Monday, July 28, 2014

Loyalty Or Economics: The Colorado Rockies Conundrum

It's been an extremely rough month for Dick Monfort, Owner and President of the Colorado Rockies. Actually, it's been a rough three year period between trades, organizational missteps, and an awful lot of losing. (If you haven't read it yet, check out Bryan Kilpatrick's SB Nation dissertation about front office dysfunction.) With all due respect to Bryan, I believe I actually understand the Rockies' inability to operate like a business quite clearly - it stems from the fact that the Monforts run their business from a purely ethical mindset instead of the purely economic mindset that 28 other franchises utilize (the Philadelphia Phillies don't count) and this has served to blind and handcuff the Rockies franchise for the better part of the past decade. 

Dick and Charlie Monfort have publicly declared that they are Christians and that they run their business as a Christian business. The Christian concert that they schedule every year after Faith Day is just one of the very public manifestations of this firmly held belief. And you know what? There are some really great aspects about that set of beliefs that can absolutely work in a business setting: loyalty, trust, belief in the good in others, consistency, forgiveness, identifying and retaining employees with "good" character. Michael Cuddyer was signed after 2011 because he is one of the "good guys" in baseball. I grew up in a Christian household and I believe that all of those traits are good traits. In fact, it's one of the reasons I became a Rockies fan when the organization came into town. It's much more enjoyable to root for a team full of players that aren't just good players, but seem like genuinely nice guys. No one likes justifying DUIs or domestic abuse just because of the logo on a jersey.

This leads me to the current Tulowitzki Trade Situation aka Franchise Crisis Mode. The Rockies have one of the greatest shortstops of all time on their roster, in the midst of a MVP-type season. And he's sick of losing. After Tulowitzki was seen at a New York Yankees game this weekend, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports writes:

The St. Louis Cardinals expressed significant interest in [Tulowitzki] last offseason. They continue to reach out to the Rockies, as have the New York Mets, who are prepared to offer top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard in a deal for 29-year-old. And the response is: Not yet. We’re not ready to deal him. We want to hear it from him.
Which is to say: We want him [Tulo] to be the bad guy, not us. It’s a ludicrous way to run a business, of course, and it highlights how little confidence the Rockies have in themselves to make the sort of a deal that reinvigorates and re-energizes a ball club in desperate need of both.
Tulowitzki at Yankee Stadium - courtesy of @MLBFanCave
Passan absolutely nails the front office mentality. It's an ethical decision to them, not an economic decision. The Rockies, and especially GM Dan O'Dowd, have a history of publicly disparaging their own players shortly before these players inevitably get shipped out of town. Ubaldo Jimenez was jealous over money, Dexter Fowler wasn't a team player, Seth Smith wasn't happy in his role as a bench guy. The list truly goes on and on. Notice that none of these big trades had anything to do with the player's measurable performance on the field? For so long, fans have been in utter shock as to why O'Dowd and others would publicly try to diminish the trade value of their players that are so obviously on the block.  If the Rockies have traded someone in the past four seasons, you can find a Rockies front office quote about how those players simply didn't pass the character test. They need these players to be the bad guy. There has to be some fatal character flaw that prevents them from remaining in Colorado.

We can use this reasoning to help address other complaints about transactions. The Rockies don't trade players until their trade value collapses (Garrett Atkins, Ian Stewart, Brad Hawpe). The Rockies don't trade prospects (name a top prospect that O'Dowd has swapped for a major MLB piece - you can't). In extremely basic terms, these players are not treated as assets in a purely economic sense. There is no perception of the current baseball market or their rising and falling value to other teams. Players in the organization are family members, one of us, and we cannot trade them because loyalty dictates that we help out our family. The reputation around the league is that the Rockies are a great organization to their players. Most draftees makes an effort to say as much in their first public statements.

