Monthly archives: February 2007
Turning an Eye to the Roster
Here's a silver lining in the Rockies' most recent rebuilding plan: continuity. Yes, I understand that in order to rebuild one must first have been built. Poor choice of words on my part. But you know what I mean. In any event, if you'd asked me October 1st, 2006 what the Rockies' 2007 Opening Day lineup was going to be, I would have said something like this:
CF Cory Sullivan
And that might have been wishful thinking on my part, hoping against logic that Jennings was going to get a contract extension. In any event seven of nine is pretty good (with Cory Sullivan moving aside for Willy Taveras, acquired from the Astros when Jennings was sent on his merry way). Major questions remain as to how the Colorado bench will be constituted, what the pecking order in the bullpen will be, and who among several candidates will fill in the back of the rotation, but that's true of pretty much every team beginning play today in Arizona and Florida. So if we replace Sullivan's name with Taveras's and Jennings' with Aaron Cook's (Cook gets the Opening Day start over Jeff Francis due to seniority, not because that's how I would do it but because I suspect that's how Clint Hurdle will), how confident are we as of today that that is our lineup? I would say better than fifty-fifty, but for the sake of an argument let's take a look at what might change and why.
The Matsui question. The Rockies didn't pick up Kaz Matsui from the Mets last season to be an end-of-the-bench player. If he hadn't shown Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd something down the stretch last year, he wouldn't be back in Denver. Colorado is exhibiting uncharacteristic self-awareness by not expecting as much (five homers!) from Jamey Carroll as they got last year. Matsui if he plays to his potential would provide the Rockies with a power/speed combo good enough to push their infield from promising to genuinely good. The bench, an open sore last year, will be much better with Carroll in the super-utility role for which he is best suited. But Matsui, as his whole unpleasant experience in New York indicates, is a fragile soul. This is his last chance to change the minds of a whole country's worth of baseball fans before packing it in and going back to finish his career in Japan. He could seize this opportunity, as he certainly tried to do in his first few months with the Rockies, or he could fold like the Rocky Mountain News frustratingly won't do. The guy who has to be crossing his fingers and toes in the hopes that Matsui crashes and burns is Clint Barmes, who isn't going to wrestle the starting shortstop job away from Troy Tulowitzki and hasn't been prudently messing around with an outfielder's glove the way Carroll has this spring. I don't know about May 1st, but Matsui should definitely be the Rockies' Opening Day starter. He has a knack for hitting homers in his first at-bat of a season.
Gotta be centerfield. Just when you thought we'd be in for a trying year of sub-.300 OBPs and double-digit caught-stealing totals from the non-dynamic pairing of Taveras and Sullivan, the Rockies added the weatherbeaten Steve Finley when it became clear no other team was going to offer the 42-year-old a contract. Colorado has nothing to lose with Finley, who was overused and finished-looking last year with the Giants. Alexis Gomez, last year seen by many as the final incontrovertible proof of Jim Leyland's overwhelming genius (but you and I know better), is in the mix as well. One of the group of Sullivan, Gomez, and Finley isn't going to make it out of camp, and I suspect the burden of proof lies upon Sullivan, who has had more than ample opportunity to lock down a regular's job the last two years. The Rockies' best bet offensively might be to figure out which of the group of Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, and Jeff Baker would be least exposed defensively in center (says here Baker, although he's barely been an outfielder for a year), use Willy T. as a glovely replacement and pinch-runner, and keep Finley around as the principle lefty bat off the bench. Sadly, no matter who wins the Finley/Sullivan/Gomez cage fight, I expect we're going to have to live with Taveras starting and hitting leadoff at least until he loses himself the job.
Catch me if you can. Speaking of guys you thought retired four years ago, Javy Lopez is in Rockies camp this spring. Yes, that Javy Lopez. While the Finley signing makes sense since even Julio Franco would be an upgrade on the weak sticks the Rockies have in center, Colorado already has a pretty nifty up-and-coming catching platoon with Iannetta and Yorvit Torrealba. If the latter, who definitely showed flashes in 2006, has a good spring he could certainly seize the majority of April's playing time. It's not like Clint Hurdle to hand a job to anybody, although the Rockies certainly expect the world of Iannetta starting right now. Hurdle can also get a little overexcited about his own cleverness sometimes, and there's no greater siren's call for self-styled clever managers than the allure of carrying three catchers. Last year Hurdle persuaded Eli Marrero, who hadn't caught in years, to don the tools of ignorance a couple of times while Colorado was still nominally in the NL West race. Of course, Marrero had already proven his mettle as an acceptable backup outfielder and first baseman to make the roster. I don't know what Lopez is other than an ex-catcher. While open competition seems like just what the doctor ordered for the center field quagmire, the best thing for all parties involved here would be for Iannetta to grab a hold of the job with both hands and not look back.
