa never made an All-Star team or won any awards, but he was a good pitcher who lasted a long time in Colorado, which is no small task. His best season for the club came in 2013 when he went 16-6 with a 3.49 ERA and made 30 starts. These are modest numbers by most franchise standards, but not for Colorado, where starters rarely post ERAs below 4.00. De La Rosa finally left the franchise in 2017, returning to Arizona, which originally signed him out of Mexico. He retired two years later but remains the team leader in wins and strikeouts, though Germán Márquez will likely pass him in Ks soon.
Reliever: Brian Fuentes
Fuentes was the clear choice for our reliever as he leads all Rockies non-starters in saves, strikeouts, and WAR. His 3.38 ERA with the club is also the best for any bullpen arm who threw 200+ innings for the club. Fuentes joined Colorado via trade in December of 2001 from the Mariners. Initially, he was not the closer but took the job in 2005 and ran with it. Fuentes represented the club at the All-Star game that season and returned the following two years. In three of his four seasons as the Rockies closer, Fuentes saved over 30 games.
The one season Fuentes didn’t save 30 games in this stretch was 2007 – the year the Rockies went to the World Series. He started the year well, making the All-Star team, but struggled mid-season and lost the closer role to Manny Corpas. Corpas was the closer during their epic September run, but Fuentes redeemed himself and reclaimed the role early in 2008. That year was his last with the club, though, as he left the team as a free agent after the season to join the Angels. In his first season in Anaheim, Fuentes was again an All-Star and led the AL in saves with 48. Despite this, he is best known for his stint with the Rockies.
In two weeks, we’re onto the Detroit Tigers, one of the original American League teams. If you love baseball as much as we do, check out the We Love Baseball section for more great content!
Featured Image Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)