Rockies’ owner Dick Monfort, General Manager Jeff Bridich, and manager Bud Black met with the media on Tuesday to talk about the season with a variety of media outlets. There were plenty of questions asked about a variety of things, from the season in review to Nolan Arenado’s contract to the new TV deal and even the state of the farm system. Here are some highlights:
Takeaway: There won’t be any major changes for the 2020 season
After agreeing to a new deal with AT&T SportsNet yesterday, Dick Monfort was asked how that would affect the payroll and the team going forward.
“It’s not as lucrative as I wanted it to be, but it is more money. The whole TV/RSN world is a different game. I’m not a streamer. I don’t even know what streaming looks like, but I turn on my TV and if it doesn’t work I’m very upset. But, yes, it is going to be more money. I’ve always said everything passes through – revenues pass right through to the payroll, and I think we’ve proven that over time.
“It doesn’t start until 2021, so there’s no additional money next year. So I don’t think there’s going to be any huge splashes. We’ve pretty much spent what we have through 2020. But it’s going to help. It’s going to help the franchise. It’s going to help the franchise keep players. We knew or we felt like we were going to get a deal when we signed Nolan [Arenado]. We’ve got Trevor [Story]. We’ve got these young pitchers coming up. But we’ll spend the money.”
This is particularly interesting because it maintains the fact that the team is mostly going to be kept together, but mostly because they don’t have the monetary resources to make any of those blockbuster moves. Monfort doubled down on this notion, despite the team having drawn nearly 3 million fans for the first time since 2001.
“I don’t think we have a lot of flexibility on next year of making some great big splash.” He said. “Now that doesn’t mean that we can’t get creative and do some things that will help if the right deal comes along.”
Jeff Bridich echoed the sentiment, saying, “I’m quite confident that there is much better baseball ahead to be played by this group.
“I’m not necessarily saying it’s going to be the exact same group but the with the group that is the 2020 season will not be exactly the same as the 2019 season. Rarely are groups exactly the same. We knew that with two or three of the guys who left the team from 18-19 that there was going to be some growth and development needed by certain guys. Some of that happened this year. Some opportunity was given or earned and made good on in a lot of ways and there are some ways that some established veterans can improve too. That’s one of the things about some of our about some of our guys, they are not just happy, well-paid veterans. They want to find ways to get better, and I think that’s a true DNA of a lot of our guys, which is great.
“Some improvements are going to have to happen but the confidence is there that this group can do it. Certain additions might come, certain guys might move on. We’ll see, there is a lot of time between now and when that will actually happen. But I’m very I’m very confident that we can do this.”
Long story short, don’t expect many major changes for this team in 2020. Maybe in 2021, but certainly not in 2020. The expectation is still that the current roster performs better next year in order to be competitive again.
Takeaway: The farm system isn’t a concern
Despite many media members ranking the Rockies’ farm system near the bottom in baseball, Bridich and Monfort disagreed.
“The whole concept of farm system rankings, I think you naturally have to take with a grain of salt because things change quickly. Players get better that you didn’t expect necessarily to rapidly get better, which can change the perception of your farm system. Players get hurt. We had that this year – Brendan Rodgers was a good example of that this year. I don’t think anyone expected him to have to have major shoulder surgery right in the middle of the season like that. Players get hurt up and down the farm system, which can change things. Trades happen, one way or the other, whether you are trading away guys to bring in people or vice versa. So we try not to get too wrapped up in rankings or where we sit. We focus very much on the individual players in our system. Are they getting better? Where are we headed in terms of development, and do they fit with us moving forward? There’s always some of that crystal ball going on, too.”
Bridich cited Sam Hilliard and Garrett Hampson as having years different than he expected. He said that he expected Hilliard to struggle more than he did, and didn’t expect Hampson to struggle as much as he did. He also mentioned that the mass graduation of prospects.
“So we like our farm system. Could it always get better? Sure. Absolutely. A credit to our scouts and our development staff that over the last three seasons we’ve graduated a lot of players to the big leagues from that system. And some of these players – most of them – helped us get to the playoffs two years in a row. Even going back further than that with Trevor Story taking over for Tulo, it’s not like we had to go out and find answers. So when you have a mass graduation like that, so many of those guys still on our team, the pundits might say the farm system is down. It’s more fluid than that. So we don’t get too wrapped up on that.”
This is particularly interesting for a couple of reasons. First, this year the Rockies only graduated Hampson and Peter Lambert from their prospect list. Brendan Rodgers was set to graduate, but was sidelined by his shoulder surgery. Rodgers and LHP Ryan Rolison are the only two Rockies prospects on the MLBPipeline’s Top 100 prospect list (no. 14 and no. 84).
Second, Monfort mentioned Arizona Fall League performance:
“I know last year in the Fall League, our team that our players were on played in the championship game. Our guys batted third, fourth and fifth. Our guys were the setup guy and the closer. So none of those guys on that whole list I don’t think are in the top 100 but yet they’re in the championship game of the Fall League of all the top prospects and all the top guys. They’re batting third, fourth and fifth and they’re closing and the setup guy. Well, OK, I get it. We’re in Colorado, so give all those awards to the Dodgers and the Cubs and the Yankees and whoever else.”