1:05 today, Rockies and White Sox. Aaron Cook will take the mound for Colorado. Wow, somebody is taking the mound today! Let the wildly disproportionate celebrations begin! Sadly, although you can watch live coverage of today's FA Cup tie between Arsenal and Blackburn or the all-day NFL Network feed from the scouting combine taking place at the same time, the baseball game today isn't on local TV. Oh well.
If you haven't checked out my "American Idol" musings over on Western Homes yet, now's as good a time as any. Seldom has so much thought gone into something so mindless.
Three Quick Thoughts in Descending Order According to Relevance
1) I read today in the Colorado Daily that Alan Roach, who has been the Rockies' PA announcer since their inaugural season in 1993, is retiring. In his honor, for the rest of the year whenever we discuss Brad Hawpe, let us say his name in the manner Roach did. For some reason Roach, who extended out every other Colorado player's name in the traditionally dramatic stadium announcer manner ("shortstop Cliiiiint Barrrr-MEZZZZZZZZZZZ!"), was tickled by the economy of Hawpe's moniker and always tried to get it out as fast as possible. The trick is to make it sound like more than one syllable and less than two. "Bru(dd)p!"
2) It's an absolute travesty that Ron Santo has been left out in the cold by the Hall of Fame voters again. They should all be fired, or at least prohibited from profiting from the autograph show opportunities they so greedily protect, for repeatedly breaking the heart of one of the great living figures in the game. And one of the best third basemen who ever played, let's not forget.
3) It was trying watching the Chicago Bulls get taken to school by Darko Milicic and the Orlando Magic last night, the team's complete and utter lack of a post game being made miserably clear just days after the trade deadline came and went with Chicago doing nothing to address their obvious area of need. However, I wouldn't have traded Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas, P.J. Brown, and the Knicks' #1 pick for Pau Gasol either. I'm not unconvinced that Deng isn't the best player in that deal right now and he definitely has the most upside going forward, with due respect to the staggering and completely unfinished skill set of Thomas. A lot of writers from Chicago and otherwise have ripped the Bulls for not pulling the trigger, but I don't think the difference between making the NBA Finals and losing (which would be no guarantee with Gasol on board and isn't impossible with the roster as presently constructed, assuming Andres Nocioni gets fully healthy in time for the playoffs) and making a second- or third-round exit is as big as they assume. The four or five best teams in the league are all in the West this year and I don't buy into the theory that whomever survives the rugged Western Conference playoffs will be weakened for the Finals. Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix, or even Houston or Utah operating at 80% would still whip the Pistons, Bulls, Cavs, Wizards or whomever manages to claim the Eastern Conference title and booby prize. The Bulls are better off staying young in a conference that doesn't have many teams on the rise past Orlando and Toronto, who have only emerged ahead of schedule thanks to a historically bad Atlantic Division.
Spirit Journey Formation Anniversary
Hey, everybody, it's my birthday! Let's all raise a glass of something to 27 action-packed years of Mark. For a baseball fan, you can't pick a better time to have been born than right on the eve of Spring Training games. Each year of your life you can replay the seven ages of man through the drama of the baseball season. Plus (I realized quite early on), my birthdate is close enough to Christmas that I can combine them for megapresents if need be but not so close that it leads to single-gift corner-cutting like that with which my poor sister Ellie (Dec. 19) has to contend.
I was going to write a whole list of things that I want from the Rockies this year, but I realized that I don't want that much, really. I accept that this isn't the year they go for the gusto, and I can't really blame them for making that decision. I'm going to continue to be bitter about the Jason Jennings trade, but my rational self realizes that management was trapped in a corner. Jennings wasn't going to re-sign period and anyone with half a brain and a USA Today sports section knows the market for free agents pitchers is trending through the stratosphere. If you balance risk and reward as do all baseball teams, being businesses, you realize that the team's very tiny shot at a division title or a wild card with Jennings in the fold for his walk year is overwhelmingly outweighed by the negative scenario where the Rockies with Jennings go 82-80 and Colorado uses their compensation picks from Jennings' departure to draft yet still more "signability" guys. I'm savvy to this industry.
