Lost amid the chaos that was the David Price trade yesterday, baseball is still happening. The Tigers start a series with the Colorado Rockies this evening, the first meeting between the two teams since 2011. In order to reacquaint us with the Rockies, we got in touch with Jay Tymkovich of Purple Row, SB Nation's excellent Rockies site. My responses to his questions are here.
1. The Rockies have had plenty of on-field troubles this season, but one story that most outsiders don’t know about is the turmoil within the front office. Can you give us a brief rundown of what exactly has been going on in Denver?
Short answer: it’s a mess. The Rockies have a strange dual GM set-up. Dan O’Dowd oversees minor league development and acquisitions. Bill Geivett has an office in the Rockies clubhouse and he oversees the major league roster (though what exactly that means isn’t entirely clear to this observer). And finally, owner Dick Monfort is heavily involved in all aspects of running the team; he is most assuredly a hands-on owner.
And of course in a year that has spiraled out of control so abruptly, there’s tension in the air. Former player Dexter Fowler has expressed confusion about who is actually in charge. There have been reports that manager Walt Weiss and Geivett (remember, his office is in the clubhouse) have a strained relationship.
Most bizarrely, Monfort sent out a barrage of confrontational emails to disgruntled fans who had emailed the team to express their disappointment in how poorly the team is playing. To one fan Monfort said, "If product and experience so bad, don’t come!" To another fan he opined that perhaps Denver didn’t deserve a franchise. Of course he quickly apologized and tried to limit the damage, and it really isn’t that big of a deal (pure speculation: he had a few cocktails and pulled out the iPad after another frustrating loss). But it sure is strange behavior for a grown man and business owner.
Anyway, that’s three paragraphs and we haven’t even started talking about the guys on the field! Let’s move on.
2. On the field, the Rockies have spoiled a hot start by going 21-48 since May 7th, when they were a season-high eight games above .500. What happened?
The company line is that injuries absolutely destroyed us. And that is certainly true. One of our biggest acquisitions Brett Anderson broke his finger on April 14 during just his third start just by swinging at a ball and hitting it off the end of the bat. He was gone for two and a half months.
The hand thing would become a theme. Two other starters would break their hands in freak plays; one was Jordan Lyles, acquired from Houston in the Fowler trade, who was having a great year. The other was Christian Bergmann, our 8th or 9th starter (it’s hard to keep track) after taking a line drive comebacker.
Jhoulys Chacin, who pitched to a sub-3.50 ERA last year (at Coors Field no less), is fighting a serious shoulder injury. He didn’t make a start until May, threw crappy when he was out there, and has since been shut down for the rest of the year. Tyler Chatwood, who pitched extremely well last year, just got Tommy John surgery.
Top prospect Eddie Butler (ranked 30th by MLB.com) got the call in June, pitched just one start, and got shut down with shoulder inflammation. He’s back in Double-A and struggling.
And that’s just the starting pitching! We have had to use 14 starters so far this year, which leads MLB by far. Total mess.
Of course when it rains it pours, and our position players have been demolished too. Nolan Arenado broke his finger (again with the hands) in a May game against the Braves. The young third baseman is arguably our most irreplaceable player behind Troy Tulowitzki, and he missed two months. We were still four games above .500 at that point. His replacement has been one Charlie Culberson, possibly the worst position player I have ever watched regularly. Arenado seemed destined for an All Star berth before the injury, and he has been quite good since coming back—when the Rockies are in the NL’s basement.
Michael Cuddyer broke his shoulder in a diving play at third base just days after Nolan went down. We haven’t seen him since; maybe he’ll be back by mid-August.
Carlos Gonzalez, who is supposed to be the second best hitter on the team, has been a total mess this year. He has missed significant time with knee, finger, and ankle issues. When he has been on the field he has been sub-replacement level.
And the cherry on top of the sundae: Troy Tulowitzki came up gimpy trying to run out a ground ball two games after the All Star break. The famously fragile superstar, who was going to contend for the MVP this season with his excellent play, isn’t expected back until mid to late August.
3. Troy Tulowitzki’s name has floated around in trade rumor circles for the past month, but the Rockies are on record saying that he will only be moved in exchange for "the offer of the century." Do you think it is in the Rockies’ best interest to trade him?
Depends on who you ask. Tulowitzki still has six years on his deal, so in theory he should still be around for the next winning Rockies team (should one ever materialize). He signed his deal just before revenues exploded throughout the sport, so while he ain’t cheap, he is still being underpaid for his MVP level talent. He’s a great fielding short stop who puts up elite offensive numbers. He is an irreplaceable player, basically.
But this losing has gotten to him. The Rockies haven’t fielded a winning team since 2010. Tulo is hyper-competitive (supposedly he had never been on a losing team in his life until the 2008 Rockies) and only cares about winning. He has been quoted numerous times saying that his one goal is to win championships, and that he doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of the recently retired Todd Helton, who played the majority of his prime years on uncompetitive Rockies squads.
