It's a grim time to be a Rockies fan and Dick Monfort is at the center of it

Doug Pensinger

The Rockies are really bad this year, and these three interactions with owner Dick Monfort don't give me a lot of faith that the team will be much better anytime soon. It's a grim time to be a Rockies fan.

The Rockies are on a two-game win streak, but I don't feel much like celebrating. After all, the Rockies are still 39-53 on the year, 11.5 games back in the division. The team is 17-39 over their last 56 games and has a 0.1% chance of making the playoffs per FanGraphs and by Baseball Prospectus.

It was in this context in which Monfort sent this email to a fan complaining about the on-field product, and it was in this context that both Mark Kiszla and  Patrick Saunders spoke with Rockies co-owner/president Dick Monfort a couple of days back. The results were terrifying if you're a Rockies fan. Let's address these three Monfort interactions in chronological order.

The fan email

First, a fan attending the game on the Fourth of July filled out a comment card denigrating the on-field product that he had driven his family to see all the way from Grand Junction. Monfort's reply? A curt (yet enthusiastic?) "If product and experience that bad don't come!" Now we don't know the contents of the comment card that prompted that response, but this represents yet another instance of the Colorado Rockies owner showing his lack of PR savvy.

Personally I don't find the comment that offensive: it's an honest evaluation that I've made more than a few times this year when I was considering attending a home game at the last minute. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy the Coors Field experience very much, but it's getting harder and harder to motivate myself to incur the opportunity costs of attending many games downtown this year.

Still, it's a misstep by Monfort here. This is a customer of a business who obviously cares enough about the business to let the company know about its deficiencies -- and the owner responding by essentially ask the customer to take their business elsewhere. That response, instead of perhaps an acknowledgement of the rough season the Rockies are having, is more than a little bemusing from the owner of a business that requires fans just like that year in and year out.

As I am an employee of a Fortune 500 company, the lack of self-awareness displayed in that customer interaction by an executive would have swift and immediate repercussions. For the Rockies, it just seems to be business as usual, and that's really sad. I want my favorite team to have people who won't embarrass themselves on a regular basis in their public and private comments, but instead I have the Rockies.

Dick Monfort is having a bad day

When Mark Kiszla spoke with Monfort on Tuesday, the owner appeared to be flailing, caught in a disastrous season that was to a large extent a personal failing. Monfort explained to Kiszla that he was having trouble sleeping, that he lived in fear of losing, that every single loss was eating at him.

Monfort talked about not wanting any pity. I'm more than happy to oblige.

Please get some perspective, Mr. Monfort. You're an extremely wealthy man who owns an extremely profitable sports enterprise that manages to draw upwards of three million fans a year despite consistently putting what can charitably be called a sub-par product on the field year in and year out. You receive millions of dollars per year in national TV revenue despite the Rockies never playing on national TV -- because the team's national profile is so low and the on-field results so lacking. Plus you receive millions more in revenue sharing from those teams that do spend more on their on-field product. Perhaps that can help provide a measure of comfort from the constant losing.

Rest assured, Mr. Monfort, I'm not crying for you, and I'd be hard pressed to find many fans that don't agree with me.

I don't normally see eye to eye with Kiszla on much, but this article was extremely well done. It paints a vivid image of a well-meaning man who wants very much to win in Colorado but who is in way over his head and doesn't have the answers to get out of this hole he finds himself in.

Kiszla's conclusion about the Monforts was just about perfect:

I don't believe the Monforts are cheap. I believe they are in over their heads, playing high-stakes poker at table beyond their means.

The Monforts run the Rockies with the love and loyalty of a mom-and-pop store. But for all commissioner Bud Selig brags about parity in baseball, championship rings are almost exclusively won by franchises financed like major corporations.

Hiring a corporate-type president who isn't afraid to make these wholesale changes might go a long way.

The interview

The Denver Post had a very good day covering baseball with the Kiszla article and this fine interview of Monfort by Patrick Saunders. Saunders wasn't afraid to ask the tough questions and was able to get some revealing quotes out of a very candid Monfort.