So here it is, all I want for my birthday besides the 12-string guitar and Netflix subscription I already got from my folks: one more win. One more win! Last year the target I set for the Rockies was 75 wins and they covered with a tip, winning 76. So this year, I want to see them win 77 games. Am I being too realistic? Isn't part of the fun of a fan the freedom to dream, to hope big hopes, and all that jazz? I think not. When you reduce everything down to a single number, 76 to 77 seems like standing still. But, when you consider the number of positions that Colorado has yet to stabilize going into this season, I think that that one win represents a ton of progress. 77 wins in 2007 would mean that the Rockies somehow found a way to get production out of shortstop, right field, and catcher, most likely in the guises of Troy Tulowitkzi, Jeff Baker, and Chris Iannetta. All of these guys are under team control and cheap for years to come. 77 wins would also mean that the rotation without Jennings' hugely underrated stabilizing presence managed to at least scrape along at league-average or so level. The beachhead that the Rockies established last year towards the cause of a competent rotation is one I would hate to see overran. Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook will be good barring injury. If the Rockies win more this year than they did last year, it'll mean that someone else from their stew of possibles won a starting job and kept it by merit rather than default. It'll mean guys like Ramon Ramirez, Garrett Atkins, and Jamey Carroll consolidated on their good seasons in 2006 and established themselves as bona fide winning players.
77 wins in 2007 mostly would mean that being wildly enthusiastic about 2008 would not be nearly such a stretch. More players will be coming of age, Jason Hirsh will fill our rotation's Jason vacuum, and Matt Holliday will get so excited about the idea of playoff baseball in Denver that he'll re-sign at a ridiculous discount, helped along by a magical accountancy vortex that travels back in time and makes Todd Helton's contract an entirely reasonable one for a still-productive but no longer dominant veteran and clubhouse leader. Dare to hope, Rockies fans!
Stop the Insanit-"C"
Clearly this post comes too late, but I wish to speak out on a topic to which I'm deeply sensitive. My name is "Mark Donohue." As it happens, both my family name and my given name have very common alternate spellings. This has been a source of frustration to me since I was old enough to read. Flipping through my parents' mail, seeing things addressed to the "Donahues" drove me halfway up the wall. That's not our name! During my tenure at UC Berkeley's student newspaper I spend a wildly disproportionate amount of office time tracking down the copy editors and layout guys who would repeatedly (and entirely innocently) change my byline from "Donohue" to "Donahue" and raging at them impotently. There was no kind of malicious plot against mine and my family's good name; it was just one of those things. In most desktop publishing software it's much more efficient to retype very short bits of text like bylines and photo captions than it is to cut and paste them from the text files sent down from editorial. Subconsciously guys would read "Donohue" as "Donahue." It's an easy mistake to make and it's not helped along much by the fact that the most famous Donahue in this country spells his name with the "a." (This is a terrible reason to secretly root for the malicious, freedom-hating Catholic League and its figurehead William Donohue, but maybe I'm not such a nice person.)
And don't even get me started on Marcus or Marc-with-a-"c." Those are not my name. I'm a little obsessed with my own identity and I can get irrationally protective about it sometimes. Also, spelling and grammar errors really bother me. There's such an overall lack of professionalism and personal pride in so much modern journalism that it sometimes makes me reconsider law school. At least then I'd be gettin' paid.
Anyway, I direct you to Athlon Sports' Baseball 2007 preview magazine, where on page 76 "Jason Hirsch...projects to be a front-of-the-rotation starter" and on page 77 opposite "Jason Hirsh went 2-1, 3.58 in his final six outings for Houston." Jason, I feel your pain, buddy. We're not going to allow this to stand, at least as far as Bad Altitude is concerned.
Definitively: There is no "c" in Jason Hirsh's surname. There may well be a Jason Hirsch in the United States, probably several; but none of them are rotation candidates for the '07 Rockies. That guy is Jason Hirsh. No "c." Get it right or pay the price, professional baseball writers.
(If anyone wants to write a screenplay about a "Carnivàle"-styled final battle between a protagonist loosely based on me and a satanic Randall Flagg-esque Marc R.T. Donahue character, be my guest. I would totally go see that movie. I feel somehow that Marc R.T. would be a Reds fan, but I can't pin down precisely why exactly.)
