Tag Archives: Dan O’Dowd

Rockies will listen to offers for Dexter Fowler

Dan O’Dowd and I had lunch at Zi South by the ballpark today. We had the place almost to ourselves, which gave us a chance to talk a lot of baseball.

Perhaps the biggest news out of our conversation was his acknowledgement that the Rockies will listen to offers for center fielder Dexter Fowler, who regressed last season from a productive 2012 and appeared in only 119 games. That may not come as a surprise, but in light of owner Dick Monfort taking Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez off the market before it opened, at least it indicates the Rocks aren’t disconnecting the phones.

Whether Fowler spends the 2014 season in Colorado or elsewhere, O’Dowd said it will be an important one for his reputation in the industry. He also said the Rocks won’t trade him without getting appropriate value back.

O’Dowd acknowledged pursuing catchers Carlos Ruiz and Brian McCann in free agency and being outbid for both. Ruiz signed a three-year, $26 million deal with the Phillies, which works out to more than $8.5 million a year for a catcher who will be 35 when spring training opens. McCann reportedly got $85 million over five years from the Yankees, an average of $17 million per.

The Rockies made a substantial offer to McCann not merely for the obvious reasons — he’s a seven-time All-Star with power — but because the team could use a double dose of his attitude and competitiveness. But what’s reasonable financially for the Yankees is unreasonable for most other teams, and this again was the case.

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Q: What was your game plan going into this off-season?

A: I think as an organization we feel like we’ve got a window of competitiveness with two of our best players and we were trying to figure out a way to impact those guys within our means as much as we possibly could in the positions where we felt like we could impact them.

The free agent market was not flush with impact players. We earmarked a few and up ’til now haven’t been able to get any of those done, but I think that was our overall game plan, was to try to create some versatility in our lineup but also try to create a window here to take another step.

Q: It’s been widely reported you pursued Carlos Ruiz and Brian McCann. What does that say about your view of Wilin Rosario as a catcher?

A: I think that had as much to do with what we thought his gifts were, rather than his liabilities. An average catcher here since we’ve been in existence has caught somewhere between 100 and 110 games. And this kid’s bat is pretty special, and the power is pretty special. I think he caught 102 last year — he started 102. Then you’ve got to factor in how many of those 102 did he feel really good physically hitting because of the wear and tear?

I think you’ve got to catch an average of 130 pitches here a night, and that’s not just physically but mentally, calling 130 pitches. So I think it was just a function of we could make one move and affect two different positions on the field. And notwithstanding, maybe get a defensive catcher that would be a little bit further along in his career, because it takes a long time to get good in that particular role. So we thought we might be able to help our pitching staff in that way, too, but I think it was more a function of giving him an opportunity to get more at-bats.

Q: Where else could Wilin play?

A: We think Wilin’s a really good athlete. We felt pretty comfortable that giving him enough time he could play right field. He’s got a plus arm, he’s a good enough athlete, he runs pretty well. Sure, it would have been a risk, but we’re going to have to take some risks at times to get where we want to go, and that was one risk I think everybody was willing to take if we could find the right guy.

Q: The Cardinals are reportedly signing Jhonny Peralta to play shortstop. There’s been a lot of speculation since the World Series that they would make a run at Tulo . . . 

A: There was never . . . no, I mean, Bill (Geivett) and I are always listening to clubs. That’s what we’re responsible for. The Cardinals have a pretty good model in place right now.

Q: They were not interested or they did not make a pitch?

A: How could there not be interest in that type of player? But I think their model right now is their interest is only to the extent that they could make a deal based upon their parameters to make a deal, which weren’t even close to anything that we would ever entertain to trade that type of player.

Q: So let’s talk about the starting rotation. What are you looking to do there?

A: As we sit here today, we have four starters, knock on wood health, which are (Jhoulys) Chacin, (Jorge) De La Rosa, (Tyler) Chatwood and (Juan) Nicasio. We still would love to add more depth to that.

Q: You still see Nicasio as a starter?

A: We do. He hadn’t pitched for two years. Got physically tired the second half of the year, especially his knee that he had surgery on. Didn’t get a chance to train much last winter because of the knee surgery. He throws a lot of innings for us. No doubt he has to get better, but going out on the market, we’re understanding the value of what he brings to our club.

