Five simple steps to fix the Colorado Rockies
Well, the Colorado Rockies are terrible. Again. And not only are they looking at their third consecutive last-place finish in the National League West division, but their future looks to be just as bleak. Mismanagement and organizational dysfunction have been trademarks of this franchise since its inception, and lately they seem to be outdoing even themselves. Heck, they’re making the San Diego Padres look like a well-run team. The San Diego Padres! The Rockies have put together one of the great un-dynasties baseball has ever seen. They’ve never won their division and they’ve only made the playoffs as a wild card three times. Lately, the only Rocky Mountain highs have come courtesy of Colorado’s legalized marijuana. And, as is a common side effect of such recreational activities, an overall malaise has settled in – even among the ownership. According to this weird story that I couldn’t make up if I tried, one fan expressed his displeasure with the team’s recent performance in a comment box. And instead of the standard “sorry you feel that way, we’re trying our best” response, the team’s owner (yes, the team’s actual owner) came back over the top and let that fan know just how stupid he was for spending his hard-earned money at the ballpark:
“I pretty much just filled out the survey and kinda wrote a little bit about how it’s frustrating to spend the money and go see [Rockies] teams that are constantly struggling all the time,” said fan Michael Ferguson.
Two days later, he found out his comments did not go unnoticed. Ferguson received a reply in his inbox simply stating, “If product and experience that bad don’t come!”… signed owner, chairman, and CEO of the Colorado Rockies Dick Monfort.
But Dick wasn’t done there. Before someone with a half a brain could explain to him about how emails don’t evaporate into the ether like words do, he fired off another truth missile in response to yet another foolish paying fan:
The 57-year-old [fan] told CBS4 he did not necessarily expect a reply from the team. But the next day, July 6 at 6:47 p.m., Monfort personally emailed the fan the following: “By the way you talk maybe Denver doesn’t deserve a franchise, maybe time for it to find a new home. Thanks.”
Way to go, Dick. Let him have it. And the horse he rode in on! Even if Dick does care, he doesn’t appear to be addressing their losing ways with any sort of logic. But does he really need to? The team consistently averages a top-10 attendance. This is true even during the last three years where the team has been profoundly awful. With this kind of attendance, it’s probable that Dick is being a little cheap when it comes to payroll. And while they don’t need to spend like the Los Angeles Dodgers – the drunkest sailor baseball has ever seen – they just need to start spending smarter. “Everyone knows” their problem is that gosh-darn thin air at Coors Field. Denver’s mile-high altitude has a definite effect on the physics of the game. However, it’s about time we stop using this as an excuse for two reasons: 1) The physics that creates longer fly balls and less-deceptive pitches works the same for both teams, and 2) This effect is a constant that doesn’t vary from game to game and should just be planned for accordingly. If you’re a fan of the Rockies, baseball or just reading some really smart stuff by a really smart guy, then let’s proceed to the five steps to fixing this team.
1. A new pitching strategy
Coors Field is a hitters park and, as we discussed before, it always will be. I know I’m not blowing your mind with this one, but it’s one thing for the team to say they want to focus on pitching and it’s another matter entirely to do that correctly. I want to lose weight, but occasionally having a salad isn’t going to strip away years of pizza, burgers and donuts. There’s no way the Rockies will ever be able to sign top-tier free agent pitchers. There’s just too much to risk with those high-altitude conditions. The Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton disaster signings will long be remembered by their pitching brethren as career-killers. So, the Rockies are stuck scraping the bottom of the barrel and getting pitchers who would rather play for the Rockies than not play at all. The key here is to take the players out of the decision-making process by trading for or drafting pitchers. But which pitchers should you go after? Now we’re back to the whole physics thing. Ground-ball pitchers give up less fly balls. Fly balls turn into home runs in Denver. Ground balls stay ground balls no matter where you are. The team showed signs of this common sense when they traded for Brett Anderson last offseason. The only problem: Anderson is injury-prone – though it might be more accurate to say that injuries are Anderson-prone.
