Last week I suggested that the Rockies might be "geniuses."
I have never wanted to be a sensationalist but of course I understood that such terminology would fall unkindly on the ears of many a Rox fan. Since I knew what I said would be, if not controversial, at least highly debatable, I owe it to anyone who reads what I write to at least give this notion one more full-throated defense.
The "genius" concept sounded in my head more like a Guinness commercial; "trade for another team's Opening Day starter?"
But I also do believe that the Rockies brain trust is operating with a little more "brain" and a little less "trust." Why do I believe this? Because I see a sensible three pronged approach to growing the franchise, and each transaction made this winter has a plan A B and C.
As can happen, a community member captured this all better in one sentence than perhaps I have in many paragraphs so I offer this thesis:
"The genius is optimizing exposure to good luck, while minimizing exposure to bad luck." -Yokel (Purple Row community member) 12/15/2013
How? Three prongs and three plans.
1. Capitalizing on market inefficiencies unique to the Colorado Rockies
One of the reasons I have been hesitant to hop aboard the hate-Dan O'Dowd-express (or whichever Rockies decision maker you prefer) is because I think the current futility is distinct and unrelated to the futility of 90s and early 2000's. Invariably, when I defend the Rockies front office I hear (read) something like
"The burden of proof is on the Rockies brass to show their genius is making any sort of a difference. This is the same "genius braintrust" in place that has produced 10 losing teams in the past 13 seasons. Yes, the Anderson trade and Logan signing represent nice little deals, the former a worthwhile gamble and the latter a good attempt at reconstructing bullpen depth. The Morneau signing might even be an upgrade over Helton's aged bat. But please, let's not get carried away." -RockedUp (Purple Row community member) 12/15/2013
Colorado professional baseball is in infancy compared to cities like Boston, New York, and Chicago.
There really was no blueprint in place -- no manual -- that would teach the Rockies how to deal with their constricted budget or unique environment. They would have to learn by doing. Hence, the implementation of a humidor after ten year of exciting yet erratic baseball. If the lesson of the 90's was learning ways to mitigate the negative effects of altitude on the home team, (still in progress) the lesson of the early aughts was learning to be frugal.
Some bad contracts (Hamtpon, Neagle) sidelined the team for the better (or worse) part of a decade but taught the team a valuable lesson. As Billy Beane -- or Brad Pitt movie-version of Billy Beane -- once said, "if we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there."
As I put it last week specifically about the Rockies:
Some teams (Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels) can make big huge splashes in the offseason with megastar signings and blockbuster trades because if they don't work out they can absorb it and it will cost them maybe a season or two. For the Rockies, one or two bad contracts (too much centralizing of the resources) could mean derailing the organizations for a decade (hello MIke Hampton and Denny Neagle!) so I think the current strategy is at least the right one.
When it comes to pursing big-name talent, it's not that the Rockies can't afford it, it's that they can't afford to try and be wrong.
The 2007 season was a turning point for the Rockies. Setting aside the arrival or Troy Tulowitzki and the historic run to the World Series, the '07 season bore the fruits of a new kind of labor. The Rockies moved away from the Philosophies of the past --focusing on homegrown talent and pitching -- and would make the playoffs in two of three seasons.
So what went wrong and why do the Rockies feel like a bottom-rung team even with superstar talent?
2. Improving depth in order to compete now
We will get into more detail with this in a moment, with regards to this off-season's moves, but as a wider philosophy, I think the Rockies have realized that their propensity to have strong starts and promising streaks followed by lengthy bouts of futility may have something to do with being unprepared for injuries to their core.
The Rockies depth the last few years has been made up mostly of young players who end up getting rushed to MLB because of unforeseen circumstances (usually injury) and this hasn't been working. The Rockies have turned to more veteran depth. Having some above replacement level depth -- as opposed to just AAAA quality depth -- should go a long way toward lessening the burden of Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.
If you have the strongest man in the world pull an airplane down the runway, then ask him to pull a large truck, he might not even feel the latter. The Rockies are still asking Cargo and Tulo to carry a big load, but have shed a considerable amount of weight.
In the words of All-star commenter, Muzia:
"I think Drew views these transactions as pieces of a larger puzzle meant to address the glaring weaknesses of the past couple of years. While I don't agree with his sentiment that they combine to demonstrate a stroke of genius, I can certainly see being optimistic, especially in December.
I have brought this up before and may do one final statistical breakdown (wanted to do that today but travel and internet issues...) but viewing this RIRF video and keeping in mind what the Rockies have done this offseason to address their biggest weakness -- drag -- and you can see where I'm going.
