DENVER -- Already believing their roster will eventually produce a winner, the Rockies will head into next week's Winter Meetings looking to see if the right phone call can quicken the process.The Rockies are seeking a veteran pitcher such as Jeff Francis or Kevin Correia on the free-agent market, but also are open to elevating the talent level through trades. Center fielder Dexter Fowler, coming off a .300 season, figures to draw the most interest. Another intriguing trade possibility on the Major League roster is veteran outfielder Michael Cuddyer, who is headed into the second year of a three-year, $31.5 million deal. The Rockies also have young talent to help them get what they want. Corner infielder Ryan Wheeler, obtained from the D-backs this offseason for lefty reliever Matt Reynolds, and outfielders Tim Wheeler, Charlie Blackmon and Rafael Ortega are players who could be with the Rockies in 2013 or draw trade interest from other clubs. If no trades occur, the Rockies enter the year in fair shape, partly because the injuries that played a role in this past season's 64-98 finish allowed them to see many young, talented players. If frontline players and pitchers are healthy, the Rockies could be thankful that the 2012 season helped them build their depth. Here's a quick glance at the Rockies heading into the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in Nashville. Club needs Starting pitching: There is never enough. From the Trade Deadline of 2011 through last offseason, the Rockies dealt several young pitchers and felt they had depth going into last spring. But by the end of Spring Training, it was a reach to field a five-man rotation, and the Rockies were so frighteningly thin during the year that their four-man-rotation experiment looked bad because they couldn't find that many starters. There is some young talent, but it would be nice for Colorado to increase the experience level and the talent. Catching depth: The Rockies need to find several bodies, most likely via Minor League contracts. Veteran Ramon Hernandez is coming off hamstring surgery, and Wilin Rosario is coming off a strong rookie season at the plate but a scary one behind it. There are no other catchers on the 40-man roster. Left-handed relief pitching: After dealing Reynolds, the Rockies still have Rex Brothers, but he is being saved for the late innings. They could use Josh Outman as a mid-game reliever, but he also could figure into the rotation mix. The Rockies will look to make a shrewd acquisition for a lefty specialist. Who they can trade Fowler: Fowler's strong 2012 season suggests he could fill the leadoff spot -- an area that the Rockies have had trouble filling with any consistency. Fowler also is a strong defender. If Fowler is included in a deal, the Rockies had better emerge with pitching that pans out in the short and long run. Cuddyer: Many in the industry believe the Rockies overpaid for Cuddyer last winter, but that contract could look better depending on where the free-agent market for outfielders goes. Still, the Rockies like Cuddyer's leadership. He battled an oblique injury last year, but if he's healthy he could be one of the team's leaders. Top prospects Nolan Arenado: Arenado did not have the dominant season that the Rockies hoped for at Double-A Tulsa last season, but he is still considered the third baseman and power hitter of the future. However, with the team in a listening mode, could he be given up for the right pitcher? Wheeler: The outfielder played at Double-A and Triple-A during the regular season, and if scouts liked what they saw, they could inquire about him. Ryan Wheeler: Obtained from the D-backs last week, he can play third base, first base or the outfield, and is expected to increase his power with experience. He could be a trading chip, or someone who could help the Rockies. Trevor Story: A shortstop who is well-regarded by scouts, he hit .277 with 18 home runs at Class A Asheville last season. But Story, a supplemental first-round pick in 2011, is as close to an untouchable prospect as the Rockies have. Roster issues Rule 5 Draft: The Rockies could end up losing right-handed reliever Coty Woods, who went a combined 4-4 with a 3.20 ERA in 61 games at Double-A and Triple-A this past season. He had a microscopic 0.76 ERA at Tulsa. Right-handed pitcher Parker Frazier, who was under consideration for a call-up to the Majors from Tulsa last season, and left-hander Isaiah Froneberger, who pitched in the Arizona Fall League, also could attract interest. Big contracts they might unload : The Rockies are in good payroll shape. Even if they deal Cuddyer, it would not have to be a salary dump. Arbitration-eligible: RHP Jhoulys Chacin, OF Tyler Colvin, OF Fowler, INF Jonathan Herrera, LHP Josh Outman Non-tender candidates: None Payroll summation
The Rockies went into last season with a little over $81 million on the books as of Opening Day. The big raises this year are for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (from $8.25 million to $10 million) and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez (from $5.428 million to $7.929 million), but the roster has so many young, low-salaried players that the Rockies don't have to unload anyone to accommodate those raises and other free-agent signings or acquisitions. It's not clear where the payroll will end up, but it could be lower than last year's.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.