There is, however, a dark side to this mantra. If a player fails, he gets a second chance unless he becomes the bad guy due to a poor decision. Alex White DUI? Traded for a bullpen arm because he wasn't drafted by the Rockies, he wasn't family. The reason the Rockies were so willing to give up Drew Pomeranz to Oakland? He wasn't family and publicly complained about the pitching system in Colorado. It's completely fine to no longer retain a player because of egregious off-field personnel decisions, it's another to ship a guy out of town for either manufactured causes or because you have identified a perceived character flaw that cannot be fixed by coaching. The true crime in the Rockies organization is not at all related to on-field performance, but on personality and how well you interact with the family around you.

When your team is competitive, those flaws can be covered up and kept isolated from public view. But the complete collapse of the team since 2011 has opened up some enormous cracks in Loyalty Mountain. It's hard to be a happy family member when you're surrounded by hyper-competitive players like Troy Tulowitzki who are completely done with losing 95 games a season. He's the best and most recognizable player on the team, and he's going to the local press to suggest a trade. He's spending his time on the DL going to Yankees games and sitting in prime spots. Yet what will ultimately get Tulowitzki ridden out of town (and he is most certainly gone this offseason, if the pattern holds) is this statement to Mark Kiszla in the Denver Post earlier this month:

"In Todd Helton, there's someone who's easy to look at his career here and how it played out. I have the utmost respect for Todd, but at the same time, I don't want to be the next in line as somebody who was here for a long time and didn't have a chance to win every single year," said Tulowitzki.
Just check the standings and it's easy to see why Tulowitzki would be frustrated by the team's performance. He's having the best season of his career and the team is hopelessly out of contention by June, as they have been for each of the past three seasons. But Tulowitzki does the impossible by disparaging Helton's loyalty to the franchise. Helton stayed in Colorado for his entire career and was impossibly loyal to the organization. Tulowitzki wants something more. That's his fatal flaw in the eyes of management.

It's an extreme seller's market in baseball leading up to the MLB Trading Deadline on July 31. Those few teams that have decided to sell are receiving quality pieces in return for even middling performers. Yet, I would be shocked if the Rockies traded any pieces from their MLB roster before the deadline, despite the fact that as of this writing they are 13.5 games back from a wild card spot and only one game ahead of the Chicago Cubs for worst record in the National League. Why won't the Rockies sell? They have pieces like OF Drew Stubbs, SP Jorge De La Rosa, RP LaTroy Hawkins who are all available and productive, and likely won't be on the next contending Rockies team. There are 20 MLB teams that have some postseason dreams and will absolutely compete just to overpay for a marginal upgrade.

The answer is very simple; these players are family. You trade assets. You don't trade family.

Friday, July 11, 2014

To Dick Monfort: Just Stop

The entire time I was at Purple Row writing about Ian Stewart's attitude or how Chris Iannetta's OBP negated his lack of receiving skills or how Dexter Fowler in CF was a graceful gazelle, I just demanded of myself that I stick to the players, stick to the team, and be fair with my criticism of ownership, the front office, and the coaching staff. For the most part, I think I accomplished that. I do recall writing the "OK, no more O'Dowd" and the "Yeah, let's part ways with Jim Tracy" articles, but if I'm remembering right, they were near the end of my tenure and I was sort of kind of out of gas and getting lazy, and I'm really not proud of them.

That said, I can't believe that my first actual post on this new site is going to be lambasting Rockies ownership.

Frankly, I always hate reading the "OH MAN HOW MUCH LONGER WILL THE CHEAPFORTS KEEP O'CLOWN AROUND" or whatever nonsense gets spouted around the twitters and facebook posts and Denver Post comments. It's just lazy commentary and it never, EVER, considers the finer points of running a baseball organization, of maintaining a budget as a smart business, of juggling minor league promotions and pitching schedules and veteran presences and and and - it's always just "Duh, go spend money" or "Duh, just go get an Ace". It's just that simple, isn't it? It always boils down to "Just go do better" with no real constructive concept of what "do better" actually looks like. I do think DoD and Geivett are doing their best. Whether or not they're the right people for the job is an entirely different discussion, as they aren't hiring themselves. So as a response, I've always maintained the mindset and stance that organizational problems do, in fact, point back at ownership, in this case, Dick Monfort. 

