Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Their Young Guys Can Beat Up Our Young Guys
2007-05-25 11:27
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Rockies are going to fire Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd. It's going to happen. Not as soon as you or I would like, but the team is obviously really bad, worse than they were the last two years, and ownership will have to eat their mind-bogglingly stupid contract extensions handed out at the dawn of this season to save face after the inevitable fire sale and 100-loss meltdown. So what are the guys who inherit this mess going to do? I think it's important to not oversimplify things. Yes, Colorado absolutely needs to spend more money than they have in the last several seasons. But that doesn't mean they should just go out and plop $150 million down on, say, Torii Hunter. It'd be a nice burst of headlines and would create a little fan goodwill going into the 2008 season, but just like the signings of 2000-01, that would all evaporate as soon as the team went out on the field and was bad again. Which they would be.

The Rockies are short about three starting pitchers and if and when they trade Brian Fuentes they won't have a single reliable reliever in the main phase of his career. They also will need more offense up the middle and a first baseman with pop to replace Todd Helton. Lavishing money on one or two free agents is the not the right path for a team that, as we've noted, ranks in the bottom third in all three major elements of winning baseball -- offense, starting pitching, and relief pitching. (Their defense is quite good, but a good defense behind a hopeless pitching staff is as useless as an all-star closer at the back end of a bullpen that otherwise can't hold a lead to save its life.)

Colorado now will attempt to continue their recent hot streak (two whole wins in a row) in San Francisco against the Giants. The timing of this series, in which the Rockies will face off against two of the Giants' prize young starters, is interesting coming as it does after a trip to Phoenix where there's a 22-year-old genetic freak at seemingly every position on the diamond. I made a lot of noise in the preseason about Arizona's young talent being overrated while the Rockies' own youth movement was overlooked. Well, listen closely, because I promise you're not going to hear me say this very often: I was wrong. Arizona has the Rockies pipped in both depth and breakout potential, and while they're not a playoff team this year, they don't have to be having deep soul-searching discussions about whether everyone collecting a paycheck in the front office needs to be terminated with extreme prejudice. And now here's the Giants. You've heard it said a million times that San Francisco hasn't developed a hitting prospect in about fifteen years. Don't look now, but Fred Lewis (the guy who hit the cycle against the Rockies) in limited action has more impressive numbers than any of Colorado's first-year hitters. And the flipside: San Francisco's emphasis on drafting and developing pitchers to exclusion of all others has its benefits. Matt Cain and Noah Lowry, who will start Friday and Sunday against the Rockies, are money young hurlers, and we'll just miss phenom Tim Lincecum this time around. Had the Giants not traded Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser to the Twins, they'd be in really good shape.

Considering how long that Colorado has been bad, the amount of talent they've assembled isn't overwhelming. They've only stepped up to the plate and picked guys worthy of their high picks on a few occasions. The trouble with the MLB draft lately, one which some new rules have already been enacted to try and address, is that it's not so much an issue of having a high pick as having a willingness to spread some bonus money around. Colorado has only gotten on board with this in the last few years (Troy Tulowitzki would be a big success story... assuming he succeeds) and likewise they've only scratched the surface when it comes to signing international free agents. I'm not saying the farm system is a disaster. Too many experts rate it too highly. But under the current regime the Rockies need even more. If they're not going to spend any money on major league salaries except for Todd Helton's, they need a player like Miguel Cabrera or Albert Pujols who'll be a superstar from day one. There are a lot of guys on the major league roster now who might be good players one day. But waiting around for Jason Hirsh and Chris Iannetta to put it all together and crossing all of our fingers and toes in the hope that there will be a slight overlap between the time those guys get good and the slightly older, already good guys like Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins joyfully flee for the warm embrace of more competently run teams is a sucker's bet. Hang on, I'll make another rare admission. I've been one of those suckers. Well, no longer.

That's why we should have taken the Jason Jennings deal as more of a warning sign. Taylor Buchholz is damaged goods and you know how I feel about Willy Taveras, so the trade was basically one year of Jennings for six years of Jason Hirsh. That's a great deal... if your team has made the playoffs more recently than 1995. The O'Dowd administration has become so used to there being no sense of urgency upon the invisible Rockies franchise that all of these little, individually unobjectionable deals keep happening that push the eventual assembly of a genuinely competitive team further and further away.

And who knows, maybe there's something to the old-line baseball wisdom that in order to win you need a few major contributors who have been there before. The Rockies don't have anybody like that. Helton hasn't played a playoff game in his entire career. (Of course, Taveras hit .349 in the Astros' run to the 2005 World Series, but he doesn't count.) The reanimated postmortem remains of Steve Finley don't count either. The next general manager of the Rockies has to spread his hopefully increased budget around to many problem areas. He should keep some guys who have accomplished some measure of success as Rockies (like Matt Holliday and Aaron Cook), he should bring in some players who have accomplished real success elsewhere, and he should spend liberally in the draft and on international signings trying to get that elusive sub-million dollar superstar. Pitcher or batter, it doesn't matter.