3. Minimizing financial risk to maintain flexibility in the future
We've gone over this, but now let's get into the recent acquisitions...
(Unique to Rox) Morneau helps the Rockies unique situation by being a line drive hitter who prefers to spray the ball all over the outfield. While his other numbers have dropped in the last few seasons due to injury and the recovery that followed, Justin Morneau has maintained a line drive rate right around 21 percent.
He also has two signature skills that other Rockies have historically lacked (like Dexter Fowler for example) -- he has a very low strike out percentage and he can hit on the road.
2010: .914 home, 1.205 away
2011: .657 home, .587 away
2012: .728 home, .820 away
2013: .797 home, .676 away
He is an upgrade over what the Rockies had playing at first base and he comes with a contract that doesn't kill the team (still allowed them to make other signings) and doesn't lock them into anything long-term.
Plan A: Morneau renaissance. He regains complete form, doesn't need to be platooned and gives the Rockies All-star level of play.
Plan B: He needs to be platooned to be effective but remains so. He amounts to a slightly above replacement level player but the platoon still makes the 1B position and advantage.
Plan C: He gets hurt or turns into a pumpkin. Rox have Wilin Rosario and Michael Cuddyer who can play first and keep their big bats in the lineup. Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, and Drew Stubbs make replacing Cuddyer easy and let's all not forget that the Rockies still have prospect Kyle Parker waiting in the wings.
Anderson's exceptional career ground ball and strikeout rates make him the perfect kind of pitcher to take the mound for the Rockies. His arrival (and that of Jordan Lyles) give the Rockies an extreme amount of flexibility at the end of the rotation pushing Juan Nicasio to the 5th spot -- a place where his numbers are perfectly acceptable -- and giving the Rockies a slew of young pitchers with MLB experience to battle for the spot that will likely open up when someone gets hurt; Lyles, Cristian Friedriach, and Chad Bettis.
Plan A: Anderson returns to the ace form that made him Oakland's Opening Day starter and stays healthy.
Plan B: Gives the Rockies some production but struggles with old or new injuries. He remains a better option than what the Rockies had last year but doesn't regain dominance.
Plan C: He gets hurt or turns into a pumpkin. Rox have Lyles, Friedrich, and Bettis, along with Jon Gray and Eddie Butler who can step in if needed and have even acquired Franklin Morales as super-deep left-handed starter insurance.
One thing I wanted to mention about Boone Logan that I haven't seen anyone talk about anywhere else is that I think moving from facing the lineups of the AL East to facing the lineups of the NL West will probably help him out a bit. Yes, the Rockies overpaid him and yes they had to. Left-handed relievers are a premium and he also got the proverbial Coors Field Pitcher Tax.
Still, Logan's contract is very fair when compared to what others (Howell, Lopez) have gotten for similar services this off season.
Plan A: He pitches well against both lefties and righties and proves to be a late inning guy who ca pitch whenever needed.
Plan B: He is just a LOOGY
Plan C: He gets hurt or turns into a pumpkin. Bettis, Frankie Mo, Rob Scahill and others can step in.
Stockpiling all these low cost/low floor/high ceiling players could pay immediate dividends for the Rockies. Of course this whole thing boils down to believing the Rockies can execute the strategy they have laid out. I think the fact that these moves all point in the same direction and because the Rockies have confirmed these plans to some degree in a letter released to season ticket holders.
Still there will always be this:
The sticking point, for me, is assuming (or maybe at least lending credence to) the idea that there's a workable plan in place. That's always been the problem with O'D. His deals make sense in a vacuum, but never cohere to create a workable whole.
With the exception of a few magical runs, this team under his guidance has never been more than the sum of their parts. In fact, they're usually somewhat less. That's how they can have the best 1-2-3 starters in their history AND 1/3 of the NL All-Star Game starting lineup and still finish in last place. -evers44
There was a recent episode of HBO's The Newsroom in which executive Charlie Skinner (played by Sam Waterston) is giving a full-throated defense of a story they have run. Half-way through his anchor, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) cuts him off and asks, "how much of what you are saying right now do you really believe?" Without missing a beat Skinner replies, "about 60 percent."
I guess that's about where I'm at.
But for me, the Rockies Plan A's which I liked to begin with, have become Plan B's and C's. I think the extreme decrease in drag and the strategy in place of platooning and having MLB available depth as insurance could very well lead the Rockies to a playoff berth that would surprise many. Just not me.