Now with the Monforts, we've heard so much from the general sports media about being cheap, etc., and I've always been willing to say "Look, these guys DO have to operate under a budget of some sort". I think, in general, that going to a Rockies game is a good product when you consider the condition of the park and the food and beverage selection along with the team on the field. We have to remember that nearly all sports franchises in any league are a Business first, a quest for Sports Glory second. We've heard Dick Monfort over the past several years saying things like "I take full responsibility" and "Nobody wants to win more than I do". Ok, that's great, but what exactly are the repercussions on Mr Monfort? Anything? No, of course not. He just gets to go feel bad or something. Comments such as these essentially distilled my stance to "I think Dick Monfort is a good businessman, and a terrible baseball owner". 

I feel for the guy, I really do. He has no idea what he's doing. He has this huge investment in the Colorado Rockies that he wants to be part of a legacy type thing, where his kids and grandkids are somehow involved as the years roll on. He's trying so hard to make himself look like a Real Baseball Owner. The tough part is that he picked one of the 4 youngest and least storied franchises in MLB to get involved with. He picked the franchise to get involved in that was operating in the most difficult competitive environment in all 4 major North American sports. He did not pick an easy investment. He also has no idea how to manage it.

Back when Charlie Monfort was kind of quietly ushered into a back room and out of the ownership light and Dick Monfort took the reins, I groaned a little. Dick Monfort, the good businessman, and terrible baseball owner. I figured with the more controversial of the two brothers out of the way, we might just see ownership keep their heads down and let the front office work to the best of their ability. That's when the trouble began.

See, back in the infamous 2006 draft that netted the Rockies one potential stud pitcher by the name of Greg Reynolds, everybody thought "What? How did you not pick Evan Longoria?" Well, it turns out that because of the existence of Ian Stewart, Dick Monfort himself stopped by the draft room at the last minute and said "Don't pick Longoria". You know, Evan "Career 38 fWAR, arguably the best 3B in baseball" Longoria.

Dick, stop. That pick was a slam dunk. Just go back to... businessing or something.

2007 featured ownership getting booed in Coors Field after winning the 2007 NLCS, the franchise's first NL Pennant, and heading to the World Series. At this point I thought that was pretty poor on Denver's part. I mean, come on people. Grow up a little. I get it, you're still mad about the firesale and the Neagle/Hampton debacles. Get over it.

So time passed, and outside of Charlie stepping out of the spotlight, things were... more or less quiet on the ownership front. Which is weird, given that 2009 featured the Rockies winning the Wild Card for the 3rd time, 2010 featuring Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez both finishing in the top-5 for the NL MVP Award and Ubaldo Jimenez finishing 3rd for the NL Cy Young Award. I get that it's odd for ownership to not try and bask in a bit of that reflected glory, but humility is fine on my part. I like my ownership like I like my manners for children from the 1800s: they should be seen and not heard.

Then 2012 rolled around. You may remember 2012 as the season where everything imaginable went wrong, where the team lost 98 games and the top 3 pitchers by rWAR were as follows: Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle, and Josh Roenicke. The season of the Project 5280 where the Rockies dropped back to a 4-man rotation with a long man to bridge the gap between the 75 pitch limit and the usual closing staff. Neat idea, horrible results.

Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post wrote the following, including the following Dick Monfort quote:
"If this is anybody's fault, it's mine. I will take it right square between the middle of the eyes," said [Dick] Monfort, who became more involved in the Rockies' baseball decisions after the death of team president Keli McGregor in April 2010.
Dick, no... just... no. Stop. Nobody appreciates you stepping up and taking the "blame". Everybody already blames you. You're the proprietor. Of course it's your fault. You admitting it is almost like saying "I caused this problem but I'll be damned if I know how to fix it!" It's a neat concept, trying to take responsibility for a shit baseball season, but what exactly happened to fix it? I mean, getting healthy was a nice start, but that doesn't really have anything to do with you, barring you Nancy-Kerriganning Carlos Gonzalez. Just stop. Duck and cover.

