John of Gaunt: What is six winters? they are quickly gone.
Bolingbroke: To men in joy; but grief makes one hour ten.
Richard II, Act 1, scene
Let me define what a core to me in baseball is: A group of six or more players in the same age range which are the driving nucleus of a ballclub. That driving nucleus is a key ingredient. With the Phillies, you can look to the Howard/Utley/Rollins nucleus as the central core that keeps the other role players valuable. I think that successful teams require some sort of central core from which they derive their strength.
The word "core" has some mysterious etymology, coming into the English language probably in the late 13th century in the trilingual Anglo-Norman period when many words from both French and Latin were incorporated. It's unknown whether it originally derived from the Old French coeur, meaning heart, or the Latin corpus (and the Old French, cors), meaning body. There is evidence that while at first the "body" definition was the primary use, it either gradually became more associated with the term for "heart", or was reintroduced that way, which is where it is at today, although the introduction of nuclear physics has expanded that use to include central reactors and important parts of bombs.
I think this is pertinent to the Rockies. Right now, they have a corpus (and a Corpas), but no coeur. The Rockies Gen R group still meets the six player threshold of a baseball core, but while it may have once been living with Matt Holliday, it's now a dead core, one that no longer has sufficient talent and/or leadership to drive the team to victory on a regular basis.
A central premise of where I'm going to go from here: ONCE A CORE IS DEAD, IT DOES NOT REVIVE WITHOUT AN EXTERNAL CATALYST. Two cores could be functioning on a team at once. The 2008 Dodgers eventually succeeded with a dual core, one 23-26 year old group including Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, and one 31-35 year old group that included Derek Lowe, Nomar Garciaparra, Chan Ho Park and Takashi Saito. Neither core was functioning for the first half of that season. Manny Ramirez, while clearly in the age range of the older core, provided a catalyst to both groups in leading them to the playoffs.
In 2009, their young core has started to consume the older group and are using Ramirez and Orlando Hudson as super-support, but the Dodgers remain viable because their team has a living, functioning heart. Personally, I think the leaders on that team are Chad Billingsley and Russell Martin right now, and they will continue to do just fine without Ramirez. With the Rockies Gen R group, a few of the players are performing decently, a couple very well, but it's an insufficient, inferior group of players on the whole.
Where is the Heart?
So if the heart is no longer in the 28-30 year old group for the Rockies, where is it, and what can be done to make it strong enough to compete for the playoffs? The next group down, the 25 to 27-year old players, includes Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Iannetta, Seth Smith and a handful of key relievers and is actually where most of the team's win value is coming from on the young 2009 season, but it seems to be an inner core without a sufficient outer core to go around it, leaving it about as useless as the 28-30 year old group when it comes to leading this team to a winning record. Perhaps because the team was built this way, the body of the older players and the manager do not seem keen on letting themselves be led by this group.
The organization's 22-24 year old group, on the other hand, seems to be rich with players that could lead an inner core and surround it as an outer body. Troy Tulowitzki, Dexter Fowler, Ian Stewart and Carlos Gonzalez are all potential impact players. The Rockies AA Tulsa rotation is full of quality potential MLB level starters in and near the same age range, and the upper system is littered with other players in this age group that can fill around whatever emerges as the central life force. The big problem with this group right now is that it lacks experience, it simply is unready to emerge as the lead force on a contending team, particularly one that's insistent that there's life left in the body currently laying on top of it.
Since the Matt Holliday trade, which moved in the right direction by shifting players into the two groups more likely to be the lifeblood of the next successful Rockies franchise, management both on the field and off seems to still be trying to build this team around the idea that the Cook/Hawpe/Atkins Gen R group is still a playoff caliber core. In acquiring Jason Marquis, Matt Belisle and Matt Murton, whether the moves were wise and valuable or not, the team took on additions that left that Gen R group as the focus to the detraction of players like Seth Smith and Matt Daley. Sadly, adding arms and legs and fingers and toes to a dead body is not going to bring it back to life.
