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Monday Rockpile: Solving the Rockies Front Office Conundrum

It wasn't always this way, Jeff.
It wasn't always this way, Jeff.

In what appears to be a season that will rank among the crappiest in franchise history, the Rockies have taken an awful lot of heat. We know the team's current problems; we also know that help is on the way in the forms of other prospects and MLB growth for a lot of the younger players.

But all of the evidence, conjecture, analysis, and complaining points to the front office, namely GM Dan O'Dowd.

We've generally been quiet in writing about the potential outcomes of the 2012 debacle for O'Dowd. I'd argue that most of the Purple Row staff isn't nearly as disgusted in the GM as many of the Rockies' faithful attendees and people shelling out money for tickets are. I mean, this team sucks, and that really sets a lot of patient fans off. Then again, there's a strong farm underneath this club, and that gives some of us pause about replacing O'Dowd.

Since the early 2000s, the Rockies have proudly claimed that their strategy to develop a winning franchise was to put a strong emphasis on the Rule 4 (entry-level) draft, Latin American scouting, and developing from within. This strategy sounds very good, especially to people more willing to take the apparently tight budget at face value than others. It paid off, too, as it would appear, given the Rockies' 2007 run to the World Series and 2009 Wild Card appearance.

After 2009, it was easy to write off disappointments: "We have 2 playoff runs in the past 3 seasons; not a lot of teams can say that!" followed by "We have 2 playoff runs in the past 4 seasons; not a lot of teams can say that!" ending up with "Well, at least we're not the Pirates."

You see, the problem with the Rockies' plan to achieve sustained success by means of the draft and scouting is that pretty much every single team in baseball does that. This isn't some sort of crazy Moneyball strategy the Rockies have stumbled across. This is the absolute basics of building an organization.

What sets the best teams apart is how they complement those homegrown players.

Off Topic

If you want to be a mostly farm-driven team, you have to do it one of two ways:

  1. Suck for several years to get a bunch of top-5 picks in your system, wait for them to come up, and then when they're getting close to FA, burn the team down and start over again.
  2. You could also suck for several years, trade away the Matt Hollidays, and then make other trades or sign free agents to fill the holes on your MLB club with starting-caliber players. We haven't seen the Rockies do this. There's a line between trusting your system and hoping that bench players exceed their own ceilings; the Rockies have too often opted for the latter.

The Rockies intention was to create a perpetually farm-stocked team through smart drafting and Latin American scouting. This is an illusion. Not smart drafting and Latin scouting, but the perpetuity of it. The farm will not always return Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins, and Matt Holliday all at the same time. The only way to come close to this is option 1: Suck for several years. When the farm does not provide a legitimate replacement at a lacking position, you need to look externally to fill the hole.

What this all points to is an unwillingness to take risks. The Cardinals took a decent risk by giving Lance Berkman $8M, and he was a major part of that World Series run.

The Brewers took a HUGE risk by trading away most of their farm for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, and they lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS.

The Diamondbacks also took a huge risk in acquiring Dan Haren, and that trade set them back several years. Then again, they also traded Haren and Edwin Jackson to help restock their farm and then went and filled a lot of their own holes through trade and free agency and won the NL West in 2011.

I know that I'm cherrypicking these instances. A lot of big trades and signings blow up in the team's faces and they look foolish. But the fact is that these teams saw the deficiencies of their MLB club and went and did something about them.

2012 isn't a great example for a lot of this criticism, as they have done SOME things to try and fix the problems, such as acquire Jeremy Guthrie and Michael Cuddyer. The problem remains: the Colorado Rockies are a mediocre ballclub right now, and without acquiring major players, the team will remain mediocre.

If mediocrity is acceptable, then there's no reason to replace Dan O'Dowd or anybody else. I do, however, think that ownership has bought too far into the "internal development" solution. We saw this evidenced in guys like Brad Hawpe and Garrett Atkins, and arguably Dexter Fowler and Ian Stewart. Ubaldo Jimenez was an instance of the opposite, but that was a unique case (as we learned in hindsight).

Dan O'Dowd has done some good things, make no mistake about that. Getting the return we did for Matt Holliday was excellent. The return for Jason Jennings, while it didn't pan out that well in the long run, was also good, when considering that Jennings had no intention of staying in Colorado. Getting rid of Mike Hampton was borderline witchcraft.

But it's not enough. The Rockies tend to operate as a very reactive organization; major trades aren't made until it's obvious that they need to be made. Underperforming players aren't replaced until it's painfully obvious that they have to go.

It brings me back to the Diamondbacks over the past few seasons: they traded Mark Reynolds to the Orioles for 2 relievers. They traded Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy. They traded Dan Haren for Tyler Skaggs and Joe Saunders. They traded Edwin Jackson for Daniel Hudson. They won their division in 2011.

To conclude this piece, I do want change. I do want turnover in the front office. I do think it's time to move beyond Dan O'Dowd. Much as I've enjoyed the personal relationship the club has tried to foster with the players, it makes it so much harder to make the difficult trades and transactions that a mediocre club has to make to jump from mediocre to contending. I want a GM who can separate themselves from the state of the team and give it a good, hard look with fresh eyes and address our weaknesses, and I no longer think that person is Dan O'Dowd.