On August 2, 2013, the Rockies were 52-59, 3rd place in the NL West, 8.5 back from the 1st place Dodgers, and 0.5 games ahead of the Padres (the Giants were in last and it was great). Colorado had just been taken apart by the Braves in a 4-game sweep, and that was pretty much the sign of "OK, we had a good run, I guess". But then Dick Monfort speaks up and says:
"I still think we have a run in us. We will get (Roy) Oswalt back, and (Chad) Bettis wasn't awful. You have guys who can put some good games in a row. I still think they can do it. ... We could get some more help in the bullpen." - per Troy Renck of the Denver Post
No, Dick, the trade deadline has passed, we're done... No, you're... ok, listen, the season's over again and that sucks. Everybody knows it's done, and it's not inspiring to have an owner who thinks there's still life in that old nag when it's already been eaten by coyotes. It's actually pretty discouraging knowing that you are in like a fantasy world when it comes to where the Rockies actually are right now. This isn't a sports movie. You can't just expect magic to happen like it did in 2007. Dick, please, just stop. Go sit in your chair in your office and play Tetris or something.

OK, so my original thesis of "Dick Monfort is a terrible baseball owner but a good businessman" continued to hold true through the end of 2013, with the building of The Rooftop over those perpetually-empty RF box seats. Great idea. That's money coming in right there as opposed to not coming in at all in empty sections. Maybe not enough to put us into "Real Suitors for Major Free Agents" territory, but maybe enough to be able to get role players that were a couple of million per year out of our price range.

Then 2014 came and everybody broke their hands and we're back to Hell mode at Coors Field. Patrick Saunders had yet another interview with Dick Monfort, and we got the following gems from the owner of the 38-53 Colorado Rockies:
"Our record is awful. You guys were quick to point out that we would win 90 games — or pointed out that I said that. I thought, with a little luck, we could win 90 games."
Absolutely. Zero arguments. Injuries wrecked the team, and optimists thought that if everybody stayed healthy and played sort of close to 2013 levels (well, the pitching anyhow), we'd be at LEAST a major nuisance in the NL West come late August. Are you blaming your front office?
"...None of us is happy with losing. None of us. But there is nobody more disgusted about losing than I am. It's a direct reflection on my leadership, and I shoulder that. This isn't Dan (O'Dowd's) problem. This isn't (Bill) Geivett's problem. This is my problem. And for the life of me, I don't know how our record got to be where it is."
Not the FO's fault, gotcha. I'm not against that. This was a decent offseason, and it didn't work out because, again, everybody got hurt, but now we're sellers and we shou-
"But we are going to see if we can't find somebody who might fit our needs, before the deadline."
What, you mean like we're gonna sell somebody from the MLB team to get ourselves a young, cost-controlled player?
Q: At this point, are you sellers or buyers?Monfort: "No (not sellers)." 
Ohhhhh no. No, no, Dick, no, 15 games under .500 is really really bad, especially in July, and yeah, I know we've overcome miserable June/Julys and come out pretty well (you know that one time in 2007) but dude, you have to face reality - everybody's broken, this isn't about dreams and hopes and proving to everybody that you haven't given up  - Dick, stop, really, just stop. Please stop. You're killing us. Just stop doing the baseball thing and try just doing the good businessman thi-
...received an email from the Rockies owner, telling him “if you don’t like the product, if you don’t like the experience, don’t come.”
No, that can't be true, there's no w-
“By the way you talk maybe Denver doesn't deserve a franchise, maybe time for it to find a new home. Thanks.”
He can't have meant that.
“I don’t even have an idea what I meant to say,” said Monfort.
He went on to explain that, “What I meant to say was maybe we, the owners, don’t deserve a franchise.”
Is that what he meant. Oh dear.