Some of these are hope things, but (Christian) Friedrich is having a great winter. Two years ago, we were really encouraged about him being a part of our rotation for last year, and then he had an injury-riddled season. We’re really pleased by his progress physically right now.

Q: His back is OK?

A: You know, he’s totally redone his delivery, which is what we helped him with. But until he gets into the live competition with a hitter in front of him and the adrenaline flowing, if he can maintain what he’s doing within the course of the game, he’s going to be OK.

And we still haven’t given up on (Drew) Pomeranz, although I know he showed really well out of the ‘pen when we put him in there. I think we’ll keep an open mind on that.

Q: What’s your diagnosis there?

A: Well, one, he’s got to get over the hump at the major league level. He’s got to show some more toughness and competitiveness and some better secondary pitches. He started to flash that out of the ‘pen when we used him for that last three weeks of the season. It was pretty special stuff in that role. Whether he translates that into the starting rotation . . .

I think it’s another example of a kid getting rushed, never really getting the time to fully develop at the minor league level and making sure that he had stuff to go to at the big league level when things didn’t go right. That’s where we want to make sure with (Eddie) Butler and (Jonathan) Gray. We know we have two big leaguers here. We just want to make sure that they get enough minor league innings to be able to react appropriately when things don’t go right at the big league level, which is inevitable.

Q: How many is that?

A: I think they’ll determine that. Butler is obviously closer, not necessarily ability-wise, but because he’s had a full year pitching in the minor leagues. If Eddie can pick up where he left off at Double-A last year [six starts, 27.2 innings pitched, 13 hits, two earned runs, six walks, 25 strikeouts, 0.65 ERA], he should come pretty quickly, but we’ll have to see if he picks up where he left off last year. A lot of that will be dependent upon the amount of work we challenged him to do this winter and what he does with it.

Q: And where does Gray start?

A: Probably in Tulsa, too. He dominated the Cal League. [5 starts for Modesto, 24 innings pitched, 10 hits, two earned runs, six walks, 36 strikeouts, 0.75 ERA] If we didn’t shut him down, they probably would have won the Cal League there. He was unhittable. No reason to send him back to the Cal League. So he’ll be in Tulsa, too, to start the year.

Q: In retrospect, what’s your self-evaluation of the Ubaldo deal?

A: I think under the conditions we were in, knowing all the players that were involved, I don’t think Ubaldo would have pitched any better here under the circumstances, so I think we did the best that we could. Doing an autopsy on it, I think we know a little bit more about what we got that didn’t work, but I think we were being offered very similar players from every other club that was involved in the process as you look at those names unfold now throughout their careers.

But I don’t think it would have changed the fact that Ubaldo had to be moved from our situation simply because of where it had gotten to. I feel bad that it had gotten to that point. I’m not sure why, to this day, that it did. But that’s a choice he made.

Q: Alex White, what happened there, before he got hurt last year?

A: I think one of the things that we’re really beginning to bear down and understand is that a quality major league starter has tremendous balance, rhythm and timing in their delivery. I think in Alex’s case, he never really had that. He did a lot of things on effort and competitiveness, but it was very difficult for him to duplicate his delivery. I think he would have ended up being a bullpen guy for us, probably a halfway-decent one, too, depending upon how he adapted to the role. But I think in that case as a kid that came with a lot of accolades, that was rushed to the big leagues, that never really figured out his delivery and how to pitch, I think he got overwhelmed at the big league level and then, predictably with that kind of delivery, he blew out.

Q: I know you admired his competitiveness when you first got to know him. As much as the game has turned to statistical analytics, how much do intangibles like his matter?

A: It’s called the human analytics. I think human analytics are just as important as statistical analytics. Hard to measure it because there’s no statistical formula for that, but really understanding what’s inside a guy is actually more important than what comes out of a guy because that’s the only way you know if you’ve got a winning player on your hands.

Like Michael Cuddyer’s case. He’s a perfect example of a guy that gets every little bit out of whatever ability he has and does it solely related to winning that game that night. It’s problematic in the whole industry right now, trying to find those kind of guys because it starts at a very early age with the entitlement factor. So when kids get put into the game based upon what the game owes them rather than the understanding of how appreciative they are of the opportunity, it creates an uphill battle right away. So I think it’s really important in our development system that we address a lot of the issues that we are now addressing as it relates to creating that tougher player that understands how to play for his team rather than play for himself.

