Jan. 13—Denver Post sports writer Patrick Saunders with the latest installment of his Rockies Mailbag.
Pose a Rockies — or MLB — related question for the Rockies Mailbag.
I don’t have a clue what direction this organization is going. In your opinion, do the Monforts actually care about putting a winning team on the field, or is it about profit? Every “baseball” decision they make seems to be counterproductive to the idea of winning. Thank you!
— Jeff Feierstein, Denver
Jeff, I get this question a lot. And I mean a lot.
Let me start off by saying that I think the Rockies are a franchise searching for an identity right now. I wrote about that last Saturday in a story about the Padres’ aggressive offseason.
We’ll see over the next few months whether the Rockies are going to stand pat or do a partial rebuild. I don’t foresee them ever tearing it all down and starting from scratch with young players. Much depends on what happens with Nolan Arenado and his huge contract, and whether or not the Rockies can find a way to keep Trevor Story beyond 2021.
As for your primary question, I went back and found a quote from Dick Monfort. Back in 2014, when Monfort was leading a media tour of the upgrades Coors Field — including the so-called “Party Deck” — — I asked him about the perception that he cared more about the ballpark and the business of baseball than he did about winning.
He didn’t like my question, but he answered it.
“I don’t know where they get that I’m not passionate about winning,” he said. “I think every year we spend every dollar we can on the team. I probably spend more time with the baseball guys than anybody else in my position (as an owner). I live and die by games.”
I thought he was sincere when he said that, and I still believe he cares about winning. In 2018 and ’19, Monfort was not timid about spending money. In 2019, the last full season of baseball, the Rockies’ total payroll was a franchise-record $157.2 million, ranking 11th in the majors (according to Spotrac.com )
I’m not an apologist for Monfort, I’m just pointing out the facts. This year, of course, the pandemic has forced the Rockies to be ultra conservative. That’s true of most teams.
My criticism in recent years — as the Rockies drew close to 3 million fans every season — is that they’ve been reluctant to go all out to win by acquiring an impact player or two; players who could make them World Series contenders. Was that because of their reluctance to spend more money? Or was taking a big-money risk simply contrary to the club’s draft-and-develop philosophy?
I can say that the club’s conservative approach is at the root of Arenado’s criticism of the front office (that and his stormy relationship with general manager Jeff Bridich).
My bottom line: Yes, Monfort wants to win, but he doesn’t want to win as much as the Padres’ chairman and principal owner Peter Seidler, who’s all in to win.
Is 2021 a make or break year for Bridich or could you see him selling a rebuild to extend his own tenure? It feels like the Rockies need a new leadership group.
— Carson, Grand Junction
In my opinion, yes, 2021 should be a make-or-break season for Bridich. If the Rockies have a losing record and finish fourth or fifth in the National League West, Monfort should take a long, hard look at the front office. Players are judged for their performance and executives should be, too.
As for “selling a rebuild,” I don’t think that approach is part of Bridich’s DNA. If Monfort ultimately believes a rebuild is needed, I don’t think Bridich will be around for it.
But here’s the kicker: Monfort is very loyal, he has a lot of faith in Bridich and doesn’t like controversy. And, in my opinion, Monfort doesn’t believe the Rockies are that far away from being a contender. He’s in the minority there.
I have a general question about baseball in 2021 (and beyond). How would Tommy Lasorda and Sparky Anderson handle today’s analytics in handling of pitchers? I can’t imagine them removing Blake Snell in the World Series Game 7. I would pay to hear Lasorda’s response from the analytical guy who said, “Pull Orel Hershiser, he’s reached his limit.” (Or Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Fernando Valenzuela or Clayton Kershaw.)
— Robert Emmerling, Parker
Robert, Lasorda managed the Dodgers from September 29, 1976 to June 24, 1996. That’s a long time. As you well know, he was about as old-school as it gets. He steered the Dodgers with his knowledge, scouting reports and gut instincts. He would have gone ballistic having to deal with that kind of puppet-strings input from the front office.
But these are different times and the game has changed, whether old-timers like you and me like it or not. You have to remember the Dodgers have been so good for so long because they have embraced modern analytics. Their stable of “stat goblins” is one of the biggest and most effective in the majors.
As for Lasorda, he certainly was a colorful character, complete with a super-salty vocabulary. I remember when they used to run a public service announcement on the videoboard at Dodger Stadium that featured Lasorda imploring fans to be good neighbors and “watch their language.” It cracked me up every time.
When it’s all said and done, where do you think Arenado will go down in history? He’s arguably the best fielding third baseman ever and, if he stays with the Rockies, would have numbers that challenge the all-time greats. Is he a first-ballot Hall of Famer?
— Ryan, Castle Rock
Ryan, I think it’s too early to proclaim Arenado a first-ballot Hall of Famer but he’s certainly on a path toward Cooperstown. He has eight Gold Gloves in his eight seasons in the majors, has a .293 career average, an .890 OPS and 235 home runs.
In November 2019, I asked Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt about Arenado.
