Saturday Morning: Something to consider...

In the aftermath of the Jason Jennings trade, one of the biggest complaints to come out of the angry mob was that the ownership was just letting Jennings go, that they should have signed him to an extension and that this proved that the Monforts were incapable of bringing Denver a top quality baseball team. I'm not exactly sure how this venom gets so deeply set into fans, but there doesn't seem like much can be done about it. Usually it comes from people who seem to think that MLB operates under the same financials and player development structure as the NFL and NBA, which is kind of silly.

This isn't to say that I'm falling for the cash-strapped ownership posturing, either. I think it's pretty clear that the Rockies turned a profit in 2006, and are likely to turn in bigger piles of cash in 2007 and 2008. That's true even with a team salary increase to $70 million. I think in the end in regards to Jennings, however, there were two questions to ask:

  1. Was he going to re-sign with the Rockies? No. Everything in Jennings' statements before and after the trade seem to indicate that he's going to try and get as big a deal as possible in free agency as long as that deal isn't with Colorado. I beginning to think his 2004 and 2005 seasons have soured him to the idea of making a career at Coors Field, and despite him finding eventual success here, it appears he was ready to move on.
  2. Could the Rockies have afforded it anyway?  If I'm right on the answer to the first question, then the answer to this is moot, but again it's no. The Zito insanity this week is the final nail in the coffin of this offseason, and next year will be just as crazy if the pattern of the 2001-2002 offseasons (the last comparable influx of cash to the league) holds true.
Look at it this way: if there was one pitcher in either league you would pay just about any price to retain, who would that be? In my mind that one pitcher would be Johan Santana, and yet the Twins are unlikely to retain him when he becomes a free agent after the 2008 season, despite having a billionaire (albeit notoriously cheap) owner. I think the Rockies have to model themselves somewhat after the Twins and Athletics as far as team-building and roster construction, although I think in all honesty that more care should be given than either of those two franchises do to building a brand image.

Everybody complains about the inequities of the system, of the larger media markets being able to command the highest revenue streams, but I think one lesson that the Rockies can take from their local NFL and NHL counterparts, and from their own early attendance marks is that the Denver sports market can at least keep the gate receipts churning. I think they should also take note of the situations in Arizona and Florida, where World Championships won't always equate to a bankable, perpetual brand image. Instead, I think what's required for MLB franchises is sustained success tied to nostalgic tradition. The announced Blake Street Bomber reunion in April is a positive step in fulfilling the latter part, by tying Dante Bichette to Matt Holliday, and Larry Walker to Brad Hawpe and Vinny Castilla to Garrett Atkins, fans will be able to see and appreciate the passing of the baton of one generation of bombers to another. The next step, of course, is for this group to have greater on the field success than their predecessors, and then the Rockies will be well on their way to joining MLB's elite revenue generators.

Ultimately, maintaining the team's on the field success will trump a revolving door in personnel, so losing the JJ's and the Holliday's will become more palatable to the fans as long as they trust that management has a winning formula in place (reference the nonchalance of Oakland fans in losing Zito, or Broncos fans with their constant roster turnover). In the interim, however, the front office has to expect the fallout for dealing off familiar players as a price for failing to build a reliable product. I think the timing of the BSB reunion can't be ignored, Dan O'Dowd and his staff seem to be banking on 2007 being a statement year for the Rockies, where the ties to the moderately succesful past open the way to what they hope is a better future. If the season fails to live up to expectations, the reunion becomes just another cheap gimmick. So, let the Rockies statement year begin, let's just hope it's something worth listening to.

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