Ok so at this point, I've run out of things to say as far as evidence and buildup go. Bad baseball owner? Check. Interferes with the draft? Check. Super defensive? Check. Subjectively loyal to his front office? Check. Trying to play Team President with zero qualifications to really run a baseball organization? Double Check. Good businessman? .... I don't know how confident I am checking that box anymore.

Dick, I'm sorry, but there's just so little positive left to say about your reign as the Owner/Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of the Colorado Rockies Baseball Organization. It's not because I think you're a bad person. It's not because I think you're some sort of money grubbing miser from a cartoon. It's because your sense of loyalty, while admirable in a human sense, is not conducive to a winning MLB franchise. I'm willing to talk about our market limitations, in that we can't be a perennial $150M+ payroll team, that we can't really afford to go sign the Adrian Beltres and Zack Greinkes of the world. I am on board with the concept that we should farm our own Nolan Arenados and Jon Grays. Completely on board. I do understand loyalty to your organization and the players and the prospects, but you seriously need to step back and let other people get overly attached to our players and prospects and view them as assets again. That's what you do as an MLB owner, especially one that wants to try and compete on the smaller end of the spectrum with teams like the Athletics and Rays. You can't run an MLB franchise like you are and expect to win.

Furthermore, I'm no fool, I understand that this is a business. I do. But when you talk to people who drop money on your team as if you're running some hole-in-the-wall falafel joint and you have the freedom to just kick people out whenever you deem them unacceptable, well, that's not how you run a business. Denver fans aren't fools either. They know that they're supporting a mediocre franchise. Some of them hold out a lot of hope, but most of them just love the ballpark experience. The Colorado Rockies Organization has enjoyed 20 of 21 years with more than 2 million fans walking through the gate, and a grand total of 5 of those seasons averaging less than 30,000 fans per game. They're averaging 33.4k fans per game this year, and the team is hot garbage. You, Dick Monfort, are seriously testing the patience of the Denver baseball fan base. Being disappointed in a crappy result to what you thought was a promising team is one thing, but taking out on the fans is just suicide.

As David Martin of Rockies Review posted last week:
When Rockies fans see that nothing is going to change... the first step is anger. After that, however, comes apathy. At some point, if ownership doesn't care and the front office doesn't care, why should the fans care?
It's true. I've stopped caring. OK I DO care in the sense that I'm from Denver, I love baseball, and I'm a Rockies fan. But do I drop money into the organization anymore? No, not really. I mean I guess nachos and a beer, but I have enough friends who tend to have "an extra ticket do you want it" and yes I want it and I love them so much for wanting to spend time at a baseball game with me. But I really don't watch anymore. I don't see changes to really improve this organization. Yes, I'm interested to watch Tyler Matzek pitch. Yes, I want to see Butler and Gray do well. Yes, Arenado is a wizard. But being glued to the day-to-day? Eh.

I don't know how to react to this team and its management anymore. I'm not wholly against what Dan O'Dowd and Bill Geivett are doing, because I do stand by this having been a decent offseason and as a larger point their continued employment isn't really their choice. But we are dealing with an owner who has had WAY too much success as a business with this team and is getting snippy with his loyal fans now. 

Dick, would you like a suggestion at least for these most recent missteps? Make a big, over the top public apology to the fans you've sniped at from your iPad. Offer to buy them ballin' seats with a pile of F/B vouchers, and hell, maybe even a day pass to Eliches or something. Say something like "I responded poorly, and I'm disappointed that I did such a thing, and we really do value your patronage of our baseball team." Don't say "What I MEANT TO SAY was 'I'm sure shootin disappointed in the base balls by golly!'" and expect everything to blow over. Make it right, man. 

Which leads me to the fact that you're even ANSWERING these emails... you know what, no. Stop. 

For the good of your stupidly loyal fans, Stop.

Just Stop. 


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Rooftop: A Blog about... baseball and stuff, I guess.

Hello, and welcome to The Rooftop.

