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The Rockies front office’s strengths and weaknesses

Where the Rockies’ front office is strong, and where it is weak.

Credit and blame for a baseball team’s success usually finds its way to one person. Whether that person is the general manager or, as is common nowadays, president of baseball operations and the like, commentary finds its way to a single decision maker. Part of this is practical. The role is high profile, and living with being the face of baseball operations is likely part of the job description. Similarly, it’s difficult to pin down where the influence of underlings shows up. Baseball teams don’t really advertise these sorts of things.

A review of the Rockies front office necessarily and justifiably focuses on the work of the general manager. But it’s necessary to recognize that ancillary role players such as assistant general manager Zack Rosenthal, scouting director Zach Wilson, director of pitching operations Mark Wiley, and manager of baseball research and development Trevor Patch in the shape that the front office has taken.

Jeff Bridich enters his fourth third season as the general manager for the Colorado Rockies and his fourteenth with the organization overall. When he took over for Dan O’Dowd prior to the 2014 season, the Rockies were coming off of back to back last place finishes and were in desperate need of new direction. The immediate response to Bridich’s hiring wasn’t entirely positive. It also wasn’t entirely fair. The eye rolls and of course the Rockies hired from within groans that met the news were understandable though. After all, the Rockies were in need of a new direction, and someone who’s been around for a decade seemed an unlikely source of that.

Now, three years later, it’s clear that Bridich has provided that fresh outlook despite his long history with the Rockies. He’s grown into the role and made it his own—Dan O’Down 2.0 he is not. Like all of us, he has strengths, and he has weaknesses. We’re at a point now where we can look at both of them and start to paint a picture about the type of front office Bridich leads.

★ ★ ★

Bridich has demonstrated an ability to find value where there didn’t seem to be any. Three transactions prior to the 2016 season show this. First, Bridich took Rule 5 draft pick and marginal reliever Tommy Kahnle and turned him into pitching prospect and now No. 12 PuRP Yency Almonte. In another move, Bridich turned once promising prospect Rex Brothers (who didn’t pitch at all in 2016 and recently signed a minor-league contract with the Braves) into lottery ticket Wander Cabrera (No. 29 PuRP).

Those weren’t even the two most impressive moves Bridich and Co. executed. The “Corey Dickerson for Jake McGee” trade has turned into the “who the hell cares for Germán Márquez” deal. Márquez, No. 5 PuRP, has already debuted and has a real chance to be a legitimate back-end starter in 2017. The final value find is already a resounding success: the Rockies claimed catcher Tony Wolters off of waivers. They got him for nothing, and he’s set to be a critical component on a competitive team.

Bridich was a less active trader this offseason. if we want to find an analogous move, it would be trading Eddie Butler for James Farris. Butler had little value to the Rockies in 2017. At best, he was a bullpen project. Farris doesn’t offer anything more than bullpen help; however, he might end up being a more trustworthy arm than Butler when (not if, really) the need arises. Given Bridich’s transaction history, I’m most confident in one like this turning out well for the Rockies. And even if it doesn’t, it didn’t cost much. Taking a $6 million gamble on Greg Holland could also fit in this category. That move has the potential to pay off in a substantial way.

But while Bridich seems to have a keen ability to identify value, his major weakness appears to be an inability to follow through on multifaceted plans. The exception that at least supports this rule is the Márquez trade. In early January, 2016, the Rockies signed outfielder Gerardo Parra to a three-year, $27.5 million contract. It crowded the Rockies outfield, and a couple of weeks later, Bridich traded Dickerson to make room. The one transaction was directly linked to the other, and at least the acquisition of Márquez has worked out (Parra’s now an expensive fourth outfielder).

A major-league roster is a system in which additions and subtractions necessitate additional action; Bridich hasn’t had a lot of success in the secondary part of this process. The first example of this is the Troy Tulowitzki trade. Right now, the trade looks great. The Rockies got Jeff Hoffman, who should contribute to the starting rotation this season, as well as Miguel Castro and a project named Jesus Tinoco. It’s less great when reminded that the Rockies are also paying José Reyes $26 million for 2017-2018 (in addition to the $22 million they paid him in 2016).

The trade still looks like a success, but the missed second step was flipping Reyes after acquiring him. They probably still would have had to pay part of his salary, but it would have been less of it, and they might have been able to get one or two more of those valuable prospects Bridich seems to be good at identifying.

The second example is this offseason’s signing of Ian Desmond to a five-year $70 million contract to play first base. It was easy to imagine the moves within the system to make sense of the transaction: Desmond is an ill-fit for first base, but he can play the outfield; Charlie Blackmon could yield a big return and Dahl can most definitely play center field; Carlos González is in the final year of his contract and has been healthy enough the last couple seasons to get real major-league value back; maybe even put Desmond at second base move DJ LeMahieu at peak value and just two years of team control left; fill first base with one of the many free agents out there in a clear buyer’s market.

Despite expressed interest in first base free agents like Edwin Encarnación and Mark Trumbo, the Rockies didn’t do anything, and now it looks like Desmond will play first base. The Rockies will say it was the plan all along, but what else are they to say? From this perspective, it looks like a multi-step plan that never really crystallized due to passivity.

In both cases, we’re left in the dark as to what the actual possibilities were for the front office. Maybe Encarnación didn’t want to live in Denver, and maybe the offers for Reyes were just no good and Bridich wanted to hold out for a deal he could live with. But given what we do know, these both look like missed opportunities to improve, in the case of Reyes, the organizational depth and, in the case of the Desmond situation, the team’s chances in 2017.

Couple this with the things Bridich has had success in, and we get a glimpse of a front office that is neither flawless nor fundamentally flawed. Rather, it’s one in which the strengths and weaknesses are cohering into what could end up being the dual hallmarks of the Bridich era in Colorado.