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Rockies Review: If chance will have me king

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King Duncan:
Is execution done on Cawdor?
Are not
Those in commission yet return'd?

Malcolm:
My liege,
They are not yet come back. But I have spoke
With one that saw him die; who did report
That very frankly he confessed his treasons,
Implor'd your Highness' pardon, and set forth
A deep repentance. Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it.

Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 4


DISCLAIMER: I certainly wouldn't want to alarm anyone by suggesting that kindly old Clint Hurdle/King Duncan should look lively for psychopaths with knives, or that Jim Tracy/Macbeth employed the consultation of three witches in finding a way to acquire the top job in the kingdom of Colorado/Scotland, but then again, maybe I AM. You never know.

Boil, boil, toil and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron bubble...

Ahem.

-------

If you heard one thing about the Colorado Rockies this week, you probably heard that they finally decided that it wasn't good business to reward spending the better part of a decade solidly mired in mediocrity. To wit, they gave the Row's favourite whipping boy his walking papers at last. And while there's debate as to whether this was a largely empty gesture trying to save face in a lost season, or the first step toward actively trying to claw back into it, there's no doubt that it represents the start of a new era, and the shifting of responsibility. While those who wanted a cooler-hurling manager like Joe Mikulik (including myself, I'll admit) are going to have to learn to live with disappointment, Jim Tracy will serve well enough until the offseason.

Some Dodgers fans have already dropped by to warn us that we're going to be screaming for Hurdle to come back by the time it comes, and that Tracy has a fixation on his 2004 NL West-winning Dodger team that would indeed do credit his bonkers alter ego. Then again, we just won a home series under the guy, saw a fire and spark that's been sorely absent in pulling out a comeback victory against Heath Bell, and today, although we lost, managed to avoid one of those nuclear bomb innings that's been our plague this year. Who are we to complain? Hell, if he wants them to dress up as trees and truck up to Dunsinane, maybe we should try that as well. We can't really discount anything at this point, right?

Okay, maybe not.

Hurdle's firing sends the longed-for message: the front office has, at last, taken notice that the product they've put on the field isn't up to snuff. It wasn't all Hurdle's fault -- he can't help it that the bullpen has been equipped with blowtorches and that Helton and Hawpe are the only hitters really carrying their weight. But he had to take the fall this time, reinvigorating the debate about how much of an impact managers really have on their clubs. And it's true that despite all the Spring Training palaver, the Rockies were truly execrable at executing fundamentals, and that when the going got rough early on, Hurdle's managing smacked of desperation as he fiddled with umpty zillion different lineups and made the roundly panned move to bench Tulo. He isn't blameless by any means. A manager has to get a fire going under sagging rears, and Hurdle wasn't demonstrating the ability to do that. That's why he got canned.

But now that he is gone, and if this new-fangled fad of rewarding success and punishing underachievement is going to carry on, that means the onus to pick up the slack now falls squarely on the players. That doesn't mean that we're expected to restrain from kvetching once Tracy polishes up a few of his own trademark bonehead moves, since, well, we're Rowbots and we're good at kvetching, dammit. But if we don't have the excuse of blaming Hurdle (although we can always blame Dinger) then neither do the players. It's time for the dogs to start pulling the sled and stop waiting around for the musher to crack the whip. The players themselves know that, I think, and in all honesty, a little bit of job anxiety could be a healthy emotion. For better or worse, Hurdle could only put nine guys on the field and trust them to do their job. The rest was out of his control. And for the most part, whatever combination of nine guys he came up with weren't filling the bill. They're going to have to do that now.

June, as I touched upon in the last Review, doesn't look too friendly, what with only nine home games all month. But that isn't an excuse. After all, we're in the no-excuses zone now. Plain and simple, if the players don't do their jobs, they ought to be in danger of losing them too. If the team goes straight back to its maddening underachievement and nuclear innings, and muddles into the break unable to sort asses from teakettles, then by all means, let the firesale commence. But as has been mentioned before, it's hard to build a winner if you keep swapping proven performers for tantalising but unproven commodities. You'll certainly get somewhere, but the danger is you're never quite sure where. Now that the franchise has announced its intention to judge rewards by performance, they're going to have to make some hard choices about the direction they want to take this offseason. Go after a "better" manager? Bring up all the young talent, shed salary, make some trades, and just try again completely from scratch? Or go back to their previous business modus operandi, and hope that fiddling around with bit parts will magically elevate them to a higher level?

There are still choices to make now, for that matter. Decide that there's no catching the Dodgers and start retooling yet again? Or count on rebounds? Trust that Tracy is going to take this fire-starting business seriously and haul them back into contention so that an All-Star Break sell-off is a last resort instead of a first choice? And which of the key players are they going to choose to focus on, and how are they going to help them maximise the return they're expected to get? The front office went on a signing spree after the '07 Series, which has paid decidedly mixed dividends to say the least.

While Hawpe is looking awesome, Francis may or may not ever throw another pitch for the club, Tulo's hot for a few weeks and then ice cold, Corpas is a riddle wrapped in an enigma and miles and miles from his previous dominating form, Holliday got traded, etc. etc. Are they going to lock up role players and hope that they'll squeeze more than one good season out of them? Who are these role players? How do they fit in with the current scheme of things? Are they proven or are they prospects? Are they going to take a flier on the draft and select high-risk, high-reward guys, or go back to safe, dull, projectable picks, which certainly have talent but nothing grandstand-busting? In short, does firing Hurdle represent a fundamental redirection of the way this team is going to do business, or was it just changing the colour of the curtains?

I don't expect the front office, or the fans, to have answers to these questions now. It's only three games into Tracy's tenure, after all, and things could look a lot different -- for better or for worse -- once we get through that unappetising June. Trial by fire, to say the least. But by that time, we'll have a better idea of what direction it seems that our team is taking.

Well, we'll be sure we've got it figured out, at least. And if Jim starts talking to midair and Mrs. Tracy starts going on about damn'd spots, then it will probably make it easier.