Obviously, this year’s trade deadline has come and gone. Both New York teams wanted him, and the St. Louis Cardinals have long been enamored of Tulo. Perhaps he gets moved this off-season, but I doubt it. The front office, perhaps delusionally, still thinks 2015 can be a competitive year. Only time will tell...
4. Speaking of Tulowitzki, are you upset about him attending a New York Yankees game last weekend?
I want to say it’s much ado about nothing. Tulo grew up idolizing Derek Jeter, and when asked about why he was there, Tulo said he wanted to see Jeter play one more time. He was on the DL, he was in the area getting treatment, and he was with family, so they decided to take a trip to Yankee Stadium. Perfectly innocent.
On the other hand...maybe Tulo had been reading his Machiavelli. East Coast media have been running their mouths for at least two years now about how Tulo would be Jeter’s successor. Tulo sat out in the middle of the open, and it was bound to bring attention. Perhaps it was a not-so-coded message: either we get change in the front office or on the field, or I’m going to request a trade. And maybe he’s right; four straight losing seasons is in no way acceptable.
Either way, you can’t fault his sartorial choices. An Arrested Development t-shirt? Niiiiiice.
5. Despite the losing record, the Rockies lead the National League in runs scored and their .877 home OPS leads baseball by a wide margin. Who has been the biggest surprise for the Rockies’ offense this year?
Oh, we can talk about nice things? Okay, let me shift gears...
There are three easy answers for the home numbers; they are Coors Field, Coors Field, and Coors Field. It’s the best offensive park in the majors at 5,000 feet of altitude, and second place isn’t particularly close. Troy Tulowitzki has been an absolute destroyer of worlds there with a 1.245 OPS.
Of course the Rockies have been worse on the road (tied for 24th in away wRC+), but the transition from altitude breaking balls to sea level breaking balls is one of the hardest things to do in the game. It’s just another piece of the puzzle of building a successful Rockies team.
There have been a couple really nice surprises for the Rockies this year. Foremost among them has to be Corey Dickerson. Despite never being a very highly ranked prospect, the 24 year old outfielder showed some solid promise last year in limited time. But this year, after injuries cleared the outfield to give him regular at bats, he has been amazing. He’s hitting .327/.392/.581, and he has earned that line. He sprays line drives all over the yard and has great power too with 13 home runs in 278 plate appearances. I guess it’s safe to say I have a bit of a mancrush on Dickerson.
Right there with him is Charlie Blackmon, a surprise All Star this year. His story is pretty similar to Dickerson’s, really. Asked to fill Dexter Fowler’s shoes after the trade, he has played center, left, and right with great ability, and hit to a .304/.350/.466 line. And he hasn’t been hurt, unlike everyone else.
Rounding out the nice outfield surprises, Drew Stubbs was acquired for a reliever and he has destroyed lefties while playing center field in a platoon with Blackmon. He still strikes out way too much, but when used correctly Stubbs has been excellent.
So even while getting a big fat nothing from Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies’ outfield has been very productive.
Justin Morneau, whom we signed for a relatively cheap $12 million over two years has been having a very nice bounce back season, and narrowly missed out on the final All Star vote. At .313/.350/.501 Morneau has been an excellent replacement for Todd Helton.
6. The Rockies’ pitching staff has been hammered by injuries this year, but have been reluctant to bring top prospects Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray. In the meantime, has the team unearthed any other young pitchers who could help them down the road?
Ah quality pitching, the great white whale of the Colorado Rockies. It is sort of true what you say about Butler and Gray. Those two are probably the best tandem of pitching prospects the Rockies have ever had, and naturally they don't want to screw it up. Unfortunately, the disaster that is 2014 leaves nobody untouched; Butler's K rate has fallen in his Double-A starts and he was promoted too soon after all the injuries.
As mentioned earlier, he got hit around in his only start against the Dodgers and was subsequently put on the Disabled List. He is now back in Double-A trying to find his sinker again.
Gray they have really been careful with. He hasn't dominated Double-A like he did at the end of last season, but the strike outs are still there and the team has him on a strict pitch count. I doubt we see him this season, but we are hoping he contributes in a real way in 2015. Of course, TINSTAPP, especially when it comes to the Rockies.
There have been some positives in the rotation though. Tyler Matzek, the Rockies' first round draft pick in 2009 was finally called up this season after quite the odyssey through the minor leagues. You guys might see him this series. He's a lefty who throws 94 mph and hasn't displayed the command issues that have haunted him in the minors. Jordan Lyles was acquitting himself very nicely in his first couple months as a Rockie with a 3.52 ERA before the hand gremlins got him.
Jorge De La Rosa has been a reliable veteran for the team. When Brett Anderson has been on the field he has been fantastic. So there have been some positives, but good health has been nonexistent.
Oh yeah, the bullpen. I don't want to talk about the bullpen. Suffice it to say that if you guys think you have it bad, check out the Rockies' numbers some time.
Once again, a big thanks to Jay and the staff at Purple Row for answering our questions. You can read our Tiger-centric responses over here, and be sure to check out Purple Row for all things Rockies all season long!