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Please stop playing the stupid low payroll card: A Rockies History 2001-2006

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Sorry for posting more on this, but my frustration at people that think that throwing money at a problem is the quickest and best solution is bubbling over this afternoon. I know Rockies fans are frustrated with losing. Believe me. I know the frustration. Alright, anyway, some quick historical analysis of what positions each team in the last six seasons has needed to improve to help me get focused on what I want to say here:

2001:

Why do I start with this season? Well despite the 73-89 record of the franchise, it was the last time we were even mediocre. At the start of the season the team had two stars in Larry Walker and Todd Helton but then received at least league average production at three other spots in the everyday lineup with Jeff Cirillo, Todd Walker and Juan Pierre (Pierre's OPS+ of 89 is obviously ten percent below average, but once his SB's are factored in, it gets at least to that point, of course, that's the last time as a Rockie). What really brought us up to blessed mediocrity, though, was the bench production from Juan Uribe and others. Dan O'Dowd and the team were wise in understanding they needed to address a hole in left field, but that summer they thought they needed to fill too many holes, took too many risks and have been trigger shy ever since. The moves of this summer set the team back five years.

Team Needs:

  1. Left Fielder
  2. Fifth Starter
  3. Maybe some bullpen help.
In hindsight, this was all we really needed to fix. Was Neifi a blight at the bat? Yes, but his defense was a plus, we could have addressed this at season's end. Trading away him, Astacio, Gant and several prospects that could have been used in the last five seasons proved especially costly opening gaping holes in the lineup and rotation and wound up fixing nothing. All of these needs should have been addressed in a more patient, methodical fashion.

2002:
Alright, now because of some of those moves and the collapse of Hampton/Neagle we were officialy terrible.

Team Needs:

  1. Starter #1
  2. Starter #2
  3. Starter #5
  4. Catcher
  5. Shortstop
  6. Center field
  7. Second Base
  8. Third Base
  9. Bench
How do you go about fixing this mess? What astronomical sum of money will produce a winner out of the wreckage of this team? Which prospects are you going to give up? Remember at this time that our farm -including prospects like Matt Holliday, Garrett Atkins and Jeff Francis- was lightly regarded by not only the scouting community but also the stats mavens due to the fact many of our minor league franchises play in hitter friendly environments and our seemingly best hitters were all thought to be first basemen or DH types.

As for the MLB team, four out of eight lineup spots were 30% or more below average. Three out of five rotation slots needed upgrades. The bench had one solid bat. It's a miracle this team won more than seventy games. This is when I started focusing most of my attention on the farm because it was apparent to me that winning in Colorado would take awhile.

2003:

Team Needs:

  1. Catcher
  2. Second Base
  3. Third Base
  4. Shortstop
  5. Bench
  6. Starter #1
  7. Starter #2
Again, I don't think people understand how terrible our team was. Only two needs met from the year prior in Preston Wilson and Darren Oliver in the fifth slot, although our bullpen was starting to thin and without anybody close to being a top of the rotation pitcher all the moves were meaningless. After this season the money from a couple of bad contracts starts to come off the books, but years of atrition in attendance makes pursuing risky new contracts an understandably foolish venture, as there are still way too many needs to address to make it worthwhile until we have a working pipeline of talent.

2004:

Team Needs:

  1. Catcher
  2. Shortstop
  3. Second Base
  4. Center Field
  5. Bench
  6. Starter #1
  7. Starter #5
  8. Bullpen (at least 3 members)
Now the thinning bullpen officially rears its ugly head as a team need, although Joe Kennedy does a stand-up impression as a #2 pitcher for a year. Up the middle is still an eyesore. And look at that, still eight spots to fill. Each position up the middle at this point would cost eight to ten million dollars per season to fix, as would a top of the rotation starter. You are still looking at adding at least fifty million dollars to the payroll in order to build a really competitive ballclub, even though you might be able to make the playoffs in the weak NL West with half that amount spent. I just don't see a revenue stream that justifies this.

2005:

Team Needs:

  1. Catcher
  2. Shortstop (we were assuming that Barmes would handle it, though)
  3. Second Base
  4. Center Field
  5. Starter #1
  6. Starter #3
  7. Starter #4
  8. Bullpen (2 members)
  9. Bench
What's the difference with these nine positions that need filled, and the nine that needed filled in 2002? For one, we have inside fixes for at least a couple of them, as key parts of our rotation have finally matured. Also, we'll get lucky in the offseason, as we make a good decision in regards to second base with Jamey Carroll. Still, I don't blame management for again passing up the opportunity of paying fifty million dollars to get more certain fixes everywhere else.

Which brings us to this year, 2006:

Team Needs:

  1. Center Field
  2. Catcher
  3. Shortstop
  4. Bench
  5. Starter #1
  6. Starter #5
Now that we have some momentum, all these people come crawling out of the woodwork lamenting how cheap ownership's been the last five seasons. It's inane. Not spending these past five seasons -until they had the necessary infrastructure in place- was the one smart move this ownership group has made since they bought the Rockies at the get-go. Denver is not a major media market. It never has been. It might be in the future when the coasts are all flooded due to melting ice-caps, but for now we have to be a little bit smarter than they are in New York and LA to compete, don't worry, it's not that hard of a threshold to reach. Unless fifty-thousand fans show up at Coors every night, don't expect massive expenditures on this team. The way to build is from within.

For next season we finally have legit long term answers at two more key positions, catcher and shortstop. Don't expect much more than league average production at first, but that's all we really need at the moment. As far as where any money should go, yes, center field is the correct call, but no, spending massively on a long term contract for Torii Hunter or Gary Matthews Jr is not. Neither is trying to play short-term stop-gap fix with Steve Finley or Darin Erstad. I really think we should look to give Coco Crisp a two year deal, with a mutual option for a third. I think we could make a competitive bid there. If we did want to go with a long term lucrative contract, the only player it makes sense for is Vernon Wells. Period. I actually think it would make sense to see if we could make that happen somehow. Beyond that, the rotation is a real concern, and I think management is misguided looking at the bullpen instead. But that's just me.

Anyway, I guess my point is that I wish people would just shut up about all this payroll nonsense and if they want to blame Dan O'Dowd and the Monforts for this mess, go ahead and go back to 2001 and point the fingers as they were certainly deserved then, but now it's pointless and needlessly pessimistic.

Update [2006-9-29 2:44:17 by Rox Girl]: I should have looked more closely at Crisp's contract, as OhNo points out in the comments it's fixed for the next three seasons, which means that we'd have to acquire him by trade. I say fine. Do that, as long as it's not a starting pitcher, Holliday, Atkins, Tulo or Iannetta that the Red Sox ask for. We can't afford to end up with Finley or Erstad.