Some of you poor souls may already know me as RockiesMagicNumber, the former overlord of the SBNation site Purple Row. Some of you may know me as Andrew Martin from uh... well, the same role as before. Some of you only know me through Facebook. Some of you know me in person. For whatever reason, you've come across this site (which means I probably beat all of my social networks over the head with links to the site) and here you are, reading the introduction to this site.

I've never written an introduction to a site before. It's certainly a unique experience, trying to dodge the typical bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed cliches that tend to come with a new site and a new venture. This is generally where one would talk about my background a bit, my ambitious plans for a New Blog (TM), so I guess here goes:

I'm Andrew Martin, I'm 30, I'm a software engineer with a couple of degrees from the Colorado School of Mines. I'm a fan of the Colorado Rockies baseball club, the Colorado Avalanche hockey club, and just in case the Denver Thought Police are reading, also the Denver Broncos to the minimum amount required by law. I enjoy live music of the prog funk jam variety. I try to read here and there.

As for my ambitions with this site, I have none. Really. After departing Purple Row, I just figured I was done writing. No more schedule, no more overseers, no more pressure to hit post counts for whatever reasons. It was awesome. I was allowed to not care about the Rockies for a full year and that was alright. Granted, as soon as I left, we ended up watching 3 pitchers actually have respectable seasons and there were actually things to write about again, but I was still enthralled with my new-found freedom, which I promptly threw in to the Denver music scene as well as attempting to juggle a career and dreams of following a rock band around the country (\mm/ Umphrey's \mm/).

After a full season of not having to care about stuff, however, I guess I decided I felt like writing again. My initial intention was to start a site like this, but to do it in more of the LiveJournal fashion. You know, explore my inner thoughts and areas of growth and new ways of thinking contrary to my upbringing. After no small amount of deliberation, I decided that it would be overly self indulgent and ultimately not that interesting (because come on, nobody seriously wants to read the existential crises of a near-30 year old guy who's working his way through a personal renaissance and rediscovery).

So I landed on an idea, and after some encouragement from people like my good friend Matt Muzia, I figured I'd get this started. I named the blog "The Rooftop" after spending an evening at Coors Field with the aforementioned Matt and some friends. We went up to The Rooftop (the new section in Coors Field that basically replaced a bunch of empty bleachers) on... I think it was a Tuesday, and really enjoyed the experience. See, on a weekend evening, it's going to be so packed up there with folks who are just hanging out getting drunk until they can go out to LoDo and continue getting drunk that it's hard to really enjoy the game. But a Tuesday? It was pretty great to just lean on the rail, bullshit about baseball, sports in general, music, work, whatever, and just enjoy an evening. So that kind of became the vision for the site. Bullshit about whatever and relax.

I don't want to put a specific definition on the theme in general, but given what you know about me and my (hopeful) contributors, it's going to be pretty baseball-centric. I hope we'll see articles here about music, movies, books, pop culture, whatever. 

I can't promise any sort of schedule either. This is going to be a "as it strikes me" sort of site, and for any contributors I'll have the pleasure of showcasing here I made it abundantly clear that this site is entirely "at-will", and they should follow the same mindset of writing when the inspiration strikes them and they need an outlet.

I will say that I hope to avoid overly contentious or personal topics such as politics and religion, but I can't promise that there won't be an interesting line of thought that intersects such topics and demands to be written about. 

As anybody who's dedicated their time to blogging about one specific team, it's not easy to find narratives to follow about guys who would be bench players with more competitive organizations or why a 37 year old pitcher might not be amazing. You've read those articles before, and you're likely as tired of them as I am. So I do hope that this blog will venture into other teams' territory, have opinions on other sports and forms of entertainment, and possibly provide perspective on topics that you hadn't considered before.

Anyhow, as I seem to be already running long with my introduction post, as I'm wont to do with anything I write, I suppose I should consider this a good break point and consider anybody reading this to be thoroughly introduced.

Welcome to The Rooftop. Grab a beer and a leaning spot, let's hear what's on our minds.