Let's parse some of the statements made by Monfort in this interview:

On his assessment of the team to this point

We have had some health issues, maybe more than normal. But we also built, we thought, enough extra pitching to where we could weather some of this. The injuries haven't helped, but I'm not blaming this on injuries. We haven't played real well.

That's all well and good to say that injuries aren't an excuse, Mr. Monfort, and it's a point in your favor to focus on the bad baseball we've seen. It's a rare team indeed that needs 13 starting pitchers by the All-Star break, but it's also a rare team that needs to call upon Franklin Morales to be the first starter up when an injury to the chosen five arises.

It's bad luck perhaps that Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, and Michael Cuddyer were all put out of commission for a significant time. It's also bad planning if putting Cuddyer, a 35-year-old who hadn't played the position in years, at third base when Arenado goes down is your most viable option. It's bad planning and a lack of talent that leads to players like Jordan Pacheco, Charlie Culberson, and Ryan Wheeler significant playing time or giving a major league promotion to Christian Friedrich, a starting pitcher who had put up a 7.89 ERA in AAA.

On the roster flexibility lost with the injuries

The guy that really hurt us was (losing) Nolan Arenado. Because he brings so much value defensively and he has a good bat, he's a clutch hitter and he's only in his second year. ... over the last 20 days where we were missing Nolan, and I think there were at least four games, with Nolan in there, that we could have won. And that's just from the defensive side. We had some sloppy play over there.

You're not going to replace all of Nolan Arenado's production. We get that, and we get that there wasn't a ready-made replacement for Arenado in Triple-A. However, from a planning standpoint there should have been better options (like moving DJ LeMahieu to third and putting Josh Rutledge at second) that would have mitigated the above effects.

I think Dickey (Corey Dickerson) has filled in well for CarGo, but he's not a CarGo. And it takes away the flexibility of putting three left-handed hitting outfielders out there. The same thing with Cuddyer. I think we have filled in well in the outfield, but his (injury) takes away the dynamic of playing Cuddy at first base, or going with three right-handed outfielders. It really cuts back on your flexibility.

The bit about the handed-ness is a little overblown, but it's true that when Colorado's offense was really humming that a player like Morneau was able to be platooned to an extent with Cuddyer. That's certainly a handicap on the offense, but honestly losing CarGo and Cuddyer hasn''t hurt all that much because Dickerson has been excellent.

On considering major changes to the front office/organization overhaul

We'll look at it. We look at it every year, and we talk amongst everybody. What are we getting done? What do we need to do? We are a draft-and-development organization, so we've got to make sure we have the right people doing that. We've got to make sure we are getting the right personnel for the major-league level. I think we all think we are. But something isn't equating. It's not adding up, so we will look at it, but we look at it every year.

The way I interpret this statement is that Dick Monfort really isn't considering any changes at the top level of the organization, because there should be no "we" in that statement above if he's talking about Dan O'Dowd. That's part of being both the owner and the president of a baseball team. There's no layer of management between you and your GM (or whatever O'Dowd's new title is, all this deck chair shuffling is confusing).

The use of "we look at it every year" makes it abundantly clear that no change at the top level is planned  and that is pretty bemusing considering the tenure of the front office executives and the lack of success in said tenure. More on that in a moment.

On the job status of Dan O'Dowd and Bill Geivett

I have stuck behind both of them. I think they are really good baseball people. I think, if you are looking to make a change, there has got to be a better option. I am criticized by you guys for saying (O'Dowd) is a good baseball man. But I think Dan does a good job. I like the team we have out here. I liked the team in spring training. Why it's not performing? I don't have the answers.

This is a continuation of the above: Monfort thinks that O'Dowd, Geivett, etc. are "good baseball men." Maybe they are, but that's not why Monfort has been criticized by the media and fans. It's that this regime has had 15 years in charge and has zero NL West titles, it's that this regime has repeatedly made development decisions that appear to have backfired both on prospects and major league talent, it's that no matter how often the titles seem to shift, nobody ever seems to leave.

I don't need to tell anyone that it's a very bad sign that a man who is the owner/chairman/president of the organization -- a man who has said repeatedly that he is ultimately accountable for the team's on-field failings -- appears to be completely flummoxed as to why his team is performing so poorly. It's an indictment on Monfort's baseball knowledge and it's an indictment on the people he's got in the front office if these issues keep appearing.