Water Torture Weekend
There are a couple of really terrible sports weekends on the calendar, but I feel fairly confident that whichever weekend the NBA All-Star Game falls on takes the biscuit each and every year. This Sunday's viewing options included the game itself, which I happily napped through the entirety of, plus a golf tournament Tiger Woods wasn't playing in (pointless), regular season college basketball (way pointless), and that thing with the cars (not a sport). Honestly, the only thing I saw on TV all Sunday that recalled the flames of true athletic competition was the hungry look in the eyes of all the Japanese reporters surrounding Daisuke Matsuzaka at Red Sox camp.
I'm starting to feel a little sorry for A-Rod. Not a lot, just a little. No one is on the man's side. Yankees fans love Derek Jeter and hate A-Rod; Yankees haters hate Derek Jeter...and hate A-Rod. It's funny how this works. He has to have a fanbase somewhere, right? For a couple of months recently my local Safeway stocked two and only two different-sized boxes of Wheaties, one slightly bigger with A-Rod and one slightly smaller with Steve Nash. Despite the fact the larger box is clearly the better value, I have been buying slightly less cost-effective Steve Nash Wheaties since before the World Series. A-Rod Wheaties I feel would taste funny.
The Rockies organization has long had a close relationship with the newspapers in Denver. Sure, once or twice a season a columnist for the Post or News will repost the usual list of complaints (the team is terrible and no one in Colorado except me cares about them) but these pieces always read like retreads, while the wit and vigor given to the daily spirited defense of ownership's thirty-year plan (in the second fifteen years of existence, win two playoff games) make you wonder where and when exactly the fix came in and how you yourself could get in on the action a little. And of course by "you" I mean "me." Anyway the upshot of the good working relationship between the current Colorado braintrust and the local print media is useful sometimes. The Monforts are kind of graceless operators, true, but if you scan the sports pages in Denver at least twice a week you can't really complain about any Rockies news coming out of left field. The Monforts have let "leak" their desire to trade Todd Helton at least once a month for several seasons now; in a perfect world they'd have found their patsy to dump Helton on by now and we'd be done with it. But it wouldn't have come as any kind of surprise.
If you've been scanning the news (and if you haven't, here am I to perform the function for you) you've probably noticed a developing trend in local baseball stories. At the very outset of the offseason, the word on the street was that both Dan O'Dowd and Clint Hurdle would need the 2007 Rockies to substantially exceed expectations to keep their jobs. This was less a message trickling out from headquarters than simple common sense. O'Dowd and Hurdle have gotten more time than most. They haven't accomplished much of anything, unless you count O'Dowd's Mike Hampton signing and Hurdle's pursuit of the National League record for most baserunners sacrificed to second and then stranded.
The message changed though, after a few weeks, to the strange and somewhat intermediary "un-handcuffing" step. You may remember these stories. They said that both O'Dowd and Hurdle were to be "evaluated" in 2007, but the firing of one would not necessarily come hand in hand with the dismissal of the other. This seemed at the time a strange thing to take pains to announce. It's certainly not uncommon for unsuccessful teams to launch housecleaning efforts that jettison managers, general managers, coaching staffs, and scouts all at once. Nor does it say anywhere in the rules that if your GM goes, the manager has to as well. Or vice versa. It seems kind of strange for the owners of a team, whom by definition already have the right to fire any or all employees in their organization as they see fit, to announce that they have the right to fire or not fire these two specific guys. It should go without saying.
Now it seems like the full story is finally emerging. Charlie Monfort on O'Dowd, in the Post: "I think you will see him as a our GM for quite awhile." The extrapolation here, or at least what ran on the national baseball rumor sites, is that O'Dowd's job is safe and Hurdle's, well, ain't necessarily so. Monfort Dick attempts to cover his brother's tracks a little in the most recent Post bit, but you know what they say about the appearance of smoke implying the presence of fire.
I've been following the organization for longer than a little while now, and I feel fairly safe making a guess here. Here goes: O'Dowd gets an extension, and the chance to handpick a new manager, after this season. Unlike Hurdle, O'Dowd has some real accomplishments to which he can point. The Rockies' last few drafts before last year's were excellent. Cheap productive guys like Brian Fuentes and Jamey Carroll show up on the roster every year. While it wasn't my favorite deal ever, by general acclaim the haul O'Dowd pulled in for Jason Jennings was a big plus for the Rockies. Anyway, you can construct a case for O'Dowd that nobody else could do his job any better than he's doing it. Many guys could do much worse. Building a .500 team for $40 million is kind of an accomplishment, I guess. There are certainly plenty of franchises spending more money to win fewer games.
