It’s become my personal mission in this space to advocate for Dick and Charlie Monfort to get more credit as Colorado Rockies owners. Based on their track record, they are far closer to the best ownership group in town than the worst. A year ago, it was an especially easy case to make and, based on the comments, it seemed like the tide was beginning to turn. My claim that the Monforts just might be among the best owners in baseball wasn’t laughed out of the conversation but thoughtfully considered and even assented to by some.
This offseason made it a whole lot more difficult. But before we get to that, we have to consider the warning signs back in April 2019.
You remember April 2019, don’t you regular Purple Row reader and Rockies fan? That feeling of optimism and excitement after the Rockies signed Nolan Arenado and Germán Márquez to long extensions in the matter of five weeks? That hope that the team was entering a long-awaited competitive window and demonstrating a willingness to spend to keep it that way? Well, few at the time noticed the bucket of cold water Dick Monfort poured on those feelings.
“Next year, I know, we’ll have a payroll that is really going to be taxing on us,” Monfort said. “But I think we’ll figure a way around it. And then the next year it begs off a little bit.”
But what did that matter? The Rockies were setting records for payroll while employing a mostly homegrown core that the front office was slowly but surely locking up, Márquez being just the latest example. Placed solidly in an MLB mid-market, the Rockies were swinging with the big payers and doing it using a sustainable “50% of revenue goes into the roster” model that few teams—even the New York Yankees—are willing to employ. At the time of those comments they were well positioned to make a run for their third consecutive postseason appearance.
It mattered because 2019 was the most disappointing Rockies season since at least 2008. It just so happens that injuries, regression, underperformance, and terrible baseball (I’ll let the reader sort those buckets as s/he sees fit) combined to make the offseason dire from a roster and payroll perspective.
True to his word, at the end-of-season media availability, Monfort told those in attendance that this offseason would not see a lot of activity from the Rockies. Lo and behold, he was right. Regardless of your feelings on the subject (I happen to think the Rockies could have made some marginal upgrades at catcher this offseason without having to try to have a Los Angeles Dodgers-level payroll), keeping these two points of the timeline together is important. Monfort didn’t look at the disappointing 2019 season and say, “Nah, we good.” He said in April, “No matter what happens, 2020 is going to be tight.”
And that turned into a problem. The holes in the roster demand filling, but the Rockies seem locked into a plan that banks on positive regression and bouncebacks. On the face of it, that’s not a horrible plan: just about everyone except Arenado, Trevor Story, and Charlie Blackmon have the potential or the demonstrated ability to be better than they were in 2019. The problem lies in being willing to overlook just how many things have to go right to get the Rockies back to contention. An inert offseason cannot be seen as anything other than frustrating in that lens. And, when rumors are spreading about trading that beloved third baseman, it would help to give fans something more than, “Really don’t have any comment.”
Which brings us to Monfort’s famous “94-wins” prediction. I’m on record as calling this a big nothing-burger. Dick Monfort used to make a habit of making optimistic preseason predictions for the team, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Monfort’s reasoning in his original statement is confusing at best and probably worth some ridicule. But if anything, this should teach us that we shouldn’t fault baseball people for giving cliches because steering away from cliches risks such ridicule. And if we focus too much energy on claims like these, we’re liable to overlook the real issues.
Which brings us to the dawn of the 2020 season. Some may want to make spurious claims about Monfort funneling cash into a burgeoning yacht collection, but that’s far from reality. No, Monfort’s problem isn’t money. As I’ve noted before, everyone has a budget and those who do well at sticking to them are more likely to find financial success. Further, the “every team can afford (player)” ignores that there are crucial differences in market that contribute to the financial situations of teams (try to tell me that the Tampa Bay Rays are on the same playing field as the Yankees, I dare you). No matter how highly Forbes values teams, those are not liquid assets (i.e., cash on hand) that can be diverted into, say, the roster.
Monfort is opening up the wallet and has promised to continue upping payroll. Money is not the problem but those to whom he has entrusted the money. Unfortunately, that responsibility comes right back to him, because he has decided to stick with the Jeff Bridich administration in spite of a track record that is growing increasingly suspect. And since they are playing in the same division as a Dodgers team with apparently unlimited resources and the ability/willingness to trade for more stars that they can only have for a season, the Rockies have to do better if they even hope to sniff a Wild Card.
This season is perhaps the most critical in Rockies history. Winning or losing may mean the difference between keeping a team together that seems to have won in spite of, not because of, its front office management and making drastic changes. And the choices that need to be made will end up coming back to Monfort, who has a habit of being loyal-to-a-fault. We’ll see how that plays out.
Rockies ownership still rises above the mean, especially in a league occupied with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins. But from outlandish predictions to excessive and perhaps misplaced loyalty, the Monforts are making that a much less believable proposition than it was a year ago.