1. Gen R (28-30 year old players) has outlived its usefulness as a core group and will not be the central focus of the next playoff competitive Rockies team.,
2. The next generation (Iannetta/Jimenez/Smith, 25-27 year old players) has a few solid players, but not enough to be a playoff core by itself,
3. The Rockies focus should be on building on and around the 22-24 year old group (Generation Dext) which has the elements of a fine a core group in place,
4. Trade from both the Gen R group and the Generation Dext group to build a functioning, competitive body around Iannetta and Jimenez.
What needs to be done:
1. Either fire or extend Dan O'Dowd right now.
If this team is really at a crossroads where it needs to be siphoning off player assets to achieve long range plans, it needs a GM with job security. I'm ambivalent toward O'Dowd's employment right now. I think the front office has made considerable mistakes in several areas, not the least of which is in fan outreach, which it's doing little if anything to improve upon and that tends to make the rest of what the team does put to a higher standard. You'll be more lax in judgment with a friend than an aloof stranger, and this front office is more the latter than the former. The personnel decisions have been a mixed bag, and as I am saying here, I really don't know if the team recognizes its own strengths and weaknesses. And while there have been some small successes and one large one over his tenure, the overall sum of the experience has been one of failure. Yet ultimately while I think it's likely that there are better GM's available out there, I have little confidence in our current ownership selecting one.
The team can't be guided by a lame duck. A general manager that's worrying about his job security will always lean to make moves that have more immediate benefit, and sometimes this won't be in the best interest of the franchise at that level of decision making. With the field manager, immediacy is paramount, but sometimes a GM has to make decisions for the future that could be detrimental to the present, and right now, the Rockies seem to be in such a position.
2. Kill Gen R -
Burn Sanderson: You can't hardly tell at first, not till they get to the point of slobbering and staggering around. When you see a critter in that fix, you know for sure. But you want to watch for others that ain't that far along. Now, you take a bobcat or a fox. You know they'll run if you give 'em the chance. But when one don't run, or maybe makes fight at you, why, you shoot him and shoot him quick. After he's bitten you, it's too late.
Old Yeller, 1957
Some of these players could stay with the team and play valuable support roles to the next central core, but right now the Rockies still seem to be constructed around the idea that this Gen R group can be competitive core despite everybody seeing that Tulo and Dex and company are where the team is headed. Two seasons from now, the Atkins/Hawpe/Cook/Barmes era of players will be well into their declines, the time for getting value for them is now. I think the players from this group have been vocal and at times whiny, and they are using solidarity to absolve themselves from inadequate performances rather than to correct themselves as a group. They borrow this behavior from the owners and managers above them.
At any rate, a shift needs to take place. Seven useful and at least somewhat desirable players from that age group that should be shopped before the trade deadline:
- Brad Hawpe
- Aaron Cook
- Jorge De La Rosa
- Ryan Spilborghs
- Jason Marquis *
- Yorvit Torrealba *
- Clint Barmes
The two with asterisks are also likely to be considered salary burdens by the acquiring team. Trades involving them might not bring much more than salary relief for the Rockies. I think the Rockies need to trade at least two from this group, including either of the two likely most valuable players to other teams in Hawpe or Cook, but a clear signal needs to be given that the torch is getting passed.
Three more players that the Rockies would be selling low on, but probably should consider cutting ties with anyway:
- Garrett Atkins
- Jeff Baker
- Omar Quintanilla
This is hard, particularly in the case of Atkins, who has meant so much to the franchise over the last four or five seasons, particularly in 2007, but if the team legitimately asks itself to what benefit retaining the services of these players brings, and whether that benefit couldn't be matched or bettered from other available quarters, I don't think an honest assessment comes down in favor of retention. With the players above, that is less true.
3. Do not renew Clint Hurdle's contract -
Firing him at this point does nothing unless the team really feels it needs a head on a pike to placate certain boorish fans and sports columnists who probably don't deserve that satisfaction. At any rate, I feel at this point that O'Dowd would be the better fit for that role given what I pointed out above. If the Rockies are going to have another miracle turnaround in 2009, they're going to have it independent of the manager. Of course, Hurdle's consistent inability to instill life in this moribund franchise doesn't deserve yet another chance to make things right in 2010, either.
