The Rockies in 2007 were at the pinnacle of a great future. They featured a huge number of great players still not 30. They had two young arms who had both been on top 100 lists going into 2007 (we forget that Frankie Morales was the higher rated prospect but that has something to do with being a lefty). They had a great fan base. And they had other arms up and coming. And of course they had a great young shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, whose energy and ability pegged him as a future MVP.
But since 2007 the team has been in a slow decent to irrelevance. Yes, they made the playoffs in 2009 and were close for a while in 2010. But the seeds of the decline of the team began in 2008 and while there has been some good decisions in the mix, the bad ones have sent the team to the depths of the NL West basement for several years now.
In this article series I will give you all my five biggest mistakes since 2007. You might have your own. Before begin that list, here are some honorable mentions
Some of the honorable mentions include:
- Rushing Greg Reynolds to the major in 2008. 2008 was supposed to be the year the Rox built upon the greatest run in baseball history in 2007. Instead Jeff Francis was horrible in an opening day rainout and would soon be on a surgeons table getting his should restructured (as good as the rate of success on Tommy John surgery has become, shoulders are still pretty much a career ender…and Francis who depended on his control was simply never close to being that player who helped dominate the Phillies in Game 1 on the NLDS in 2007). Tulo then got a quad injury (which some now believe is the cause of all the subsequent leg issues) and injured his hand when slamming the bat down. Add to that regression from a number of players and the team was drowning. And to answer the slide the Rox promoted Reynolds whose 2007 was shut down for arm issues resulting in a shoulder clean-up. His 2008 began poorly and he clearly hadn’t gotten his arm and shoulder back to where it needed to be. We know from Francis’s story that shoulders are tricky. But rather than being smart with the kid and giving his shoulder plenty of time to heal they ran him out as the opening day starter in Colorado Springs, had him do 7 starts there (which were not good) and then he was promoted in May to Coors where he was clearly laboring (and I think overthrowing, which is not unknown with new players) and the stress on his body likely ruined him. In the beginning on 2009 he said he felt fine but it was then his shoulder went south in a big way, as during an exploratory surgery with the idea of removing scar tissue they discovered his rhomboid muscle had atrophied resulting in his surgeon detaching the muscle from the scapula and then reattaching it to another part of the shoulder. Needless to say, the pitcher drafted in 2006 at the Rox highest position ever, ceased to exist. Had the Rox been smarter and more careful with Reynolds maybe they get a player who at least has positive WAR for his career. Maybe even a quality #2 starter. One fact I learned when researching the 2006 draft was that the Rox were not swayed by Reynolds game vs Washington that year where he outpitched Timmy Lincecum. The Rox were on Reynolds in high school and literally followed him year by year with the hopes of making him a Rockie. That 2006 draft had a lot of great players and some serious hit and misses. The Rox though were never going to go for Andrew Miller or Evan Longoria (remember the Rox had already drafted 2 other 3rd basemen in the 1st in the prior years – Chris Nelson and Ian Stewart – and had Garret Atkins seemingly lodged there for the long haul), or Lincecum (and certainly not Kershaw). It was always going to be Reynolds. And then they treated that precious asset like half-n-half left out in the sun.
