Well, the Dan O’Dowd era has finally ended (and it with the much less prosperous Bill Geivett era). I have been on record as saying that DOD has been a very good selector and developer of talent for the Rockies (of course scouts and instructors play a huge role in this, but ultimately there is an official in the front office who has to choose the players, spend the money, and set the direction of development). O’Dowd was chosen to be the Rockies GM after a great deal of success in Cleveland at selecting and developing talent. The Indians success in the 1990s (that led to the huge number of sellouts at the then Jacobs Field), in large part due to the work of Dan O’Dowd.
Ups and Downs, Good Players and Bad Decisions
O’Dowd didn’t start off on a good foot. There was the huge spending on Hampton and Red Light, and there was the panic trade of what appeared to be just an insignificant piece in the minors named Chone Figgans, a deal he would regret for a long time and that probably impacted his future trade actions. After the disaster of the big spending period O’Dowd returned to the model of the Indians – developing young players from within. The spending on free agents stopped, but the spending on draft picks (often well over slot amount, before there were hard slot levels, for talent that other teams figured were heading for college). He drafted or worked trades to develop that 2007 team – Atkins, Tulo, Ianetta, Holliday and Hawpe were all home grown, while O’Dowd worked smart trades or cheap free agent deals for Matsui, Yorvit, and Taveras. The 2007 pitching staff was also a nice mix of O’Dowd drafting or Latin signings – Francis, Cook, Corpas and Jimenez from within, Fogg and Lopez via cheap deals, and Jason Hirsh (who along with Taveras came in what looked like a salary dump deal of Jason Jennings but ended up filling multiple spots in the organization depth) rounded out that team. 2007 may have been a magic run, but it was also made possible by a combination of good drafting, smart development, and shrewd trades.
The 2009 team was even more home grown. Ianetta, Barmes, Atkins, Stewart, Hawpe, Fowler, Smith, and Helton, along with EYJr, Spilly, and Jeff Baker supplemented by CarGo and smart signing Jason Giambi. The rotation was another smart mix of shrewd trades (Hammel, Marquis, and a throw-away named Jorge De La Rosa) and development (Francis, Cook and Jiminez). The pen similarly was a good mix – Corpas, Matt Daley, and Morales from within and trades/free agents from outside in Huston Street, Alan Embree, and Joe Beilmal.
Those two teams were the best of what Dan O’Dowd could do (especially 2009, which sadly was managed away to the Phils by the questionable bullpen usage of Jim Tracey). Rarely do you see a team with all 8 position players being home grown. 2010 was another good season from the club rooted in good development and shrewd development. But there was the beginning of the downfall.
The misses in drafting really hurt – Greg Reynolds and Ian Stewart come to mind. Stewart was the reason Longoria wasn’t drafted in 2006. Reynolds was chosen to bring quick results to the team – but the sad part of that story is that 2 short weeks after Reynolds made his pro-debut, Clayton Kershaw, chosen 5 picks later by the Dodgers (and who it was later learned the Rockies considered but thought that he would require too long a development time and that their window of competition was going to be 2008 – it happened a year early of course – through 2011, and Reynolds could be there but Kershaw wouldn’t be – that miscalculation will haunt this team for many years to come), came up. Now Reynolds was a very polished Stanford pitcher (similar to Marc Appel), who didn’t have the upside of Kershaw but more downside protection, and if he hadn’t gotten injured, maybe he is able to win 100 games in his career. Sadly, Kershaw has just won 4 straight ERA titles and were it not for bad managing by Mattingly, would be on his way to being thought of as a great postseason pitcher. What might have been.
The holes at 3rd and the pitching staff led the team just months after dropping millions on CarGo and Tulo (deals that the Monforts had a lot of influence on), they dumped Ubaldo to re-stock the minors and to go through multiple stop-gap players at the hot corner. A GM doesn’t get fired or resign over 2 bad drafts, but there is huge aftershocks from such failures.
2011 was the year of injury and regression. One of O’Dowds biggest mistakes (and again, how much influence is there on this from the Monforts) was holding onto players too long. Jiminez should have been traded in the off-season of 2010, when there were more teams shopping and his value was at its highest. Atkins and Hawpe were allowed to burn out rather than being traded at or near their peak. It’s a mistake a lot of teams make, and loyalty is not a bad thing, but it means you don’t plan for the future in the same way. 2012 was just weird with the fires, heat wave, and Coors Field becoming a joke. Amazingly Jim Tracy was going to be allowed to stay – again, who was behind this decision is uncertain. But the decision to move Bill Geivett to work right next to the manager seemed like a panic move. If your leadership team is so fractured that you need a VP looking over the shoulder of your day-to-day leader, your manager, you need other changes. This experiment was clearly a failure.
2013 saw the hiring of Walt Weiss, who I think is going to be a good manager long-term but whose decision making is still weak, but not unusual for first-time managers. 2015 will be the test for him. And there is value of having more communication and partnership between your inexperienced manager and team leadership but right next door? Didn’t work, didn’t help. Then again 2013 fell apart on injuries to Tulo, CarGo, and Dexter. 2014 needed changes. O’Dowd made several smart moves in the off-season: trading for Drew Stubbs, making a controversial deal for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes, getting Brett Anderson, and Franklin Morales. All these were meant to fill out the depth of the team. And it worked too – until there seemed to be more players on the DL than on the 25. In the end the past 2 years off injury-caused destruction were the result of too much money invested in too few players. Were the money invested in either CarGo or Tulo were used to pay for 4 or 5 decent ballplayers, it may not have yielded anymore WAR, but it would have spread the WAR over more position, and would have avoided the huge impact of any one player being injured. In the end the payroll maximum and how it was distributed is what doomed this team.