But Hurdle. What's he bringing to the table, besides the soul patch and the hot daughter from his first marriage? Lots of bunts, pretty much, and a certain indelicacy when it comes to making pitching changes that the Rockies have not yet been good enough for it to really hurt them. The Monforts' propaganda arm has stressed that the team will bunt less in 2007, which is kind of taking Clint down a peg right out of the box. Hurdle, like O'Dowd, is under contract only through the end of this next season. If the Rockies have another seventy-five win season (which they almost certainly will; the team's incremental gains on offense and in the bullpen for next season are almost perfectly counterbalanced by what they've lost in the rotation), it seems highly likely that some kind of change will be made, if only for appearances' sake. The 2007 Rockies could very easily have a terrific year for O'Dowd -- say, Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Ianetta both establish themselves as real-deal regulars and Jason Hirsh is in the rotation to stay by September -- and a terrible year for Hurdle. I don't even want to start catastrophizing here (the spectre of Willy Taveras getting caught stealing 40 times is creeping across the back panel of my mind), but you can see how the team could make quote-unquote organizational progress in 2007 while stagnating on the more bottom-line goal of maybe trying to win a couple more games than they have the last few seasons.
I don't think managers matter a whole lot, and while they don't seem at first analysis to have a lot in common ideologically, O'Dowd and Hurdle seem to have a functioning working relationship. That is more than you can say for a lot of GM/manager combos in the game. Should ownership just go ahead and extend them both for two or three years now? Well, what's the rush? The dynamic Monforts argue, in the article linked above, that they wouldn't want either guy's contract status becoming a "distraction" in the upcoming season. I don't know about that. This is Rockies baseball, not Dallas Cowboys football. No one is obsessing over who will hold the reins in Denver year after next. Very, very few of the people who will buy tickets to Rockies games this year are even aware of who is allegedly holding the reins now. Like me, I don't think they'd mind a dramatic decrease in sacrifice attempts in 2008. But the major reason to leave Hurdle dangling is simpler still. There always exists the remote possibility that Ozzie Guillen might become available.
In my view there are three kinds of managers: the awful ones who are actually able to make their teams worse through careful application of effort, the ones who make absolutely no difference at all, and the ones who make absolutely no difference at all but are amusing public speakers. Hurdle is in one of the first two categories for sure. Let's try and get an Ozzie. It would make my job way easier.
Elsewhere: The Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers breaks down the NL West. I noted from this story that Chin-Hui Tsao, who still has a lot of well-wishers among the Rockies faithful, is attempting to come back from the shoulder injury that ended his Colorado career with the Dodgers. Tsao probably could have made things easier on himself by choosing a less pitching-rich organization...meaning pretty much anybody BUT the Dodgers. Well, good luck anyway. Also, make sure to pay close attention to all Rockies entries in these season preview-type things, because nobody fact-checks the bottom feeders. Rogers, who's usually pretty sharp, names Sunny Kim as a rotation candidate for the Rockies...not Byung-Hyun Kim, the pitching Kim the team actually re-signed. Sun-Woo Kim is in Giants camp this spring.
In One Sense at Least, We Lap the Field
While Major League Baseball will not this year mandate that all of its 30 teams must apply the same baseball-storage practices that the Rockies use, the league is definitely moving in that direction. Among the interesting tidbits contained within this Thomas Harding piece is the humidor's sobering pricetag ($15,000) and the fact that MLB authorities apparently come and check the balls at Coors all the time during the season to make sure the Rockies aren't doing anything untoward. Nevertheless, it must come as a great relief to all involved parties that Jeff Cirillo is now a Twin and won't visit Coors in 2007.
Between the humidor and the breakthrough work the team's staff has done loading game film onto video iPods, the Rockies are turning into the leading-edge team in the league when it comes to baseball technology. I mean, that's pretty cool. Sure, most of the players themselves on the team don't believe now that dinosaurs existed, but when we get that Jurassic Park mojo working, Colorado is going to be the first team in the majors with its own brachiosaur lounging beyond the outfield fence.