On Walt Weiss's performance

I think he's growing. I think he's grown into the role. He had never managed anything except high school before he started with us. ... I wouldn't say he's growing any faster or any slower than I thought he would.

This statement is pretty fair. It's pretty tough to evaluate manager performance and I actually think that Weiss has done a pretty good job this year overall. The problem with hiring Weiss was simply that the Rockies could have hired someone who had managed above the high school level that might have already grown as a manager to a level that understood managing in MLB.

On hiring a Tony La Russa type to provide an outside perspective

If there was someone there that I thought could really give us a good evaluation, I would sure sit down and talk to them. I'm like you, I'm not quite sure what (La Russa) has. ... I will probably reach out to the Diamondbacks and see how that's working. Maybe (La Russa) is just getting the lay of the land and there is more to come later.

In other words, he's going to ask his division rival if it's a good idea to bring in an outside guy to evaluate his own organization. Progress! If I'm the Diamondbacks, I'm telling Monfort that it's a terrible idea and that he should stick with the good baseball men he has in place. Monfort mentioned earlier in his answer to that question that he was relying on O'Dowd and Geivett to speak with other organizations. Those two gentlemen are very motivated to continue in their current roles without oversight from a fresh perspective. What do you think their advice to Monfort is going to be?

On accountability

There is nobody more disgusted about losing than I am. It's a direct reflection on my leadership, and I shoulder that. This isn't Dan (O'Dowd's) problem. This isn't (Bill) Geivett's problem. This is my problem. And for the life of me, I don't know how our record got to be where it is.

That's the money quote, isn't it? Monfort is taking responsibility for all the losing, absolving his chief lieutenants of culpability in this disaster campaign (and those that have come before). The problem is that it doesn't solve a darn thing. Monfort isn't going to fire himself as president and he's not going to sell the team, so what accountability does Monfort really have here? It's why Rockies fans keep seeing more of the same.

On trading Troy Tulowitzki

Where is all of this talk? I have read some stuff, but I haven't heard anything about him wanting to leave or us wanting to get rid of him. I don't have any plans of doing any of that. ... (If he does ask) Why don't we wait until he does do that?

On this I wholeheartedly agree with Monfort. Tulo is not a player the Rockies should be trading. Ever. He's too valuable and his value is extremely difficult to replace in a trade package. Read Grant Brisbee's article on the matter for an excellent breakdown of this reasoning.

On trading Carlos Gonzalez

Same answer. I haven't talked to CarGo. All I know is that they love it here. Most offensive players do. I assume they are happy (here), but none of us is happy with losing.

Methinks that Monfort is underestimating the effect of consistent losing on his star players vs. the benefit of playing their home games in colorful Colorado. I really hope that this situation doesn't devolve into Tulo or CarGo asking for a trade, but to be honest I wouldn't blame them for doing so.

On trading Jorge De La Rosa

No, De La Rosa has pitched great, and he pitches great here. I mean, we are going to do everything we can to keep him here. He's won our last three.

I think holding onto De La Rosa for 2015 and beyond is a good idea, because he really does seem to pitch very well (and like pitching) in Colorado. Still, I'd certainly listen on JDLR for the remainder of this year, because he's not going to provide the marginal value that lifts Colorado over the top.

On trading Michael Cuddyer

I think his agent had talked to Dan or Geivo, one of the two. He has interest in staying, he'd like to stay - and this was before the injury. I would like to figure out a way to keep him. He brings value to this team.

There's something to be said for team chemistry, and that's an area where Cuddyer really seems to provide value. Still, re-signing Cuddyer with the personnel the Rockies have on hand is more than a little wasteful of Colorado's limited resources. The Rockies already have CarGo and Corey Dickerson to man the corners, Charlie Blackmon in center, and Drew Stubbs/Brandon Barnes are capable reserves. The team has Kyle Parker knocking at the door as well. An aging, expensive outfielder/first baseman who provides great chemistry  is not the panacea for what ails this team.

