In the Rockpile: What happened to “The Year of the Fan”?

Jim Tracy is one of the many question marks that need to be addressed during the offseason. (Denver Post)

On day one of the postseason, I reflected on “The Year of the Fan” — a Rockies baseball season that will be far too hard to forget, more so because of the dumb slogan they chose for the worst season in Rockies baseball.

How did it get so bad? How in the world can an organization command such steady attendance numbers while squandering the opportunity to make something of it on the field? The money is there, maybe not as much as the Dodgers, nowhere near as much as the Yankees, but there is money. I’m not going to pretend I know how the front office should spend its money because I don’t have to pretend, I know where this is going wrong.

Ownership is perfectly satisfied with attendance numbers and keeping costs to the fans at a more reasonable level than your Yankee Stadiums and Fenways. The cost of a cheap seat in the bleachers is usually $4 and a beer is about $6.50 at Coors Field. They can afford to sell seats cheap and concessions at a reasonable price by skimping on the player salary side of the business. I do recognize they have a lot of money tied up in Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, but the problem with the Rockies’ take on Moneyball is that they are not very good evaluators of talent. This system they have relied on for over a decade: drafting, developing, trading for prospects; digging for that next diamond in the rough, that next Matt Holliday or Tulowitzki. That isn’t working for pitchers as well as it has to.

The Rockies obsession with developing their own guys is not getting the club anywhere, and this past season was a perfect storm of struggles on the mound. Rockies batters came up big, ranking top-five in all major batting categories. Tulo was absent most of the season with his groin issues, that was unfortunate. Gonzalez had a nice season; he wasn’t absolutely dominant and his Home Run Derby appearance was nothing to be exceptionally proud of, but his ability to hit home runs was only eclipsed by one rookie that nobody knew Opening Day in Denver, Wilin Rosario. The backup catcher seized his moment when Ramon Hernandez went on the DL and Rosario was great behind the dish in leading the team in home runs his first season. Nobody knew him when they introduced the team back in April. They do now.

This homegrown talent has worked well in the batting department, but the pitching has failed. The ownership and front office sat on their hands all season, feeding the media and fans lines about patience and the value of being loyal. They forgot somewhere along the line that we are the ones who have to show up for them to play and be profitable. Tampa Bay enjoys quality baseball, playoff opportunities all while they have a mostly empty stadium to play for. The Rockies have fans who show up and little to show them for it; Gonzalez and Rosario couldn’t dig the Rockies out of their mess. The front office clearly thought the batters could bail them out, but they forgot you need to have someone on the mound, too. Injuries abound and struggles galore, the Rockies hobbled through a wasted season where they had a golden opportunity if they only had pitchers available to play, or moves were made to address it.

Next season, the Rockies are in line for an extra $26 million in TV revenue — $20 million kicker from ROOT Sports, $6-7 million in a deal with TBS split among all MLB teams. That money would be wisely used to acquire a few decent pitchers, one year of their salary paid for up front with that money. It would pay itself back if they can produce a rebound year behind the top-five batting lineup. We can only hope they don’t squander another season in the way they did this year because it was a slap in the face to the fans. Don’t preach patience and loyalty to us, we’ve been doing it for awhile. There is a lot of uncertainty going into the offseason, and not just for the players and coaches. There’s uncertainty that fans may not want to come back if things don’t change.

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