The batters were Josh Fuentes, Sam Hilliard, and Tyler Nevin — who batted second, third, and fourth — and the pitchers were Jesus Tinoco and Justin Lawrence. Tinoco pitched the fifth and sixth innings, and Lawrence closed the game. He blew the save to send it to extra innings, but that’s beside the point. This year, all of the prospects who appeared in the AFL in 2018 (minus Sam Hilliard) had a down year in 2019, which could also be pointed to as a reason for a down year in the system.
Currently in the AFL, the prospects are not performing overly well, particularly the position players. Colton Welker is starting to turn it on, but the others are near the bottom on the Salt River Rafters in terms of statistics.
Now, it is true that the Rockies don’t often have top prospects. Trevor Story was cited as an example by Monfort:
“I used to look at that all the time and sort of ask Jeff and Zach [Wilson, senior player development director] what the deal was. But Trevor Story was never even a top 100 prospect, and he had just come up. I think my timing is right. He and Corey Seager had just come up and they sort of played, like, the same amount of games, and Corey Seager was the No. 1 prospect and Trevor Story, who had played about the same amount of time as Corey, had 10 home runs and Trevor wasn’t even on the list because he had graduated and Corey hadn’t. It’s sort of a joke.”
Trevor Story was a Top 100 prospect from three different outlets before the 2013 season, with the highest being 34th from Baseball Prospectus. That’s still fairly high and considered a top prospect. Before 2013, he was sometimes considered better prospect than Nolan Arenado. Even though top prospects don’t always mean top performers, having some of those top prospects still makes a franchise look strong and should be something to keep an eye on.
Despite all of this, the farm system does seem to be a concern. The mass graduations from the last few years are encouraging, but there just isn’t a lot of depth to fill those empty spaces. All of the AFL prospects from last year (minus Sam Hilliard) had down years and the prospects currently in the AFL aren’t performing overly well there, and they’re some of the Rockies’ top prospects. Hopefully they will all perform better next year so the drop off isn’t as severe.
Takeaway: Lessons learned?
It was mentioned several times that every season has a lesson for the players. However, every season also brings lessons for everyone else.
Jeff Bridich mentioned that, “one of the lessons for me personally is the handling of expectations, which at times I didn’t do well this year, I think, as a leader. It’s not that I’m a different person or that interacting with different people. A lot of the same people are here. The expectation was just a little bit higher than it had been in years past. And when things weren’t going perfectly right, how do you handle that, day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month. So that’s one of the lessons for me personally.”
He continued, mentioning lessons the players might take from this season:
“There’s so many. It’s tough to get into all the lessons for each player, because some are going to be similar, some are going to be totally unique to the player and what that player went through. But I do think that how cohesive a clubhouse is in tough times – we’ve been through some tough times and tough years in this organization. We’ve had down years before. And we’ve bounced back. I think a lot of our bounce back will be determined [by] just how strong the players want our clubhouse to be. I do think there’s work to be done there. That actually takes work. And some focus. And some attention. It’s not just going to happen. I think that’s a lesson too.”
This quote stood out in particular because it seemed to continue to place the onus on the players to make the team better. The reason they had a tough year was because they didn’t work hard enough or focus enough or put enough attention into things that needed attention. If they work more on those things next year, the clubhouse will be stronger because they want it to be stronger.
Bud Black said his lesson was, “for my role, it’s knowing every player, watching every player perform, watching every player every day, watching their performance. And the lesson, maybe, was I saw some things early that I could have reacted to maybe from a pitching standpoint, some mechanics, mental stuff, on and on about that, that I could have been maybe a little more proactive and not being maybe as patient as I was.
“Same thing with position players.” He continued. “Saw some things early with, we talked about it as coaches, some of their hitting mechanics, their approach. But like I said, in season sometimes it’s a little tricky. Some guys, just from my past, spin out of it quickly. Some guys it takes a long time to come out of it. Sometimes guys don’t, and we saw that. That’s maybe a little bit of the coaching aspect that I could have been maybe a little bit more reactive.”
Monfort said that he learned two things: “Number one, I never really expected us to have as tough as go as we did, so in my planning that never really came up during the offseason. I think you’ve always got to be prepared, whether it’s injuries, poor play, whatever. These things can happen.
“Then the second thing is during the course of the year, a lot of us get so – Buddy and Jeff need to be focused on the day-to-day, but a lot of us get so focused on what is going on then that we probably don’t do our job for the long term as well as we should.” He continued. “I know that’s my case, and so I’ve got to be able to remember that this is a marathon for myself and my family. We’ve always got to be figuring out ways that things, how we prepare for a long life in baseball.”
Overall, the big takeaway is that not much is going to change. There won’t be any money spent on big name players and the farm system is going to stay relatively the same. The responsibility really seems to be placed squarely on the players to make the best of what they have. However, the lessons of leadership in tough times are something that could be viewed as positive from this availability, but only if they are put into practice in 2020 and beyond.