On competing with the Dodgers

Probably not today, because all of their guys are still in the playable ages. But whenever you have some of these long contracts, pretty soon you get to the Alex Rodriguez stage where they are not bringing the value anymore. Then it's a lot of wasted money, so to speak.

So the strategy is to wait until everyone on the Dodgers is old and they've spent their money? I really hope that's not the strategy, Dick. Because the Dodgers have an awful lot of money. Also, what?

Quite simply, the Rockies have to get better players and spend their money wisely if they are to contend. That means improving player development through the system, improving amateur scouting, obtaining value when it presents itself in the form of a trade, and targeting the right players in free agency. The problem is that the current front office regime doesn't have a lot of credibility with its fan base (or, it would appear, within MLB) when it comes to these key baseball operations. That's why the Rockies seem to be trapped at a level of poor achievement.

On the pieces needed to turn the corner

I think we have to have a lot of starting pitching. I think we've got to have the ability to cut down the amount of time that these guys pitch at home. So that means that you've got to have more than five starting pitchers. You've got to have pitchers in the minor leagues that you can bring up for a spot start or a couple of weeks, or something like that. So I think we need a lot of starting pitching.

Monfort is clearly bought in to the philosophy that pitching at altitude increases injury risk and reduces overall pitcher effectiveness, which seems to suggest a return toward a Project 5183 type implementation. Given what I've seen out of the pitching development side of things from this organization, I'm not sanguine about this regime's chances of executing a novel six-plus man rotation. Still, the need for starting pitcher is pretty evident.

On acquiring starting pitching

You can't go get somebody like (Jeff) Samardzija. I mean, we were even interested in that, even though you only had control for a year and two months. But the asking price was Eddie Butler and some other stuff. Well there is no reason to give up an Eddie Butler, to get a guy for a year and two months. But we are going to see if we can't find somebody who might fit our needs, before the deadline.

It's good that the Rockies didn't give up Eddie Butler for Samardzija, but if the team were pursuing him recently, then it's an indication that the Rockies are delusional about their playoff chances. It seems like Monfort doesn't see a 39-53 team that has gone 17-39 over their last 56 games as a seller. About that...

On if the Rockies are still a playoff contender

I think so. Our schedule is a lot easier the second half. June was a brutal schedule. I mean, we played Milwaukee home and away. We played Washington there. We played St. Louis here. We played the Dodgers two or three times. We played San Francisco out there. So it was a brutal schedule and it seemed like we faced good pitching every night. And now we are going to get some people back. I haven't given up. I'm frustrated as hell, but I haven't given up.

The delusion is strong in this one. Read the first paragraph of this article: the Rockies have a 0.1% chance of making the playoffs this year. There are times when it might be smart to add a piece at the deadline and try to snag a playoff berth. This is most certainly not one of those times. The Rockies aren't going to make the playoffs this year and it won't be close.

Conclusion

What has been demonstrated in the above interactions by Dick Monfort with fans and with the media can be summarized:

  • Dick Monfort has hired the correct people ... to create one of the best ballpark experiences in MLB. The people he's hired to produce an on-field product to go with that ballpark experience haven't been as successful.
  • Monfort really wants to win (and hates losing), but it doesn't appear that he knows how to do so or why the Rockies are losing now. He's in over his head and he's floundering. Monfort needs help, but those he leans upon for that help may be part of the problem, and they have an incentive to not bring in that help for their own job security.
  • Monfort, not his front office or players, is accountable for the losing. But not really, because he's not beholden to anyone. There are no consequences.
  • Monfort believes that this team is still a playoff contender and intimates that the Rockies might only be able to compete with the Dodgers once LA's players get old and expensive. Presented without further comment.
  • Monfort really shouldn't interact with fans or the media. Every time he does so, he (and the organization) comes off as uninformed or even foolish to fans of the Rockies and of baseball everywhere.

Rockies fans, I won't mince words: this is a grim time indeed to be a Rockies fan. Despite a group of star players, this team seems like it has no concept of how to win with these players. It has a front office that doesn't appear to be held accountable for their lack of success by the owner. Finally, the Rockies have an owner who seems like he's completely unqualified for the role but who has no intention of selling the team.

It's a recipe for a team with no direction and a murky future.

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