“Nolan is, without question, the best third baseman in baseball, both defensively and offensively, and has been for several years,” Schmidt told me. “If his success continues at this current rate for another 10 years, he will be joining us in Cooperstown. My hope is that I will be there to hear his speech.”
Arenado doesn’t need another 10 years to make the Hall of Fame. He just needs a few more solid seasons. Sure, there will be a number of voters who penalize him for putting up big numbers at Coors Field, there always will be, but Arenado’s incredible fielding will cancel out that argument.
If Arenado moves on and finishes his career outside Colorado, I have no doubt he will remain an elite player. That will solidify his Hall of Fame candidacy.
Is it possible for Arenado and the Rockies to bilaterally agree to modify or cancel their current contract? Thus giving both more freedom to achieve their wishes?
— Ron, Pagosa Springs
Ron, that would be nice, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Yes, sometimes athletes will renegotiate their deals in order to help their team out. Broncos quarterback John Elway deferred money from his contract during its glory years.
In March 2011, Rockies icon Todd Helton agreed to a $9.9 million, two-year contract extension through the 2013 season. He also agreed to defer $13 million of his $19.1 million salary in 2011 over a 10-year period beginning in 2014.
“It does take some pressure off me being labeled as the guy making that much money at 38 years old,” Helton said at the time. “You can try not to look at it that way, but it’s the truth.”
Arenado’s situation is different. He’s in the prime of his career and doesn’t turn 30 until April. Plus, he has a full no-trade clause and the ability to opt out of his deal after 2021 and become a free agent. If the Rockies were winning, and if Arenado’s relationship with Bridich was better, maybe something could be worked out. But as things stand now, I don’t see it happening.
The Padres have shown the rest of the MLB that they are in a win-now mode with the big-name signings this offseason. I have a couple of questions on this. First, have you talked to any of the Rockies players about what the Padres have done and what are their thoughts on it? Second, if the moves the Padres have done do not pan out do you see a possible fire sale in a couple of years to dump the salaries?
— Del, Lamar
Del, I have talked (texted, actually) with a few players. Those conversations were off the record, so I can’t divulge much other than to say that the Rockies are impressed by the Padres’ moves and think they have a real chance to knock the Dodgers off the NL West throne.
As for your second question, yes, if the Padres don’t win over the next two or three years, they would likely blow things up. I don’t think that will happen, but we’ll see. I’m excited to see them play. I thought the Padres were a very entertaining team last season and there’s no love lost between the Padres and Dodgers.
The recent death of Lasorda got me thinking about baseball managers in general. And, more specifically, what makes up a good manager?
For the average fan, judging the general manager of the world, such as Bridich, is comparatively easy, if not always fairly applied. Their actions, i.e. trading popular players, spending zillions on worthless pitchers are there for all to see. Not so much with the on-field managers.
Most of them appear astute enough to hone basic media-training and public speaking skills. From afar at least, nearly all the Rockies’ managers I can recall seem like pleasant fellows you would want to have a beer with. But beyond that, I’m at a loss as to whether or not they are good, bad or mediocre at what they are paid to do. In the end, they are judged by the team’s win-loss record. But how did they get there in the first place?
My questions to you: What specifically does a good manager do, day-in-and-day-out, that a bad manager does not? And, in your opinion, who is the Rockies’ best manager ever? Cheers.
— Bob, Denver
Bob, that’s a great, eternal question.
Unlike a football coach, a baseball manager doesn’t devise a weekly “game plan.” However, a good manager must have a number of skills and qualities:
— An ability to think on his feet during a game and know enough about scouting reports to make the correct pitching moves and defensive adjustments.
— A good manager knows the game inside and out, is prepared and spends a lot of time in preparation with his coaches.
— He has to be able to know when to trust his gut, when to trust his players and when to go by the book.
— The long season requires a manager who can ride out frequent storms and help take pressure off his players.
— A good manager has to be authentic and honest. Players can see right through a faker.
— A good manager protects his players in public and with the media, but is not afraid to get in players’ faces when he has to, though he does that behind closed doors.
— In this day and age, the front office controls things more than in the past, but a good manager has a feel for the pulse of the team and he lets that guide him — sometimes defying what the front office wants.
— Above all else, a good manager has to be a good communicator. He has to be able to deal with each player as a unique individual.
As for your second question, the most-skilled manager I’ve dealt with is Bud Black. He really knows his stuff and although fans don’t see it, he can be tough. Rockies players have told me that Black is fair-minded and even-handed.
Having said all of that, I think the late Don Baylor has to be considered the best manager in Rockies history. I didn’t know Baylor well and didn’t cover the Rockies much during his tenure, but he took an expansion team and led them to the playoffs in its third season. Baylor had a winning record in four of his nine seasons in Colorado. He managed before the humidor was installed and had to deal with a crazy brand of baseball.
Denver Post sports writer Patrick Saunders with the latest installment of his Rockies Mailbag.
Pose a Rockies — or MLB — related question for the Rockies Mailbag.
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