Let's see... Jason Hirsh faces Matt Cain tonight, the resurgent Matt Morris will go against Aaron Cook Saturday, and Sunday's game features Josh Fogg and Noah Lowry. The Rockies will lose two of three.

2007-05-26 13:03:37
1.   sanchez101
I wouldn't be so willing to dismiss the notion of spending serious money on free agents as a way to get better. Detroit overpaid Ordonez on their way back to respectability. Colorado is going to have to caugh up more cash to get someone worth getting, that's a fact. But this offseason has some opportunities. It will be deep in CF', a significant need for Colorado. Sure, you'd have to pay someone like Torii Hunter more than most anyone else, but this team needs to get better not more cost-effective - otherwise you can just keep Tavares.

I think the key for Colorado is that they need to be willing to take some chances. They should've bit the bullet and traded Helton years ago, or taken Lincecum in last year's draft, or spend some money. The other thing that is obvious, but isn't mentioned enough, is that you have to make good decisions. If your going to take some chances, they have to work. If your going to spend your going to pay a premium b/c your Colorado so you have to make a good decision. You need to develop young talent so you have to draft well.

This, I assume, is the most frustrating aspect of the ODowd/Hurdle regime: no matter how well constructed their strategy/philosophy might be, it's about execution, you still have to make good decisions. They haven't for years - the Rockies need someone who can execute their plan well regardless of what plan they have.

2007-05-26 14:50:50
2.   Mark T.R. Donohue
Detroit already had Verlander, Bonderman, Maroth, Robertson, and Zumaya when they signed Magglio. And Detroit apparently had money to burn, as they signed Troy Percival that same offseason. The Rockies don't have the resources to swing and miss on free agents.
2007-05-26 18:15:31
3.   blade3colorado
I'll preface my comments by stating that I am a Giants fan, i.e., a job promotion sent me here in 1997 from CA. I like your blog; not only because you're knowledgeable about the Rockies and baseball in general, but also due to the fact that you don't evaluate the Rockies with "rose colored glasses" as do other die-hard fans, e.g., Purple Row. Actually, I'm sort of chuckling right now . . . I didn't even know there were sufficient fans to start (much less thrive) multiple Rockies blog sites. In short, I'm amazed that quite a few exist.

Anywho, this is my take over the last 10 years regarding the Rockies:

1. Rockies ownership squandered initial fan goodwill - not many MLB teams draw 3 million plus fans - by a number of incompetent decisions, such as the Hampton and Neagle deals, extensions given to Hurdle and O'Dowd; as well as by omission, e.g., not trading Helton, ignoring bullpen woes, and total reliance upon "home grown" talent without seriously considering the free agent market. By the by, I've only cited the "macro" mistakes that ownership has made by commission or ommission . . . given the time, I could cite dozens more.

That being said, ownership is fortunate that: a. Their team is located in Denver, i.e., drawing 2 million fans still makes them money; and b. Their team is located in Denver . . . grin . . . Denver is such a great sports town that any semblance of a competitive team will draw fans back (see Nuggets).

2. For the same reason above that I indicated that ownership is fortunate to be in Denver, this is the same reason that allows Rockies ownership to maintain the status quo. Specifically, this situation wouldn't fly in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, or any number of MLB cities. Why? In San Francisco and Los Angeles, residents have so many other activities vying for their time . . . and money. Consequently, if their team is bad, they walk with their money and spend it elsewhere, e.g., going to the beach, other sporting events, museums, etc. Fans are less obsessed about their sports teams. Best example of that is the Denver Broncos - I've never seen fans (and the media) live and die over a team like they do here in Denver. I also mentioned New York. Different situation in that ownership cares about their teams (Mets and Yankees) doing well. Perhaps more important, the NY media crucifies mediocre teams. Until recently, when did you see that happen in regard to the Rockies? LOL . . . besides, it is never a good idea to have the media (FSN, Rocky Mountain News, Denver Post) investing in sports teams. I listen/read FSN coverage of the Rockies and Tracy Ringolsby just for the inherent comedic "homer" entertainment they provide.

3. My last thought regarding the Rockies is not original - it has been stated by many, including yourself . . . New ownership, with deep pockets is the only answer. Firing Hurdle or O'Down reminds me of an old quote, "You can put a silver saddle on a Jackass, but it is still a Jackass." Similarly, you can make any number of trades, acquire free agents, hire new coaches or managers, etc., but it wont make a difference. Remember you must factor in the Monforts into this equation - limited resources and dubious past decisions/non-decisions. In short, a very bleak future for the Rockies.

Mark, keep up the good work. You know what you talk of and most important, you seem truthful.


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