General Managers can be easy targets for fans to rip on. Practically any person that’s a little passionate is eager to join the peanut gallery and lob ideas at the front office about how it could do more, spend more, win more. In addition, the merits of a particular transaction (or “missed” opportunity) usually can’t be evaluated for months or even years after it is made. The Colorado Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd has taken quite a bit of flak in recent years, some of it justified (Fowler for fodder?), but it can be important to take a step back and realize that there are a few things he actually does well.
#1 The Rockies haven’t gotten stuck in a long, bad contract in a decade.
Early in O’Dowd’s tenure when he was trying to “solve” the mystery of winning at altitude, he went on a little bit of a spending spree acquiring Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. The idea of seeking pitchers who tend to walk people with their curveball and then paying top dollar to put them 5,000 feet above sea level (counting the pitching mound) was questionable even at the time. Since then? Not bad. Todd Helton’s contract became a bit of an albatross as injuries multiplied with age to subtract from his power stroke. Still, even Helton’s contract was considered a good one at the time, it didn’t seem to hinder any other deals and was able to be renegotiated during the later, more expensive years. As penny-pinching as ownership might be, especially after the recent offseason, there hasn’t been much of a sense that payroll has hindered the Rockies from doing anything except in the case of Matt Holliday who at least netted Carlos Gonzalez and some useful seasons from Huston Street.
#2 The Rockies value defense.
Unlike, say, Seattle, where they have shifted second basemen to the outfield to be flanked by two firstbasemen playing in the corners, the Rockies have generally placed a value on defense. Perhaps it was the emergence of Troy Tulowitzki and the many articles about the Rockies defense that came from the Rocktober run to the World Series in 2007, but the Rockies have kept to that mantra. Helton, Tulowitzki and Gonzalez were all signed to long contracts, in part, because they were seen as good with the glove. Maybe O’Dowd realized that it was one of the things at altitude that he could control. It does seem that, for the most part, any middle infielders that the Rockies call up can at least flash the leather. Sometimes, however, the Rockies love defense almost to a fault as certain players get demoted (Iannetta, Fowler) or discarded (Atkins, Hawpe, Smith, Young, Fowler?) for perceived faults in the field.
#3 The Rockies are stable.
Almost to a fault, there’s very little roster turnover on the Rockies especially among the starting cast. Holliday and perhaps Fowler was the closest thing to a salary dump that the Rockies have seen. It might not be much comfort as the Rockies have finished last in the NL West two seasons in a row. However, there is some advantage to not having to buy a new jersey every year because your favorite player got traded. The Rockies also don’t give up on young players quickly, per se. They do have an annoying habit of punitively demoting certain players, but even utility infielder filler gets a few shots to stick with the Rockies and similar patience did end up paying off for Gonzalez and Tulowitzki. Again, penny-pinching as the Rockies ownership might be, they aren’t the Marlins, or dare I say, even the Cubs, flipping everything every useful part possible at the trade deadline. The tradeoff might mean the farm system isn’t as stacked as it should be, but there’s no guarantee that someone like Jonathan Herrera would’ve netted anything other than another Jonathan Herrera.
#4 The Rockies generally have good bullpens.
We aren’t exactly talking the Nasty Boys, but O’Dowd has done a decent job at acquiring bits and pieces to staff a competent bullpen. From “big name” relievers like Huston Street to fungibles like Manny Corpas, he’s generally found something that works without breaking the bank. Similarly, rarely does a reliever break down from too much use because the bullpen tends to be a deep one. Part of that is out of necessity i.e. the starting pitching doesn’t do a decent job, but rarely, if Rockies fans are complaining, are they talking about the bullpen.
After two last place finishes (and three losing seasons) in a row, things are bad. But, all things considered, it can conceivably be much worse. Nine teams have had longer playoff droughts than the Rockies and twenty one teams have longer World Series playoff droughts. I don’t know necessarily whether O’Dowd is the person to right the ship since he has quite a few faults but there are teams who have sunk and stunk much worse.