- Trusting an injured Huston Street in 2009 playoffs – As I actually studied this, you could just retitle with as Jim Tracy’s For Rox fans the 2009 playoffs will always be a missed opportunity. The 2008 defending champs were right for the picking. But first Jorge De La Rosa goes down with a groin issue and then manager Jim Tracy makes a lot of moves in the NLDS. For example in Game 3 he pulled Jason Hammel with 2 out in the 4th after a ground ball single to left scored a run to make it 4-3. His bullpen had already been stressed by two 5 inning performances by Jiminez and Cook. Hammel before the single had gotten a double-play. But Tracy pulled Hammel meaning he needed 5.1 from his bullpen. And then despite having 3 full days off in between games thanks to snow, he didn’t use Jason Marquis so they can get multiple innings he went with Belisle, who pitched just 4 pitches (Belisle was not yet the reliable Belisle of 2010-2012 but his 2nd half after being recalled from AAA, granted just 12.1 innings, was awesome). All this meant he had to go with a Huston Street who was injured and didn’t pitch from September 1st until the 22nd, and initally looked good but his next to last appearance before the NLDS he gave up 3 runs on 2 hits and a walk. He had to be fair looked good coming back other than that outing but that outing gave a sign of the Street who wasn’t the sharp pitcher that was needed. What was more the Rox had a pretty solid closer in his absence – Franklin Morales. But relying on the ancient sports concept that a player shouldn’t lose his position because of injury, when Street came back he became the closer again. Morales was used in the 7th and got through the inning in…6 pitches. Was Morales brought back for the 8th having thrown so few pitches? Nope. After all a former starter who threw 6 pitches can’t possibly throw more than 6 pitches. Instead Rafael Betencourt threw the 8th and threw 24 pitches. Finally it went to Street, who instead of throwing Matt Daley (who was a very reliable 1.196 WHIP in 57 games and 51 innings in 2009 (he did struggle in the 2nd half from overuse but was great in September/October) or Marquis (isn’t there another theory about saving your closer til you have a lead?), went out. He gave up a single, a bunt, a single to the pitcher, and finally a saf-fly to lose the game. The whole game (series) was poorly managed by Tracy, but that 3rd game was classic Tracey. And Street in the 9th was just part of it. Of course there was still the 4th game. Ubaldo was great through 7 innings out-pitching Cliff Lee, then handed the ball over to Morales, who walked 3 and struck out 1 and Betencourt came in and threw 4 pitches getting a pop-out and a fly-out. Betencourt had thrown a lot of pitches the prior day. The game was 4-2, and since it was a save situation and despite his struggles the day before, Tracey went with Street. Without a net. In an elimination game. He had Beimel (who allowed runs in only 2 of his last 18 appearances that year) and Daley and Marquis who didn’t throw the day before and with the snow day Daley hadn’t pitches since Game 1 (4 days of rest), and Beimel threw 1 pitch the day before. So no problem having those guys ready to go if the game gets screwy. Especially Beimel since he is a lefty. But no…Street goes out and starts well – a K to start the inning. Then a single to Rollins, a groundout of Victorino that was almost a double-play, then a walk to Utley, a double to Howard, a single to Werth and the game was 5-4. Now Beimel (who is back in baseball with the Mariners and doing great against both lefties and righties this year) comes in. Why didn’t Tracey start the inning with Daley? Or use Street til he got to the lefties and bring in Beimel?
- Wanting to retain Jim Tracy after 2012 – Now, this wasn’t a thing that actually happened. Tracy, fed-up with having an Asst GM living next to him, decided not to come back for 2013 as manager. But here is the simply fact. The Rox stunk in 2011 and 2012. The fact that the Monforts were willing to retain him after the disaster of the two prior years told the players that the organization did not hold player or managers accountable for bad performance. The team finished 3rd in 2010 (9 back despite the Tulo led rampage in September), 4th (21 games back) in 2011, and 5th in 2012 (30 games back). Do you ever ask a manager to come back after that? The Rox did. They were fortunate to have Tracy and his ridiculous “I am letting the other team win” Sunday roster take them up on the offer. I think for a lot of fans, that was the sign the team really wasn’t serious about winning in 2013. And the funny thing was that the 2013 team had 3 solid starters (and trash for 4th and 5th) and could have been good. How bad would that 2013 team have been with Tracy?
