Monday, January 26, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
Lucky is the residue of design – Branch Rickey
Hall of Famer Tracy Ringolsby led off his January 8th column with a story on the stability of major league general managers. Dan O'Dowd, GM of the Colorado Rockies, starts his 10th season and ranks fifth among GMs with the longest tenure. I think most Rockies fans probably have a love/hate relationship with our GM. Maybe indifference is a better opinion. In nine years O'Dowd has watched over a team that has gone 677 - 782 and has had only two winning seasons. Compiling an average 75 - 87 record certainly can't be considered a success. The only consistency O’Dowd has brought to town is the consistency of finishing under .500.
In the past nine years O'Dowd has certainly experimented with what it takes to win at altitude. To be fair his first three years were trying to clean out salary with a team that wasn't winning. Then in 2003, the rebuilding began which led to a National League pennant and a World Series visit in 2007. Now he is trying to manage expectations.
In trying to build a winner, O'Dowd didn't get his nickname "Dealin’ O'Dowd" for nothing. Below are the trades he managed since arriving in Denver.
O'Dowd's moniker certainly fits especially in the early days. In addition to the trades, the chart shows the player's Win Shares. For a traded player the Win Shares shown are those the player had after being traded. For an acquired player, the Win Shares shown are those earned as a Rockie. Note: Only Win Shares since 2004 are shown...data available here. Without going into too much depth, O'Dowd didn’t get much value early on (1999 - 2000). Then, in 2001, the Bard and Gerut trade was his worst, since Cruz never amounted to anything. For the next 5 years O’Dowd didn’t do much, the young signed players weren’t mature yet and the team was burdened with high salaries from the Hampton and Neagle deals. O'Dowd was just “minding the ship,” making sure the ball club didn't sink. In 2006, O’Dowd probably pulled off his greatest slight of hand with the dumping of Jennings for Taveras, Hirsh, and Buchholz. Beyond the trades, O'Dowd's strongest contribution has been the draft. Drafted players who have provided significant reasons for the team's success include Francis, Tulo, Atkins, and Hawpe. Ultimately O'Dowd's legacy will be his trading of Holliday for really nothing of significance.
The question then is what more could our General Manager have done in the last 9 years? Alternatively one could ask does a General Manager really matter? At the MLB level, winning and losing may have more to do with luck, attitude, and culture than free agent signing, drafting, and trading. All teams draft similar type players year after year. Player statistics and their cause and effect all wash out year after year. Very few GMs make horrible or amazing trades that really amount to huge swings. The Monforts haven't opened the bank in the last 5 years. Even after going to the World Series we couldn't land a significant free agent (especially at 2B). Pitcher's don't want to come here after the Hampton, Neagle, Kile debacle. I think we can easily overlook the complexity of building a long-term winner. O'Dowd has shown the ability to pick players but hasn't shown the ability to land any free agents that can shore up weak links, and finally his trades have been a mixed bag.
When O'Dowd is eventually let go it will be because he didn't get a pitcher of significance when trading Holliday and for not meeting expectations of a team that made the World Series. Regardless of what O’Dowd (or Hurdle or the Monforts) does, we the fans will moan and groan or cheer because we are passionate about our Rockies. I’m sure O’Dowd is passionate about baseball, like the rest of us, but that passion doesn’t seem to transfer to the field. It just goes to show that regardless of what a GM accomplishes, does a GM really get a team where it needs to be? Nine years in the front office has molded this organization and I think with the Holliday trade, O’Dowd’s luck has run out.