On Monday Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort sent out his end-of-season letter. It is the final nail in the coffin of the Rockies’ 68-94 season, their fourth worst record in franchise history and one of the more unpleasant seasons in recent memory. Monfort’s letter appears to say all the right things. He admits the Rockies have not been a good team over the four years following their last playoff appearance. He admits the Rockies were not good in 2022. The pitching was bad, the situational hitting was bad, and the defense was bad. Monfort states he won’t offer fans any excuses and instead plans to focus on improving the team for the 2023 season.
Two days later and a few blocks away from Coors Field, the Colorado Avalanche dropped the puck for their season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks. However, there was some business they had to attend to beforehand. The 2022 Stanley Cup Champions unfurled their banner—the third in team history—and watched it ascend to the rafters of Ball Arena in front of a packed house of die-hard fans.
The Avalanche are what the Rockies should aspire to be for a Colorado sports team. The Avalanche have existed for three fewer seasons than the Rockies after being relocated from Quebec City following the 1994-1995 season. In that time they have lifted Lord Stanley’s cup three times. Three banners in the arena. Three more rings on their players’ fingers. While there was a 21 year gap between their second and third cup victories, time and victory heal all wounds. Meanwhile, the Rockies have made just one appearance in the World Series and it was fifteen years ago. Since 2007 they have made three playoff appearances... and three quick exits. While the Avalanche celebrate in an arena packed with ravenous fans, the Rockies are experiencing growing fan apathy due to the team’s poor performance and a failure to deliver on the victory Dick Monfort often promises.
There are parallels between recent Avalanche and Rockies history. The Avalanche have been a bad team before, much like the Rockies. Their 2016-2017 season saw them finish as literally the worst team in the NHL with just 48 points. From 2009 to 2017 they made just two playoff appearances, both of which were quick exits. An agitated, homegrown superstar demanded out in center Matt Duchene. A hockey and team lifer was appointed general manager and we weren’t quite sure if things would work out after a bumpy first few seasons. Does any of this sound familiar?
What’s important though is where the Rockies and Avalanche differ. Some differences make the team polar opposites, some are more like the Rockies with their sliders adjusted, and some aren’t even necessarily good! However, it’s the results that matter in the long run. The Avalanche have been good again for several years and their efforts culminated in an exciting championship run. The Rockies have floundered in four straight seasons with things looking grim for the fifth.
Avalanche owner Stan Kroenke and Rockies owner Dick Monfort are opposites when it comes to the ownership of their respective franchises. Kroenke arguably does not much care about the Avalanche. They are an investment and you are extremely unlikely to see him at a game unless it’s important. For example, Kroenke was at game six of the Stanley Cup Finals when the Avalanche finally sealed their victory. Monfort, on the other hand, is a die-hard for his own team. He’s well known for his purple shoes and shirts, and you will frequently find him at Coors Field for home games. While some argue that Monfort doesn’t care about the Rockies outside of making money, I think it’s pretty obvious the opposite is true.
It’s not a bad thing that Monfort is emotionally invested in his own team. On the contrary, I think it’s something other owners in professional sports should strive for. It’s also not something we haven’t seen before in Colorado professional sports. The late Pat Bowlen clearly cared deeply for his own team. However, there is a key difference between Monfort and Kroenke, and even Monfort and Bowlen. The detached Kroenke and the invested Bowlen both kept themselves out of daily operations and let the hockey and football people do the hockey and football things. The same cannot be said of Monfort, who is deeply meddlesome in the daily baseball operations of his club.
The message that Monfort should take away from Kroenke’s victorious Avalanche is not that he shouldn’t be emotionally invested in his own team. Rather, he should allow the baseball people to do the baseball things, and keep himself out of daily operations.
The Avalanche front office has also excelled at making smart draft picks and smarter trades. The Avalanche netted several picks and players when Matt Duchene was dealt to the Ottawa Senators, including a conditional first-round pick and a very spinny boy in Samuel Girard. That first round pick ended up turning into a fourth overall, which the Avalanche used to select Bowen Byram. Byram was a key contributor in the Stanley Cup run and is only 21 years old. The Rockies return for Nolan Arenado has been criticized and has yet to bear fruit. Jon Gray and Trevor Story were not dealt at the 2021 deadline and walked away from the team for nothing and a compensatory draft pick respectively. That pick turned into Florida’s Sterlin Thompson, who will not reach the big leagues for several years.
At the 2022 MLB trade deadline, the Colorado Rockies notably did... nothing. They were the only team in the league to not make a single move. Meanwhile the Avalanche have thrived on the trade market. Over the last several seasons, trades have netted the Avalanche important contributors like Devon Toews (who was extended), Nazem Kadri, Andrew Cogliano, and Arturri Lehkonen. Three of those four players are still with the team this season and are expected to be key members of the roster again.
There’s also the matter of keeping your homegrown superstars happy and on the team. While Duchene left after the relationship soured, the Avalanche have since locked down Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen to long term deals all while navigating a salary cap. The Rockies have no such cap to deal with, and have a flood of young talent starting to make their way to the major leagues. The Rockies need to avoid making the same mistakes they did with Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story with the budding superstars of the team’s future.
Dick Monfort says the right things in his end-of-season letter, but as his neighbors the Colorado Avalanche celebrate yet another championship it’s difficult to take what he says at face value. With the Rockies’ 30th anniversary season on the horizon, Monfort needs to start delivering on his so-far empty promises of a championship season at Coors Field. Fans haven’t seen a banner lifted there since 2008’s home opener. It might be time to look at the Avalanche for inspiration.
For now? Say it ain’t so. I will not go. Turn the lights off. Carry me home.
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Our very own Renee Dechert is now a contributor at Call to the Pen, and for her first article she discusses the faces of the franchise past and future. Zac Veen’s accelerated breakout in the Rockies minor league system and Arizona Fall League have him on the precipice of the majors much sooner than expected. Veen is likely the new face of the franchise, and the Rockies, but he needs a little more time in the oven before he’s done. The Rockies—and maybe Kris Bryant—can help him develop the PR skills to go along with his baseball skills.
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Arizona Fall League
With an OPS of 1.352, Rockies top prospect Zac Veen continues to impress in the Arizona Fall League. Veen went 2-for-4 with a walk and scored twice. Grant Lavigne walked twice and scored twice in a 1-for-3 game where he hit a double. Warming Bernabel continues to struggle in the AFL, going 0-for-5 and lowering his OPS to just .186 after yesterday’s game. Pitching wise, Finn Del Bonta-Smith worked 2 1⁄3 innings while giving up four runs (three earned) on three hits and two walks. He struck out two batters. Blair Calvo worked a scoreless ninth, giving up one hit and earning his first AFL save.
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