- Trading Jason Hammel – Hammel had been a pretty good pitcher for the Rockies after getting him for a song-and-a-dance in 2009 (raise your hand if you know who Aneury Rodriguez is). He did have some injury issues, but still. In 2009 4.33 ERA with a 1.387 WHIP, 2010 4.81 ERA with a 1.396 WHIP, and 2011 4.76 ERA with a 1.427 WHIP. He also gave them 34, 30, and 32 starts. Hammel liked his time here. “It’s a bummer to have to leave” he said. That was the year the team dumped the unforgettable (wait, I want to) Ty Wigginton, Chris Ianetta (for Tyler Chatwood, the best of these trades), Seth Smith (defense was an issue), and Clayton Mortensen. And who did they get in the trade? Jeremy Guthrie (and they had to include Matt Lindstrom). Guthrie was coming off a 17 loss season and had a GB ratio of 39.6%. Who thought this was a great idea? Now the Rox went into 2012 with a shaky rotation as it was. That rotation was Guthrie, Moyer, Nicasio, Chacin, and Pomeranz. Chacin was in his 3rd year. Nicasio in his 2nd year coming back from the broken neck. As we all remember Guthrie, beyond being a bad bicyclist, was a total disaster at Coors. We knew Hammel could handle Coors (well, handle is a big word but he survived, a 4.94 ERA with a 1.489 WHIP, but decent for Coors), Guthrie never gave any indication he could. Oh, and Hammel didn’t become a free agent until last off-season. Why was this trade made? Really? Oh, and he was cheap ($5, $6, $7 mill). Now 2012 is what I simply call the year the humidor broke, with very few low scoring games tossed by the opposition even at Coors (aside from Angels Wilson). But still. The end result in 2012 was the team ended up giving a large number of starts to rookies Alex White, Drew Pomeranz, and Christen Friedrich as well as guys like Jeff Francis (the old post-surgery version), Josh Outman, Guillermo Moscoso. But you can argue that the whole implosion in 2012 began with the decision to trade a guy who liked it here and who was a big part of the success in 2009 and 2010. There are a lot of bad trades we can look at, but this one, based on how great Hammel has been the past few years, this one really hurt.
- Hanging on to players too long – Here I am thinking of some key parts of the 2007 team. Garret Atkins was 27 in 2007 and from that point his whole career declined. He eventually was just allowed to leave after 2009. In 2007 the team had Ian Stewart and Jeff Baker, both better defenders and both younger. Instead they rode Atkins, who had a career year in 2006 (.965 OPS with 29 HR) and a very good year in 2007 (.853 OPS with 25 HR). Then was time to trade him. But instead of making that trade they ended up getting nothing for him. In fact in 2008 Stewart had his best year, .259 average with a .804 OPS and 10 HR in 304 plate appearances and Baker had a .268 average with a .791 OPS and 12 HR in 333 plate appearances. It is one thing to fail to trade a player like Atkins when you have only one player to replace him. But they had two of them. They could have platooned. Then there was Brad Hawpe. Hawpe was already 28 in 2007 (he even finished 24th in the MVP race). He had a .291 BA with a .926 OPS and 29 HR (did you remember him being that great that year?) and a great RF arm. In 2007 the team had a 24 year old Seth Smith ready to start becoming an everyday contributor and could play Ryan Spillborghs with his as a platoon (Ryan in 2007 had 11 HR and and .848 OPS). Instead they kept Hawpe, had two more good years with an .879 OPS in 2008 and a .903 OPS in 2009 and his first All-Star appearance (only). Hawpe was good to start 2010 (and .879 OPS in the first half of the season) and was gone and a .617 OPS in the 2nd half (he was waived on August 27). Could they have gotten a solid reliever for either player? That is of course of the key for the Rockies always. You can understand the team’s failure to trade Helton. The team allowed Matsui to leave after 2007. And then the trade of Holliday in 2008. But they decided to sit on those two players despite having plenty of replacements. I can only assume that this was due to Dan O’Dowd’s predilection for home-grown players. The 2009 team was almost entirely home-grown, with the opening day roster featuring all home-grown players. But as we should remember with our current set of hot prospects in the farm system, its nice to have home grown players but you can also trade them to fill in where you are weak and deal from your strengths. The team had two areas of strengths in 2007. Instead of helping to cover the team’s weaknesses they ended up wasting assets. You can probably think of others but these two were so obvious because of the availability of replacements and the likelihood of their decline after 2007. A huge warning as we think of players like Charlie Blackmon and DJ and….
