Ownership: Rox have pieces to improve in '14
Colorado carries staff experienced in success, players with potential
DENVER -- In seasons past, the Rockies clubhouse calendar had one item scheduled for October: "Fantasy Football Season." After igniting the club and its fans with 2007's Rocktober to remember, all that has changed. The Rockies spent that season playing for a World Series trophy as the colors changed in Colorado, but they have spent the past four autumns figuring out how to get back to the postseason.
Rockies owner Dick Monfort talked at length Wednesday about his vision and passion for winning in Colorado; the reality of the Rockies' payroll and budget; the challenges of playing at high altitude; and what the future holds for manager Walt Weiss, general manager Dan O'Dowd, senior vice president for Major League operations Bill Geivett, and marquee players like Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.
"We want to win," Monfort said. "I can't imagine anyone that doesn't want to win. Everything we do around here, everything we build, is about trying to win, trying to put a team that fits our budget on the field to be competitive, that can win. We know it can happen. I just want you guys to know that we do want to win, and I am passionate about it."
Citing Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Oakland as teams with lower payrolls than the Rockies in the playoffs this year, Monfort remained confident the Rockies had the payroll to win. "I think you should be in the playoffs a couple times every five years," Monfort said in outlining his expectations.
The Rockies have made the playoffs twice in the past 18 years, both times coming in the last seven years, so recent history is not far off from Monfort's expectation. But those extra two years since a postseason berth -- two years in last place in the National League West Division -- have been hard on fans.
In a letter to season-ticket holders, Monfort offered hope, writing, "I do not believe we are a middle-of-the-pack team; we are right around the corner from being really good."
Though Monfort contends the Rockies were a fifth starter and a better bullpen away from winning 98 games (their first four starters won 61 percent of their games, which would project to 98.8 wins over 162 games), the reality is they need to reach the middle of the pack before they can bank on eclipsing it.
Some teams expect October baseball every year. The Reds dismissed manager Dusty Baker last week after making the playoffs but losing in the first round. If Rockies fans question the club's passion and desire to win, it may come from the sense that in Colorado, there are few notable consequences for enduring three consecutive losing seasons and back-to-back last-place finishes in the division. Where does the accountability lie?
"I guess if you're not doing your job, you do get fired," Monfort said. "It's just a whole different world than what I'm used to. At the end of the day, it's the players that have to win. I guess if you continue to have three All-Stars [Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer] and two potential All-Stars [Wilin Rosario and Nolan Arenado] that are playing on the team, you've got to look that maybe they're not the right players."
With an anticipated $9 million to $11 million increase in payroll in 2014, Monfort was emphatic about his plans to keep Tulowitzki and Gonzalez.
"My plan is always to keep them," Monfort said. "But I won't get rid of a general manager that has two last-place seasons, so ..."
In light of $54 million in national television revenue coming to the club next year, Monfort spelled out the Rockies' finances in detail, revealing figures he said he had never before shared publicly. The end result is that the Rockies will be able to spend a little more on players next season.
Monfort wanted to head off misconceptions about the influx of national TV money coming to Colorado next year and the construction of a rooftop party deck near right field.
"The capital reserve fund, the Aramark fund and the [Regional Transportation District] money allowed us to do a big project," Monfort said. "At best, it cost us a utility player for one year."
As for the TV money, the $54 million figure will be an increase of $27 million over what the club received in 2013. But a number of expenditures, such as some built-in raises for players and other scheduled payments, will leave $4 million of the new TV revenue available for payroll beyond commitments to this year's team.
"We were at $84 million [in payroll], and we can get to $95 million," Monfort said, suggesting the $9 million in new payroll money (including $5 million for bonuses) could be stretched to $11 million.
As for the roster, Monfort said the best advice he's received was from former Rockies manager Jim Leyland, who told him not to fall in love with players.
"Maybe I fall in love with the players, but on a nightly basis when you go out and watch the game and you look at every one of your position players, you wonder why we're not winning. We have a lot of talent."
One attempt at solving the puzzle began with the club's experiment with "piggyback" pitchers in 2012, limiting starters to 75 pitches and bringing long relievers in to pitch two or three innings. The challenges on the field resulted in a change in the Rockies' front-office structure. Geivett started that season as senior vice president for scouting and player development, and he spent about 20 percent of his time on the Major League roster, while O'Dowd spent 40 to 50 percent of his time dealing with Major League operations, Monfort said. Geivett is now 100-percent focused on the Major League roster, and O'Dowd is essentially 100-percent focused on development and scouting, though he remains the general manager and Geivett answers to him.
For Monfort, the Rockies' 2007 World Series appearance remains a close memory, and the architects of that string of success, O'Dowd and Geivett, remain secure in their roles.
"I don't believe that either [O'Dowd or Geivett] have done a poor job," Monfort said. "We haven't won games; I know that."
Monfort said he expected to sign first-year manager Weiss to a multiyear deal this month, though he allowed for only "a little" of the credit for a 10-game improvement over last season to go to the manager. The marquee players are in place, along with a host of young players, but Monfort cites areas of concrete change that could make the difference: a solid starter, a power bat at first or in the outfield, an improved bullpen and more experienced depth.
"We have too many young kids on the team," Monfort said. "When our young kids aren't playing, their substitutes are young kids. We don't tend to go out and get experienced backup guys, and that's a fault. It's not a money thing, it's that we tend to have a lot of young players who are pretty good."
Ultimately, having said that it's the players who must perform to win games, Monfort came back around to the hope that a player could step up and fill a leadership void in the clubhouse -- perhaps the lone rookie from those 2007 Rockies.
"Tulo has always been one of these guys who says, 'We gotta have more pitching, we gotta have this, we gotta have that,'" Monfort said. "I saw the greatest change in him. This guy is getting more engaged with the younger guys. Before, all he worried about was Tulo. I think the guy is maturing.
"Maybe all we really need is that [leader]; somebody that's going to step up and take them by the boots and say, 'Let's go get these guys.' The hardest thing is learning to win. We started off good this year, but did we really believe in ourselves? Did we really believe we could win? Probably not 100 percent. ... You need somebody to step up and say, 'We can do this, and I'm going to show you how.'"
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.