On Feb. 1, back in the before COVID times, if you can remember those days, Dick Monfort made a bold prediction: The Rockies were going to win 94 games in 2020. He backed the prognostication with less-than explained “interpolated numbers” of the 2007, ’08, and ’09 data.
This was after a 2019 season when the Rockies lost 91 games, made no major offseason trades or acquisitions (the only team to take this laissez-faire approach), and just expected the players to play better.
Then COVID hit, everything changed, and the MLB was lucky to fit in a 60-game season. It seems safe to say that with or without COVID the 2020 Rockies roster was never going to win 94 games, or the equivalent in a short season. In an expanded playoff field, the Rockies failed to make the playoffs, finishing with a 26-34 record, which would equate to 70-92 in a regular schedule. If the playoffs ballooned to 10 teams per league instead of the eight it’s already at this year, the Rockies still wouldn’t have made the playoffs.
Part of Monfort’s theory is that after the Rockies’ epic Rocktober run to the World Series in 2007, they had a bad year in 2008 (74-88). Then they bounced back in 2009 with a 92-70 record, making the playoffs. So, if history repeats itself and Monfort’s “interpolated numbers” were right, then the Rockies should have made the playoffs in 2020. The MLB even changed the rules to help them do it. But it didn’t happen and we enter another offseason with a hope-and-see mindset about 2021.
Many could argue, and perhaps rightly so, that 2020 shouldn’t even count. No one is going to take it seriously because of the circumstances and shortened season. I just can’t swallow that justification for bad baseball. It’s really hard to believe that if only the Rockies would have had more games or had fans, it would have been so much better. In reality, I am grateful this season is over so that we don’t have to watch anymore blowouts, bullpen blowups, or runners left stranded on base.
Instead of the hope-and-see method of improvement, it seems more important to look at accountability. Whose fault is this mess?
The Rockies have some darn good baseball players, namely Nolan Arenado (even if the shoulder injury limited him this year), Trevor Story, and Charlie Blackmon, with some possible rising stars in Raimel Tapia and Josh Fuentes. They finished the season tied (with the Padres and Phillies) for eighth-best team batting average in the MLB at .257, which is ahead of the Dodgers (.256). Just barely, but we’ll take it.
However, there are holes in the lineup, a starting rotation that is 3/5 incomplete, and a bullpen that is a disaster. Do we blame the guy that assembled that roster, Jeff Bridich, along with the owner and the rest of the front office that evaluates that talent and predicts ludicrous success that doesn’t align with reality?
Monfort is not going anywhere, so that leaves us with Bridich. As Bridich said after the 2019 season, “A lot of times, the easy thing is to say, let’s just move on, get rid, get new faces in here and sweep in changes. But that’s not realistic for us. That’s not who we are. And sometimes the patience pays off.”
If the Rockies are banking on patience, then Rockies fans will have to find new ways to generate and store patience (yoga, meditation, hiking, journaling, punching bags, etc.) for years to come.
The front office has been perennially doomed by bad deals, an inability to accurately gauge the winning ability of the team as a whole or the pieces in it, and a family-like loyalty to certain players, coaches, and staff.
I know Purple Row has already wrote about this in Justin Wick’s Thursday’s Rockpile and in the Daren Gonzalez’s Ranking the Rockies post on Daniel Murphy, but failing to re-sign DJ LeMahieu is unforgivable. Outside of hitting the game-winning RBI single on Wednesday night to advance the Yankees to the ALDS, he became the first player in MLB history to win a batting title in the AL and NL. Marlins manager Don Mattingly had a pretty good explanation for why that’s never happened before: “Guys don’t win batting titles in both leagues, because you win it in one league, they probably keep you.”
Not the Rockies though. They let him go in favor of Murphy, who joined Rockies high-priced, past-their-prime club along with Ian Desmond, Wade Davis, Jake McGee, and Bryan Shaw. This year, the three pitchers were released, Murphy only has an option remaining in 2021 that would be bonkers for the Rockies to pick up, and Desmond will earn $8 million in 2021 with a $15 million option or $2 million buyout in 2022.
Then there was the Nolan Arenado riff. Without rehashing that debacle, it should be obvious to any GM not to treat their best player like garbage. Bridich never publicly acknowledged any wrongdoing and fans now have to continuously worry about Nolan’s last game as a Rockie, despite him signing a deal that would should have made us not worry about that until 2026. Oh wait, except that Bridich suggested that Arenado should have an opt out after 2021. All good choices (insert sarcastic tone here).
A year ago, the Denver Post’s Sean Keeler wrote a post-season autopsy report featuring thoughts from FanGraphs senior writer Dan Szymborski. This is a long quote on Szymborski’s thoughts on the front office, but it’s worth reading:
“They don’t walk away from their mistakes. You could’ve had Ryan McMahon at first and LeMahieu at second and have a better team. Moving Desmond to center field … I know he’s a popular guy, he’s well-liked, but it’s kind of indicative of what the Rockies are. I don’t see a willingness to change. I think it’s a general problem with the Rockies’ organization as a whole, from top to bottom. I think you need a complete remaking of the organization. I think you need an organization that’s willing to break conventional rules of how things are done in baseball. You need ownership that’s supportive and willing to spend when the time is right. You also need ownership that’s supportive of doing things differently. Ownership’s plan to get things better has to be about more than just loyalty.”
In 27 years, the Rockies have had three general managers oversee nine winning seasons and five playoff appearances. The cries to fire Bridich are escalating, but probably falling on deaf ears. Keller (Denver Post) and John Reidy from Mile High Sports are very much in favor of a Bridich exodus. (Note: Check out Reidy’s if you are in this boat and want to read some harsh, but pretty accurate criticism.)
The Athletic’s Jim Bowden listed Bridich as one of six GMs on the hot seat, even though fans and reporters more familiar with the organization don’t believe hot seats exist in the Rockies organization. After listing Bridich’s less-than-shining résumé, Bowden says, “If Bridich somehow keeps his job, he’ll probably have to change managers to quell ownership’s 2020 disappointment, which would be too bad because [Bud] Black has done an exceptional job with the cards he’s been dealt.”
I am not sure I agree that Black and the rest of the coaching staff are doing the best with what they’ve got, but that’s a story for another day.
At the end of the day, or at the beginning of the season, no one should make predictions, especially not the Rockies front office. What they should be making is some changes.
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In more bad news, Trevor Story’s contact is up after 2021. So is Jon Gray’s. Thanks to Bridich, Nolan Arenado can also opt out after 2021. Nick Groke brings up one idea to right the ship: “trading core members of the Rockies’ roster seems feasible, maybe even advisable.” He also thinks this could happen this winter. Gray might be out of tries in Colorado without a miraculous turnaround. However, losing Story would be even worse than losing LeMahieu. Nolan being jettisoned would be a gut punch.
For some good news, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela both have three more years of arbitration under the control of the Rockies.
The Rockies traded for Kevin Pillar to help fill the void left by an injured David Dahl, and in 24 games, Pillar hit .308/.351/.451 in 91 at-bats. Pillar just finished his one-year deal and his future is uncertain. Kevin Henry case for re-signing Pillar is based on his characteristics as a grinder, gamer, leader, and great defender. The case against is that Pillar is climbing in age (32) and that the outfield could be very crowded, especially if Ian Desmond and Matt Kemp return.
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