- Letting Collin McHugh walk for nothing – I have been a pretty big defender of Dan O’Dowd, and I now have to admit, aside from drafting and development, he really hurt this team. We saw it in #5 above. But also in players that they let go because of bad roster management. And no single roster move to me stands out to me more than Collin McHugh. The Rox got him in a trade for EY Jr, who the Mets then turned into a pretty good defender (a Gold Glove candidate even). But for a team that has struggled to develop pitching more than any other position, letting Collin McHugh go for nothing…really hurt. While the Rox made a nice grab getting Chris Russin from the Cubs, during the season when the Cubs were trying to get the right players to big leagues, the Rox lost McHugh in the off-season when they had plenty of chances to make different moves. On December 18, 2013 he was claimed off of waivers by the Astros. They made the move after a series of off-season moves after 2013. Mitchell Boggs was released on December 1. Then they traded Dexter Fowler and got back Dexter Fowler and Brandon Barnes, requiring a move to the 40. The Rox traded Pomeranz next for Brett Anderson. Next they got Tommy Kahnle in the Rule 5 draft. Then they signed Justin Morneau and Boone Logan. In order to get the 40 man set after that meant…they had to move McHugh off the 40. Players that were chosen over McHugh include – Kraig Sitton (who even after a good 2014 season wasn’t selected in the Rule 5), Kent Matthes, Raul Fernandez, and Jason Aquino (who is now gone). McHugh was 26 that offseason (turned 27 mid-2014). His limited big league resume wasn’t outstanding. But his minor league numbers have been pretty good. In 2011 at AA as a 24 year old he had a 2.89 ERA. In 2012 he a 2.41 ERA in AA and a 3.42 ERA in AAA, and a sub 4 ERA in AAA in 2013 between Las Vegas and Colorado Springs. Granted he was only an 18th round pick, but his actual performance far exceeded his draft position (and lets be honest, how many starting pitching prospects did the Rox have that they could afford to let one walk in 2013?). Sitton was a 7th rounder but a reliever. Why was McHugh let go? They hadn’t even tried him as a reliever yet, and given the value of failed starters as relievers, that would have made a lot of sense…and risking Matthes or Sitton be available to the Rule 5 draft. Oh, and Matthes didn’t even make it to the opening day, being DFaD in March of 2014. Meanwhile Collin McHugh would start the year for Houston in AAA, make three starts and 5 appearances, and then be in the major leagues by May. He would go on to finish 4th in ROY balloting (it tells you how little real opportunity he had been given by the Mets and Rox that he still was Rookie eligible despite having pitched in 2012 and 2013, making just 9 starts and 15 appearances. In 2014 he was 11-9 with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.022 WHIP. So far in 2015 his numbers aren’t as good, currently sitting at 9-4 with a 4.54 ERA and a 1.299 WHIP thanks largely to a reduction in his K/9 from 9.1 to 7.1. But those numbers are ballooned by two starts covering just 7.1 innings where he allowed 15 ER. Take those two out and he is 9-2 with a 3.54 ERA and a 1.119 WHIP. His curve and slider are both swung at and missed over 10% of the time with both being good strikeout pitches. His curve has a BAA of just .157 since April 2014! In other words, his repoitairre is a lot like a mix of Chad Bettis and Jorge De La Rosa, though with less velocity. And yes, you can throw a curve at Coors. Sure some will hang, but if you don’t walk people (2.3 BB/9 tells you a lot), than you are giving up single runs while striking out a guy/9 innings. And McHugh is a long way from free agency and still just 28. How nice would next year’s starting rotation look like with Jorge De La Rosa, Chad Bettis, Collin McHugh and Jon Grey look like? Yea…thanks Dan! Instead we are left hoping that Tyler Chatwood can return to 2013 shape or Tyler Matzek can get past his yips or Eddie Butler can get back to striking guys out. Doesn’t mean 2016 is shot in the backside yet. Just…we gave this guy away so we could keep Kraig Sitton and Kent Matthes? OUCH!!!!
What are ones you might add? Remember, these are the ones that didn’t make the top 5 list. And I didn’t exactly struggle to come up with these 6. There are so many more.
Up Next – Mistake #5 – Signing Tulo and CarGo to Long-Term Deals