2. Tighten up the defense
These first two go hand-in-hand. The best way to help any team’s pitching problems, is to improve the defense. Runs allowed are just as important as runs scored and in Colorado runs prevented might even be more valuable. Like penicillin, it stops the disease of run-scoring from spreading into a monster inning. Every out that can be made has to be made. The Rockies have the largest outfield in all of baseball, so why do you have Michael Cuddyer running around out there like he’s got two dwarves hanging onto his legs? Then you have a top prospect like Corey Patterson whose hitting is truly special but whose defense is truly special needs. Trade him for a pitcher. The aim should be that every player on that field is an above-average defender, so that when a curveball that doesn’t quite curve or a slider that doesn’t really slide gets hit, there’s an above-average chance of that ball being turned into an out – or that a single doesn’t turn into a double (I’m talking to you, Cuddyer). Making more outs on defense will lead to less runs allowed, more wins and even possibly get some free agents to forget the Neagle/Hampton nightmare.
3. Trade, trade and trade some more
In addition to the above kinds of moves, which seem sort of obvious, one area where this team’s organizational failings shine through is trading away major-league players who are no longer of value for the current season or the future. It seems every year the Rockies are like that one guy who’s in every fantasy sports league where as soon as you ask for a player in a trade he immediately assume this must be the best player in the league. It’s Melky Cabrera, not Miguel Cabrera, for crying out loud, Chris. Sorry, a little personal frustration getting in there. Refusing to trade impending free agents once the season is known to be lost, is the truest sign of organizational ineptitude. Who cares if you keep Jorge De La Rosa and win maybe one or two more games? Trade him for a prospect, and if you just can’t live without him, sign him as a free agent in the offseason. He’ll understand. You’re trying to make the team he comes back to better. Players like being on better teams. The Red Sox may end up doing this exact thing with Jon Lester. A brilliant move trading him to add Yoenis Cespedes to their light-hitting outfield for a player who, at best, would allow the Red Sox to finish in fourth place instead of fifth. The Rockies should be exploiting their hitters’ inflated numbers. Colorado is to hitters what San Diego is for pitchers. No matter what dufus is running the show in San Diego, they always seem to get good value trading away pitchers who had a “resurgence” while pitching in their pitcher-friendly park.
4. Dump Walt Weiss
Walt Weiss is in his second year of managing the team and it’s still unclear why he was chosen over much more qualified applicants. He’s not very good – just as he wasn’t particularly good as a player. Weiss overuses the bullpen and doesn’t like playing the young guys when “veterans” who “play the right way” are stinking up the place. Worst of all, the Rockies are among the league leaders in sacrifice hits. That’s when a manager deliberately gives the opposing team an out in order to advance a base runner one single base. This has been mathematically proven to be one of the dumbest things managers can do in almost every circumstance. And in the ballpark where outs are the most valuable, he’s giving them away. This sort of “managing the right way” nonsense is a symptom shared by the league’s other mediocre-at-best recent hires like Mike Matheny, Matt Williams, Kirk Gibson, Don Mattingly and Robin Ventura – all white former big leaguers who have almost no managerial experience but who played the game right and are still fairly well known and still very white. Also, some of them have mustaches. Maybe the team was picking managers by throwing at a dartboard, but then the dart bounced off the board into the trash where Walt Weiss’ picture was. Sure, he’s better than former manager Jim Tracy, but that could be said of just about anyone not suffering from repeated head trauma.
5. Trade Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez
Okay, calm down. Take a breath, I never said this was going to be easy, but trading away the league’s best shortstop and an All-Star left fielder to contenders for premium pitching prospects are the most important steps toward making this team a winner. If you don’t like winning, then just keep them. Fine with me. I’m not a Rockies fan. Life is full of tough choices. Sticking with your team’s superstars and surrounding them with mediocre talent could possibly maybe work out. There’s no need to go full Houston Astros with this team, but the quality and quantity of the return on these trades – pitchers, pitchers, pitchers – could completely shift the team’s future. We already know what they can do with these two guys: not much. Fans don’t root for players, they root for teams. The fans continue to support this team even when it’s playing terribly and when it’s managed terribly. They want the individual players to do well … toward the end of the team doing well. One thing, though, if you trade Gonzalez, make sure you get a couple Latin American players in the deal. Other than CarGo, the Rockies are pretty light in the diversity department among starters. I was going to do whole thing about how that doesn’t matter because it’s Colorado, but did you know it has one of the highest percentage populations of Hispanics in America? I didn’t. You learn something new every day. As a baseball fan, I can only hope the Rockies ownership and management do some learning of their own.