I just realized, looking at my schedule to double check that the Rockies don't play Minnesota this year, that the Yankee games at Coors this season have been completely set apart with their own color code and (of course) a base group of ticket prices that's even more premium than "classic," which in turn is dearer than mere "premium." It's not the price-fixing that bothers me, or even restricting it to just one team. Indeed, the tickets designated "classic" in Denver the last few seasons have always meant the same five games -- Opening Day, the 4th of July, and the three Cub games. This year they're doing two fireworks games, the 3rd and the 4th, and the Cardinals have been promoted to "classic"-hood, presumably because they won the World Series. If rank and file Colorado citizens want to continue limiting their interest in live baseball to two holidays and a cameo series or two from MLB's glamorous elite per season, then they deserve to be subjected to such profiteering.
But in the interests of organizational self-respect...did they have to call the games against the Yankees "Yankees games?" Couldn't they have called them "super premium" or "classic revised" or even the "pinstripe series" (which would be clever, see, since the Yankees' road uniforms don't have pinstripes and the Rockies' home uniforms do) or words to that effect? Anything besides "Yankees games?" Because here's how it looks if you're just glancing at the pricing chart:
YANKEES > classic > premium > value
That's right! They're the Yankees! They're better than classic. I hate this because it reminds me of ESPN's official hierarchy, which all of their baseball guys carry around on little laminated wallet cards:
YANKEES > Red Sox > Cubs, Mets, Dodgers > the rest of the teams that make the playoffs regularly > NHRA time trials > team handball > Rockies
Well, to be fair, the Rockies aren't at the absolute bottom of the totem pole. The Royals have the misfortune of being both pathologically terrible and situated in a division with no glamour teams. Colorado could end up being on national TV rather a lot this season if any of their series with the Giants happen to overlap with numerologically significant Barry Bonds homers. But just the same, motherbleep the bleeping Yankees. You know I have nothing but respect for legitimate Yankee fans, who are knowledgeable and devoted to a degree no Rockies fans and few Bronco fans even approach. But c'mon. Your team has won twenty-six championships; my team has won one playoff game. Ever. Now I am expected to pay an inflated price to see my home ballpark, the closest thing to a holy place in my godless existence, transformed into a three-day Bronx Zoo, mile-high edition? Motherbleep the bleeping Yankees.
Or The Hamster Wheel
Writing in the Post, the redoubtable Troy E: "...Monfort told me recently that it's unlikely Colorado will keep its kids beyond arbitration, replacing the most pricey with a new wave of Toddlers. In Oakland, this is known as the Menudo rule. When guys get a certain age, they have to leave the band." That's what I'm worried about. When I was in college I followed the A's very closely and it was a little disheartening to see all of these excellent players (particularly Miguel Tejada) leave all the time. But Oakland has uncommonly good judgement about when to let go of guys. The Rockies on the other hand haven't had many guys who were good enough to resent losing. It's not like Preston Wilson and Shawn Chacon are tearing it up for other teams now. That's changing, which is a good step. Better to have good players and lose them than never have good players at all. But the issue is whether the Rockies can ever hold on to enough good players at any one time to win a substantial number of games. It's possible to win on the Oakland/Minnesota model of constantly cycling out older, expensive players and replacing them with younger, cheaper ones but it allows for a rather small margin of error, one the Colorado franchise has never quite shown the cleverness at which to operate.
Should I be worried that my favorite English soccer team is being bought by the same knucklehead who engaged himself in a ruinous bidding war with...himself before finally signing Alex Rodriguez? It's too late, I already am. In Dallas the spin is about how Hicks' third major sports franchise purchase won't effect the Rangers or Stars, but it might be better for them both if he got real interested in looking for the next A-Rod contract in European football. From a Liverpool perspective, the new ownership could either be disastrous or a lamentable but necessary evil.
Liverpool hasn't won more Premiership titles than anyone else, as the Morning News article linked above erroneously claims. In fact, they haven't won any. (The Premiership has only been around since 1992. Liverpool has won 18 Football League First Division titles, which I'm sure is what they meant, but details count.) In any event, they're the Yankees of English soccer, until as of late when they've been more like the Blue Jays. That's the catch with Tom Hicks and co-owner George Gillett Jr.'s purchase of Livepool FC. Liverpool has been subject to a lot of third- and fourth-place finishes in recent years with the out-of-control spending binges the foreign owners of Chelsea (Russian Roman Abramovich) and Manchester United (American Malcolm Glazer) have brought to the league. It's harsh to compare Liverpool to the Orioles, but Arsenal, the other major player in the EPL, competes more consistently in a similar financial situation. Both teams are willing to spend what it costs to win championships and expect to do so, but within budget constraints. Think of the Braves or the Cardinals. Manchester United is more like the Mets or Red Sox, who might have theoretical limits but are constrained by them quite loosely. Chelsea on the other hand spends with complete illiberal glee, assembling fabulously costly, inefficient but monstrously effective rosters of pedigreed superplayers. I can't think of an MLB comparison for them.
