The Colorado Rockies always have done things a little differently.
Maybe it’s Coors Field, the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the majors. Maybe it’s the unique start time for home games, as the lone outpost in the Mountain Time Zone. Maybe it’s the frontier feel of Denver, baseball’s mountain pass en route from Kansas City to San Francisco.
The Rockies’ originality extends to their latest novelty: a front-office shakeup … minus the actual shakeup.
Last month, the Rockies reintroduced us to the four-man pitching rotation — a concept that worked splendidly in the days of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. One trifling issue for the Rockies: They don’t have Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Also of note: They don’t have Claude Osteen and Johnny Podres, either.
Six weeks into the new scheme, the Rockies’ central problem hasn’t changed: Their pitchers aren’t very good. Entering Wednesday, the Rockies’ most evident metrics — winning percentage, rotation ERA, bullpen ERA, overall ERA — were worse with the four-man rotation than with the standard five, according to STATS LLC.
Since the four-man rotation took effect June 23, the Rockies have the fourth-worst record in the majors (11-22).
Interesting concept. Poor results.
Which brings us to Wednesday.
Less than 24 hours after Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline, the team issued a news release saying veteran baseball executive Bill Geivett had been promoted to senior vice president of major league operations. He will, according to the release, “oversee the day-to-day operations of the Major League club.”
That is the job description for the general manager of a professional sports franchise.
Considering the Rockies’ current state — the second-worst record in baseball — could a change be any surprise? In nearly 13 years as the team’s GM, Dan O’Dowd has only four winning seasons. He finished higher than third in the National League West exactly twice.
O’Dowd is a good man. He built a World Series team in 2007 and made the playoffs on one other occasion. A number of current general managers — Jon Daniels, Josh Byrnes, Jerry Dipoto — worked in the Colorado front office. But baseball is a business, and there comes a point when …
Wait a minute.
Look at this sentence, right there in the news release:
Geivett will continue to report to Executive Vice President/Chief Baseball Officer/General Manager Dan O’Dowd.
Now I’m confused.
Turns out, O’Dowd and owner Dick Monfort agreed on a new decision-making system. Geivett will focus on nutrition, travel, strength and conditioning, and the team’s medical staff, among other duties. O’Dowd continues as the GM, with the traditional responsibilities: trades, free agent signings, scouting, player development, and operations in Latin America.
It’s hard to know what Monfort expects will result from this change — which isn’t much of a change. On July 31, O’Dowd was Geivett’s boss. On Aug. 1, O’Dowd was Geivett’s boss. So why the important-looking news release and job-title Scrabble?
My theory: O’Dowd likes his job. The perks are nice. It pays well. He would like to stay employed — as any of us would in the same situation. Because the team’s current accomplishments are few, O’Dowd’s best chance to stay in charge is by convincing Monfort that the Rockies can innovate their way to a better future.
It will take time — years, maybe? — for the plan to succeed or fail. A management consultant would refer to that as “job security.”
O’Dowd recently concluded that the “traditional” model — one GM, many lieutenants — is not the most effective way to run a team. He believes that can create a disconnect between the front office and field staff. Never mind that virtually every World Series champion in the game’s recent history has used the “traditional” model. Also, attempts at the co-GM structure — the Orioles and Mets are two examples from the last decade — yielded poor results.
If the “traditional” approach is so flawed, why didn’t O’Dowd move away from it earlier? The answer, he would tell you, is that ownership is only now empowering him to create a new path.
This falls under the same heading as the four-man rotation: The old way wasn’t working, so let’s try something new.
On one level, that is laudable. But it’s fanciful to think that putting Geivett in charge of nutrition and travel will somehow lower the team’s ERA. That is — and always was — the central issue here.
If Monfort believes Geivett would be a better GM than O’Dowd, then he should fire O’Dowd and hire Geivett, who is experienced and well respected. If Monfort believes O’Dowd is the best person to lead the franchise, then I’m not sure why a news conference was necessary to explain a shift in responsibilities that could have been addressed in a 15-minute staff meeting. (The Rockies apparently felt compelled to arrange the formal session because of media reports. I know. It’s always about us.)
Maybe Monfort senses discontent among his fans and wanted to placate them with a restructuring that amounts to two brothers changing places in the family Christmas photo. Clearly, Monfort doesn’t want to fire O’Dowd. The two have a good relationship. Monfort is looking for reasons to keep him; this is the latest one.
It’s hard to develop young pitchers at Coors Field, but the Rockies need to stop using that as an excuse. It’s also hard to develop young pitchers in the American League East, where the Tampa Bay Rays — with a much smaller payroll and fewer resources — have built a perennial contender. O’Dowd traded Jason Hammel (All-Star-caliber pitcher in the AL East this year) for Jeremy Guthrie (bust) last offseason. That’s on him, not the altitude.
As for the notion that free agent pitchers don’t want to come to Coors Field … Please. Denver consistently ranks among the most appealing big cities in the US. If the Rockies can’t market that, perhaps they should speak with their counterparts in other markets that win despite far worse perceptions about what it’s like to live there.
The Rockies need better pitchers. That is where this begins and ends. Their team ERA is 5.36. That’s horrendous. They need to scout better. They need to draft better. They need to trade better. They need to sign better. They need to coach better. They need to manage better, too.
If Wednesday’s announcement really helps them do that, then the Rockies will be viewed as a visionaries. But I’m skeptical about whether this is worth the cost of printing new company letterhead.