It’s been a slow offseason. Prognosticators are saying that the free agent market that has handed out $1.251 billion dollars worth of contracts over 87 years (resulting in a lower raw total than projected but a higher average annual value) will result in the players going on strike when the collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season. From perspective of public perception, it’s not a good time to be an owner (and it may be immoral to side with them, apparently).
Well, unless you’re talking about the Colorado Rockies. In fact, if you’re a fan of the Rockies, you’re rapidly running out of things about which to complain as it relates to ownership.
For the longest time, everyone had an opinion on Rockies owners Dick and Charlie Monfort, and thanks to some non-competitive teams, some alleged meddling with the on-field product, and some unfortunate emails, very few of those opinions were positive. Now that the team is experiencing a sort of golden age, it’s passed time to reevaluate our opinion of the Monforts.
One thing that the Monforts have understood better than most is that they aren’t just selling an on-field product, but an in-stadium experience as well. For all of the completely hilarious Party Deck jokes, Coors Field was among the first stadiums in the league to feature such an area that can now be found the league. Last season the scoreboard in left field got a much-needed upgrade. And construction on a “mixed-entertainment district” in the former West Lot near the stadium began in the fall, promising, among other things, a Rockies Hall of Fame. The Monforts have always done what it takes to keep Coors Field one of the crown jewels of Major League Baseball (unlike some owners who look at an 18-year-old stadium and decide to move to the ‘burbs).
They haven’t been content to just spend money on the stadium. Since bottoming out at $73.9 million in 2013, the Opening Day payroll has set record highs each of the past five years, with this year’s projected $143 million projected to set another record. As young players have developed, the team has shown a willingness to supplement the homegrown talent with free agent contracts. They haven’t gone on a Steinbrenner-esque spree by any means, but they have run a payroll above league average for two years now and were one of a handful of teams to devote more than half their revenue to the on-field product. Not bad for a team with the 17th biggest US media market in MLB.
What has set the Rockies apart is not the money they spend to bring in players, but the money they spend to keep the players fans love most. In 2001, they signed Todd Helton to a nine-year extension that was the fourth biggest contract in baseball at the time. Nine years later, they signed Troy Tulowitzki to a seven-year extension, which was the eighth biggest in baseball at the time, and gave Carlos Gonzalez a seven-year deal of his own. Last season they gave fan favorite and reigning batting champ Charlie Blackmon a six-year extension. And, of course, everyone is still basking in the glow of inking Nolan Arenado to an eight-year extension just this week, the richest by average annual value in baseball history. As Jeff Bridich said at the press conference announcing Nolan’s extension,
“I hope it sends a message that not only do we value pursuing a championship, but we are trying to do that with the guys that are our best players and have been around in our organization for a long period of time. We try to do well by our players, and we are not afraid to make commitments.”
That kind of culture of commitment can only happen when you have the support of an ownership group.
Oh, and the team has averaged 88 wins over the last two years, so all of these positives have also been accompanied by winning baseball.
So we have owners who spend money to create a memorable in-stadium experience and are willing to bring in free agents to supplement a roster built around home-grown talent, which has historically included signing the best and most beloved players on the team to long-term extensions to keep them in purple pinstripes.
It’s understandable if the ownership lost your trust in the down years. But it’s high time to recognize that the Monforts are among the best owners in baseball.