4. Focus on Building around the real core talent with their peak window (2011-2014) in mind.
Is Ubaldo Jimenez an ace to build around? Or should the Rockies dangle him to attract one?
The team shouldn't give up on 2010, the goal should be an above .500 season and respectability, but the bigger picture is saying that 2011 and onwards, when Tulo, Fowler and Stewart et al are entering their primes, will be the next best chance for this team making a serious impact in the playoffs. The focus in trades probably needs to be on developing a supporting cast around this group. O'Dowd's quest for young pitchers seems to suggest he has an idea of this, but he's trying to catch a shark with an earthworm if he thinks Ryan Spilborghs or Matt Murton will bring back the ace level pitcher he seeks to fill out that potential staff.
As you can see in our imaginary 2011 depth chart, though, that lack of a staff ace remains the major problem for the Rockies, just as it is now:
RP: Lindsay, etc..,
5. Catch a big fish, using big bait.
If Matt Holliday can't bring back a future top of the rotation pitcher, the Rockies or their fans shouldn't expect anybody else of the aforementioned Gen R group to do so, either. Building packages around several players isn't really a solution, as frequently this becomes the barter equivalent of trying to add potatoes from your plate to bring back a steak from somebody else's. No matter how many potatoes you pile on, if that person wants steak, they aren't going to cut it. So what is to be done? As far as I can tell, the Rockies have maybe five players capable of bringing back a future ace type of pitcher:
- Ubaldo Jimenez
- Chris Iannetta
- Troy Tulowitzki
- Dexter Fowler
- doubtfully, Ian Stewart
Anybody else would require a tulip bulb mania type of situation where a player's perceived value is in enough of a bubble that some GM overreaches. Rather than relying on this unlikelihood, the Rockies a little while down the road will need to consider whether a lateral value move from one of these players to a future front of the rotation pitcher is in the team's best interest. Does that mean you're going to have to replace one of them in that above depth chart? Yes. That's what you use your trades of these other parts to take care of, that's how you build a winning franchise.
6. Community Outreach:
This might seem kind of dumb to you, but going back to last night's Immanuel Kant allusion, a lot of Rockies fans, and members of the media, are simply incapable of perceiving the team as successful or even potentially successful without a total overthrow of the system from the ground up, because they've been conditioned by their experience to understand losing and failure as part and parcel with Rockies baseball. We've seen them in game threads, we have them as friends and acquaintances. They aren't bad or even necessarily wrong, they are definitely Rockies fans, they are just conditioned to failure to a greater degree than the rest of us.
Even this screed of mine accepts as a given that the team as constituted doesn't get better this year. Sadly, if we perceive it this way, chances are there are players in the clubhouse who do as well, which is another reason to break them up and bring in new blood. But back to the point, these attitudes can become viral in nature and spread to an entire community. This principal is what lies behind change of venue pleas in courts when unbiased jurors simply can't be found because of media saturation.
Better community outreach won't change this, only protracted winning will, but it can bolster the fans that already have sympathetic leanings, and if the team really needs to undergo the considerable shifts outlined, the F.O. will need at least some sympathetic voices as advocates or risk complete alienation. The aloofness of ownership and the front office to Rockies fans is already contributing to the spread of negativity, you'll note that despite similar recent underperformance relative to expectations, that the front offices in Oakland and Arizona are given longer leashes by their fanbase than we are willing to give as Rockies fans. Do not think that it's just merely a coincidence that these front offices spend at least some time interacting with fans on forums such as this one.
Alright, I've probably prattled on enough, and I know I'm not really touching on much, if any, new ground here. I just think it's important to lay out what exactly is at stake, and what is going on with the organization as I see it. Right now, the team is diseased. It can act or it can sit on its hands and let the infection spread. The first moves have to be made, and I'm not talking about cutting a Glendon Rusch or switching a Dexter Fowler for a Carlos Gonzalez, I'm talking about making real hard decisions or the one year out of the playoffs and under .500 will stretch into four, into seven, into the dozen or so you see the team we just faced has suffered through.
Somebody step up and fix this team. No longer accept as a given that everything will just sort itself out. That is all I can say right now. I, as I'm sure most Rockies fans do, eagerly await a response.