DENVER - If ifs, ands and buts were candy and nuts, the Rockies would bake a sweet cake as NL West champions in 2014.
The Rockies are 21 seasons young. They are legal now. If they want to be taken seriously - as a franchise with winning aspirations, not just party plans - they need to be relevant when Peyton Manning and the Broncos kick off in September.
No one does ifs better than Rockies ownership. But we will try. If some of - not all of - these ifs come true, the Rockies will contend for the NL West title in 2014:
- If the Dodgers leave their wallet in El Segundo.
- If the Padres get the 2013 Chase Headley instead of the 2012 Chase Headley. The former Fountain-Fort Carson valedictorian blasted 31 home runs and ranked fifth in MVP voting in '12. He regressed last season, with half as many home runs and RBIs.
- If the Giants continue getting old, and they are.
- If the Diamondbacks break their postseason trend. The D'Backs reached the playoffs in 2002, then again five years later (2007), then again four years later (2011). This season would mark three years since their last trip.
- If the Rockies find a capable back end to the starting rotation. Last season the trio at the top - Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Tyler Chatwood - was solid gold. Nos. 4 and 5 were solid mold.
- If Jonathan Gray is on the fast track to the big leagues. The third pick in the 2013 draft, Gray went 4-0 with a 1.93 in the low minors last summer. Gray can be great.
- If the Rockies settle on D.J. LeMahieu at the leadoff spot. With heavy bats trailing the No. 1 spot - Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Wilin Rosario - the Rockies should value the toughest out over base-stealing speed at the top of the order. LeMahieu struck out only three times in his first 42 spring-training at-bats.
- If Corey Dickerson continues his hotness from spring training, Walt Weiss has two options for the leadoff spot. The ex-Sky Sox hovered around .360 at Salt River Fields.
- If the Rockies do, in fact, possess the sixth-best core in baseball. That was the appraisal in an enlightening study by ESPN.com writer Dave Schoenfield, who ranked each team according to its five core players. (Chacin, Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Nolan Arenado and Juan Nicasio formed the Rockies' core.) Of the top 10 teams on his list, eight made the playoffs in 2013. The Rockies and Rangers didn't.
- If that's true - and the Rockies own a playoff-caliber core - it sure doesn't reflect well on their operation as a whole. If we believe the report, the problem isn't paying their best players; it's scouting and developing the appropriate depth around them.
- If Roy Oswalt was correct. The veteran pitcher told me late last season the Rockies underachieved (en route to a 74-88 record) and were simply unlucky with injuries and close losses. "This is a good locker room with good leadership," he said.
- If the Rockies stop stinking up LoDo. In 18 of 21 seasons, they missed the playoffs. They finished below .500 in each of the past three seasons. They finished last in the NL West the past two seasons. The players know what they're doing, but does ownership?