When Mike Dunn gets $19 million from the Colorado Rockies, it tells you it’s always great to be a left-handed reliever.

It also tells you Ian Desmond was right.

When the Rockies made Desmond’s five-year, $70 million deal official this week, Colorado’s new first baseman (or will he be an outfielder?) spoke of joining a team on the rise.

“They’re close,” Desmond told reporters, including Thomas Harding of MLB.com. “That’s an industry-wide consensus. Ownership and management are committed to turning that corner. I’m right there with them on board.”

I’m not sure I’d yet call it a consensus, but there is a growing feeling the Rockies are getting better. They haven’t had a winning season since 2010, but even as they were losing 87 games in 2016, they won praise for their young talent, both on the big league club and in the system.

Already this winter, they’re winning praise again.

“They’re my sleeper team for this year,” one National League scout said this week.

It’s hard to consider the Rockies more than just a sleeper, given the presence of the high-spending Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in their division. With all three teams needing back-end bullpen help this winter, the Giants spent $62 million over four years on Mark Melancon (a Colorado native), and the Dodgers topped that by spending $80 million over five years on Kenley Jansen.

Dunn isn’t Melancon, and he isn’t Jansen. He has four saves in eight major league seasons. Jansen had three saves in the 2016 postseason alone.

But spending what they did on Dunn (the $19 million is over three years) continues a winter trend for the Rockies. Instead of looking like a team trying to find its way, Colorado now looks like one pushing to win.

Signing Desmond to the second-biggest free-agent contract in franchise history (behind Mike Hampton’s $121 million in 2000) was part of that. But so were the other moves the Rockies have tried to make, and the ones they still could pursue.

While the Rockies signed Desmond as a first baseman, his experience playing the outfield last season with the Texas Rangers opens the possibility the Rockies could sign someone else to play first—Mark Trumbo? Edwin Encarnacion?—and trade one of their outfielders.

Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com reported the Rockies wanted Kevin Gausman from the Baltimore Orioles as part of a deal for either Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez. Kubatko wrote the Orioles “aren’t trading Kevin Gausman,” which is no doubt true.

The bigger point, at least from the Rockies’ perspective, is that general manager Jeff Bridich is thinking big when he looks for pitching help. As Yahoo’s Jeff Passan tweeted during the winter meetings, the Rockies would like to trade for “a front-of-rotation-type pitcher.”

The Rockies don’t have one of those in their current rotation. They do have promising 25-year-old right-hander Jon Gray in the big leagues and equally promising 23-year-old right-hander Jeff Hoffman nearly ready in the minors. Hoffman was one of three prospects the Rockies got from the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2015 Troy Tulowitzki trade.

Trading Tulowitzki was a big move for the Rockies, one ownership had previously resisted. It turned the team and the clubhouse over to the next generation, a group that includes star third baseman Nolan Arenado and shortstop Trevor Story, who was a strong Rookie of the Year candidate before a thumb injury ended his season in July.

With Arenado, Story, National League batting champion DJ LeMahieu and outfielder David Dahl, there was a strong sense in the Rockies clubhouse that they are a team on the rise. Scouts who followed the Rockies said the same thing and cited more young players the club has coming in the minor leagues.

They’ll go into 2017 with Bud Black as the new manager, which figures to be a positive not because Walt Weiss was bad (he wasn’t), but because Weiss and Bridich admittedly weren’t seeing eye to eye.

The challenges remain, from the payroll that will still trail the Dodgers and Giants by millions to the altitude that makes pitching in Colorado difficult and can make hitters believe they need a different approach on the road from the one they use at home.

It’s not impossible for the Rockies to win. They went all the way to the World Series in 2007.

Ten years later, they won’t be the preseason favorites to get there again. But at the very least, they seem headed in the right direction.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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