In order to compete with the financial head starts Man U and Abramovich's goofy fantasy league team get and Arsenal's better management and coaching (and presently, talent), Liverpool needs more cash, and the North American guys clearly have money to burn. The team has been disproportionately successful in tournament play in the last few years, winning two major cups in as many years, but the real prize is a Premier League title, and there's no shortcuts to those. Brutally but elegantly, the EPL has no playoffs -- the team with the best regular season record wins. You have to have both frontline talent and extreme depth to grind out the lengthy, 38-game Premier League schedule, especially when your season is regularly interrupted by another dozen or more games in league and European cup tournaments. The club's recent strategy has been to concentrate on winning the less depth-taxing tourneys, but if the Hicks group wishes to win over Liverpool's fanbase quickly, the best thing they could do would be to win the league next year. They have some problems right now but it's nothing $252 million or so can't fix, I'm sure.
I know I often get cynical about all of the spin every party involved in every major sports story puts on...well, everything, but sometimes legalese can be music to my heart. Check out what Tyrus Thomas is quoted as "saying" by the ESPN article regarding his large team fine for his ill-judged comments about participating in the slam dunk contest just for the money. The writer obviously is quoting the press release that Thomas's representatives have composed on his behalf, but it's still funny to visualize Tyrus Thomas actually verbalizing the following: "I truly feel honored to be invited to participate in this year's slam dunk contest...I regret the extent to which my comments indicate otherwise." I regret the extent to which my comments indicate otherwise! There's a neck tattoo for you!
But If You're a Glass Half Full Guy, These Are Compliments
Maybe I'm just sensitized to immediately direct my reading attention to any mentions of humidors or Kaz Matsui I happen to see, but this last week has been strange. Normally, there just isn't any offseason news about the Rockies. And that's fine. Makes my job a lot easier. But this week has been weird. There have been an unusually high number of Colorado-related news items in the "rumor mill" sections of your various national online sports hubs, but the "news" has been 100% smoke. No Helton to Boston, no Helton to Baltimore. No Helton to Anaheim for that matter. No center fielder, unless you count Willy Taveras, which we don't. Nothing but ominous silence on the Matt Holliday extension front.
There was that announcement from ownership that Dan O'Dowd's job is not necessarily handcuffed to Clint Hurdle's (although, really, who could bear to break up that duo), but that was not a surprise exactly. The mystery is more what the organization thought it had to gain; I highly doubt there are a lot of Rockies fans who love O'Dowd and hate Hurdle or vice versa. Personally I think O'Dowd is better at his job than Hurdle is at his, but that's not saying a great deal, and I tend to side with Billy Beane on the whole ultimate value of managers question. Basically managers have three tasks. One is to try not to bat a guy with an OBP below .300 leadoff every single day if at all possible. Then again, this might not be so important, even, since smarter guys than I are always doing studies saying lineup order makes little to no difference. I'm just mentioning it because I can see how this particular stratagem might prove a particular challenge for Clint and Willy T this season.
But the two really important things, you know them, say them with me, are to not antagonize your superstar players unless they're already too far gone to notice and to be able to recognize within a reasonably expert margin of error when your starting pitcher is out of gas. This first one shouldn't be too hard for Hurdle since the Rockies don't have any stars and are (if you believe everything that you read) all avid prayer-group buddies anyway. As for the second? Well, Colorado didn't do a very efficient job of turning solid starts into wins either of the past two seasons, but it's hard to blame Hurdle specifically for this. The bullpen has been a work in progress, and the offense has been very reliably disappointing. I'm sure you could search through my archives and find many specific examples of me laying the fault for an ignoble defeat directly at the skip's door, but you know, he's not so bad. Players seem to like him. He promised he was going to bunt less in 2007 too. At this point, I can't imagine a scenario under which O'Dowd stays with the Rockies and Hurdle doesn't, but ownership's weird announcement (what's it supposed to do, light a fire under both guys to constantly try and undercut the positive contributions of the other?) has to make you backtrack for a second.