Ownership and Running the Team
I remain fans of the Monforts because I want owners who want to win (they do and anyone who says they are just in it for the $ should know a) sports teams are historically bad investments in terms of return-on-investment b) you make far more money either being a playoff team or going the Astros direction of all cheap players and poor results and c) rich people don’t want more money, they want joy and winning is far more fun than losing), who care about the team and the city and don’t just trust their front office. That said, the Monforts are not baseball experts but more on the level of high-powered fans (like many on this site). Depending on how big a role they played in signing big contracts like Tulo and CarGo or nixing trades then it is incumbent on them being willing to cover their mistakes (the big dollar deals for CarGo and Tulo being the biggest examples) by increasing their maximum payroll. But as I am fond of saying, that is another discussion for another day.
In the end O’Dowd and Geiett had to go for the future of the team. The reports, published even on the mlb website that players were upset that the team was unwilling to make huge changes told the Rockies they lost their team. Getting free-agents to sign or working out a deal for Anderson (to make his 2015 salary affordable) wasn’t going to happen until the team proved to the players they were serious about winning. There will always be players who just want a pay-day, but you don’t want those players on your team. You want players who want to win, who want to prove others wrong, who want to make a bad team great. The kind of players this team needs to break through into the meaningful September games needed a sign from the organization they were serious, that they would do what is necessary to win games and compete. Asking for the resignations of Dan O’Dowd and Bill Geivett was necessary for the future.
That being said, the next 2-3 years of the Rockies success is going to depend on Dan O’Dowd still. The players who will make this team great are players that O’Dowd drafted and developed. Jon Grey doesn’t count because a squirrel with a bottle of gin could have made that decision. But players like Nolan Arenado (is he really an All-Star or just a nice piece), Corey Dickerson (O’Dowd thought enough of him to draft him twice), Charlie Blackmon (who O’Dowd took higher than he was projected and whose injuries made it look like a bad draft but who might be on the cusp of becoming an perennial All-Star), Kyle Parker (can he be the future power bat they need, a younger cheaper version of Cuddy), and Tyler Matzek (a huge pick in 2009 and the team stuck by him, and is perhaps on the cups of stardom). Then in the minors we have Eddie Butler (most scouts thought he was a reliever but could become a great #2), David Dahl (future center fielder), Kyle Freeland and Tyler Anderson (two more lefties who will either give solid cheap alternatives or trade bait for that big piece they need) all will be part of this team in the next several years. Those players are all part of the Dan O’Dowd master plan of building a team that can destroy opponets at Coors and play decent on the road. If the Rockies are in the playoffs between 2015 and 2017, it will due in large part to Dan O’Dowd’s work.
O’Dowd is a great finder and developer of talent. That is why I made the point that he IS NOT the same as Frank Wren, who not only maxed out the Braves payroll with questionable deals (not injury issues but just bad bets) but did a poor job drafting, signing and developing talent. The Rockies are not at the top of farm systems, but they are in the top 10 in almost every survey, with some even ranking them in the top 5. That was and is O’Dowd’s area of expertise, and I would not be surprised to see the Braves bring him in and put him in charge of their farm system, allowing him to do what he is good at (and let me be clear, he was not a great GM overall, but very good at that area) and be close to his family. I think this is a good thing for O’Dowd, and I hope he has success and happiness at his next stop.
I have always defended Dan O’Dowd, and given the challenges of baseball at altitude and a medium-sized media market and payroll. I still think he did a good job, given the limitations with which he was working. But for all involved, it was time for a change. 15 years of anything other than marriage to a wonderful spouse is probably about the maximum. Good luck to Dan and Bill. But even more – GO ROCKIES!!!!
Loyalaty and the Next Man Up – Welcome Jeff Bridlich
The two reasons why the Monforts didn’t fire O’Dowd and Geivett sooner is #1, they are very loyal people, which is a good thing but as in the case of Hawpe and Atkins, can mean you stay the course 3 or more years too long, and #2, they believed O’Dowd understood Coors Field and altitude baseball better than anyone else. That is probably case, but we still have an issue with winning on the road. But bigger than that, one of the important jobs for any manager, leaders, or supervisor is to be preparing their replacement, the next person up. That is true of GMs, platoon leaders in the military or ward supervisors at a hospital. You must be raising up the next generation. This appears to have been exactly what O’Dowd did, with 37 year old Jeff Bridlich, the team’s director of player development and O’Dowd’s right-hand man these past few years taking over the role. Looking over the few articles available about Bridlich, the Harvard educated next-man up is well respected by those around the league and ready for the challenge (there is a growing number of younger GMs, more analytically driven than “eye” driven). If he is looking for an assistant, I am available and I work cheap – my mind is at the service of the Rockies (being between jobs right now, me and my PhD developed research skills can start tomorrow).
Bridlich has good pedigree, a great mind, and a healthy farm-system to work with, all while trying to be successful in a losing environment with high expectations. The Hot Stove League begins shortly after the World Series, with big decision to be made right-away, including what to do with Brett Anderson (had Tyler Anderson been able to make a couple of late season starts, that decision would have additional information added into it), what trades need to be made, and which existing players who are free agents does the team feel they need to bring back (Cuddy?).
Welcome to the GM role Jeff. I would like to say you will get a long honeymoon period (you will get one from me at least), but this city, this region and this fan base is ready for October baseball…and we are not talking Arizona Fall League.
(for an interesting interview, here is a link to the Modesto Bee interview