But If You're a Glass Half Full Guy, These Are Compliments
by Mark T.R. Donohue
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.