Ubaldo Jimenez, Jhoulys Chacin and Jason Hammel will probably be in the Rockies' 2011 rotation, but the remaining two spots are considerably harder to predict. Jimenez is a Cy Young candidate, Chacin is striking out a batter per inning as a 22-year-old and Hammel is putting together a second consecutive solid season. The Rockies could theoretically fill the rest of the rotation from within, but that's not necessarily what they'll do. Here are their options:
Esmil Rogers and Aaron Cook are under team control for 2011, so Jim Tracy could just slot the pair into the rotation. It's not that simple, though. Rogers recently joined the rotation after pitching out of the bullpen for much of the season and Cook, who is under contract for 2011 at $9.25MM, could become trade bait. The Rockies entertained the idea of trading him this summer, so there's no guarantee that he starts next year in Colorado.
This could be the final season in Denver for two of the team's most recognizable left-handers. The Rockies have a $7MM option for Jeff Francis but they may decide that's too much to commit to a pitcher who missed all of last year and much of this year with injuries. Francis is on the DL with left shoulder soreness now, but he has struck out three times as many batter as he has walked, so the 29-year-old can pitch when healthy.
Another left-hander, Jorge de la Rosa, is sure to hit free agency after the season. He missed time early in the year with a finger injury, but has posted solid numbers since. The 29-year-old has a 4.74 ERA with 8.7 K/9 and 4.9 BB/9 in 68.1 innings, which should be enough to attract serious interest in the offseason.
The Rockies probably can't count on Greg Reynolds and Christian Friedrich, a pair of prospects who don't appear to be big-league ready. Many expected Reynolds, the second overall selection in the 2006 draft, to be an option by now, but he is still pitching at AA and his numbers are just OK, so the Rockies certainly aren't about to hand him a rotation spot.
Friedrich, 23, entered the season as the 33rd-best prospect in the game, according to Baseball America. He has been hittable at AA and his 8.0 K/9 strikeout rate is impressive, but not as eye-catching as the career 12.0 K/9 rate he had going into the season. Meanwhile, 2009 first rounder Tyler Matzek is striking opponents out, but he has posted 6.2 BB/9 batter so far and certainly needs seasoning.
Letting Francis and De La Rosa walk would leave the Rockies with a thin rotation, especially if they trade Cook. Their best pitching prospects are either adjusting to the upper minors or still in the lower minors, so it's hard to imagine immediate help coming from the system.
Troy Renck of the Denver Post suggested on Twitter that the Rockies will add a veteran pitcher to next year's rotation. It does seem likely that the Rockies will pursue one or more starting pitchers this offseason, whether that means bringing back Francis, bidding on De La Rosa, or pursuing a different free agent starter.