I don't know why exactly, but Dan O'Dowd has a generally positive reputation among people who know enough baseball to know who he is and what he's done. On the other hand I don't think anyone, possibly save for members of his immediate family, has passionate feelings one way or the other about Clint Hurdle. ESPN has this thing where you can rate all the current managers in baseball, 1-30. It's pretty hard to match a face to every number. Sure, you get Joe Torre in there at #1 and Jim Leyland at #30, then just fill in all the active guys who have won the World Series at least once to round out the top ten, and then what? There are like 18 completely generic managers in Major League Baseball right now. It wasn't always this way. Of course, there used to be fewer teams. The Rockies, Devil Rays, and Diamondbacks have all been unusually quick studies when it comes to identifying and employing generic managerial talent (with the few "name" exceptions being colossal failures, see Leyland in Colorado and Lou Piniella in St. Pete). The problem really is that inescapably constant media coverage has driven the Bobby Valentines and Billy Martins and Lee Elias out of the game. Most of the irascible, came-up-by-their-bootstraps, obscenity-fountain managers are out of the game. Pity. Since managers don't really have all that much to do, would you rather have them stay quiet and out of the way or fill all of that undefined job space with furious and counterproductive publicity stunts? Duh! We need more Ozzie Guillens. And not just in baseball. I just had to go to the vehicle emissions testing place earlier this afternoon, and let me tell you, I was bored waiting all that time in that narrow, poorly ventilated little waiting room. They had a little film about environmentalism playing, but Ozzie(s) would have been so much better.
Josh Fogg is back in the fold and the price is right; 1 year, $3.625 million. That's not bad at all. I think last offseason I was aiming for a tone of exhaustion every time I said you could do a lot worse than Josh Fogg for a fifth starter. Things have changed. We live in a post-Meche universe, and you totally can do a lot worse than Josh Fogg for a fifth starter. Beyond and besides, the Rockies aren't guaranteeing Fogg or anybody else that last starting spot. The last two spots, really, are pretty much up for open competition. The Post writes lately that Rodrigo Lopez is the #3 guy for sure, but I have my doubts about how firm that placement really might be. The Rockies don't owe Lopez anything in particular (if anyone, you'd think they'd be loyal to Fogg and Byung-Hyun Kim, who were pretty rugged in thankless roles on a bad team last year) and also he's not head and shoulders better than the rest of the rabble (Brian Lawrence, Jason Hirsh, Oscar Rivera). Details at this point are not important. Indeed, the whole strength of the smorgasbord approach to rotation construction is that if one guy goes down or is just too unspeakably horrible even for Denver pitching ('round here, we call that "Chaconing") there's always a couple more candidates. It was kind of surprising that Colorado made it through all of 2006 using as few starters as they did. 11 guys made starts for the Rockies last year, but the raw number doesn't tell the whole story. Fully five of those starters made one and only one such appearance. Then Zach Day made three. So there were only eight games all season that weren't started by one of the group of Jason Jennings, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Byung-Hyun Kim, and Josh Fogg.
O'Dowd assumed, and so did I, that between Fogg, Kim, Day, and Miguel Asencio, he'd get a rotation together that at least wouldn't feature twin black eyes like the deadly '05 Joe Kennedy-Jamey Wright pairing. Neither of us smart baseball guys figured that the Rockies would basically get it right on the first try, with Day immediately proving ineffective and Asencio never really being needed. That won't happen again this year. Last season was a little peculiar because while Colorado was (and is) on the whole a very young organization it had basically zero starting pitching prospects who were ready to be evaluated on the big league level last year. That's not the case now. Hirsh is going to get his chances sooner or later, and there's also Taylor Buchholz's rehabilitation to be taken into consideration. Plus the homegrown guys who were a long way away in '06 (Jimenez, Morillo) are much closer now. The Rockies have a ton of options, which is cool. If they had Jason Jennings and a ton of options, I'd feel much healthier about this next season. But you've heard all of this stuff from me before.
I don't even know how to set up these Ringolsby things. You know the way certain European countries have laws that limit free speech in order to suppress certain historically destructive ideologies? The state of Colorado needs a baseball writing law making it some sort of punishable offense to state that the Rockies' rebuilding project is going ahead according to schedule. No. It isn't. Indeed, in order to rebuild you must first have built something and the evidence that this ever happened in Denver with a baseball franchise is sketchy indeed. Well, anyway. Tracy says: "The question is whether the Rockies will step up if a player such as Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter or Vernon Wells becomes available." Bad Altitude will provide not just the question, but an answer as well. The answer is no.
Not trying to win, but at least ticket prices won't rise (again)
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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