Q: And how do you do that?

A: It’s a grind every single night.

Q: Would you agree with my characterization that your team is, overall, certain exceptions notwithstanding, soft? Mentally soft?

A: I would agree with you that our team could be a lot tougher.

Q: So how do you go about doing that?

A: Trying to create as much as you can within the mix of players you bring in as many guys as you possibly can who emulate that, who show up every single day with that being their mindset. That’s part of the reason for bringing (LaTroy) Hawkins back here.

Q: Do you not think that your stars have to, at least one of them, have to reflect that?

A: I think these are better questions for Walt (Weiss) and Bill rather than me, but I saw, personally, tremendous growth from Tulo in that area last year. I thought he started taking on that persona a little bit more. But there’s no doubt our best players have to be the best players in every way, shape or form, both in their production and how they make other players better.

Q: Let me ask you about Dexter Fowler. What’s his status?

A: Well, I think Dexter right now has got a big year in front of him. Whether that’s with us or whether that’s with somebody else at this point in time is too hard to say. I think it’s fair to say we are more willing to listen to calls about Dexter than we might have been in the past. He has a lot to prove this year within the industry. He’s got to show up and he’s got to do that.

Q: What are the considerations in your mind as to whether he will be here?

A: Like everything else we look at with our players, is there value out there that makes us a better team in the aggregate? So the same process that would go with any player would go with Dexter.

Q: You moved CarGo to left field in part because you didn’t want the stress and space of center field affecting his offense. If Dexter were gone, would you be comfortable moving CarGo back or would you go look for another center fielder?

A: Center fielders are really hard to find. I don’t think we’d find anybody that’s got better than CarGo’s skill set anywhere. Everything comes with risks, so I think you have to measure what you’re getting back against that risk that you just mentioned before you actually did anything. As far as CarGo’s skill set, he can play any position in the outfield, and he’s had trouble staying healthy in left, too.

Q: Has anything about Dexter disappointed you?

A: Dexter’s a great kid and he knows that we all feel that way about him. But I think he’s got to get tougher. No doubt. He’s got to show up and play with an edge every day, not just when he thinks he has to. It’s got to be that edge that he brings every day. He’s got to be a passionate competitor in the game. He has to love the game. He’s got to compete because he loves the game and he loves his teammates and he wants to win. It can’t be for anything the game provides. It’s got to be for those reasons.

Q: You’ve had three disappointing seasons in a row. What would you like to say to fans that are not hurling things at you?

A: I don’t think anybody in this organization is more disappointed in the way we’ve performed than me. I’m as big a competitor as anybody. But I think there are reasons why the years happened the way that they did. I think windows open and close. It took us really a long time in ’03, ’04, ’05 and ’06 to create a window for ’07, ’08, ’09 and ’10, with ’08 being a bad year in there, but the other three being good years. And we’re working real hard to create that window again right now and hopefully have it stay open a little bit longer than the last one. There are windows in market sizes across all sports — specifically baseball more than anything, but I think hockey is a little bit similar — that open and close. I think we could have been a lot better last year if Tulo didn’t go down for that long a stretch of time, but I don’t think we still would have been good enough to win.

I think we sit here today with a team that has the chance to win more games than we lose, but I think we’ve still got a ways to go before we can say we’re going to win a World Series. A lot of things would have to go right for us, in our development of certain players and the maturation and improvement of players that we currently have at the big league level.

Q: Any sense of how active you’ll be over the next several months?

A: Well, we’ve tried to be active. We’ve been aggressive on a ton of different fronts. It’s really hard to make trades and, in this market, it’s really hard to sign free agents. So we’re going to continue to be aggressive and we’ll try to build the team in aggregate, not just necessarily add individual stars. We’re trying to add the right kind of players into the mix.

Dick Monfort rejected Dan O’Dowd’s proposal to fire Dan O’Dowd

In the midst of the most disappointing season in Rockies history, general manager Dan O’Dowd offered owner Dick Monfort the solution many fans desire: Fire the GM.

“I sat with Dick and said, ‘Hey, listen, it would make it easier on you, just throw me under the bus here. In some ways, I’ll be better off for it, too,'” O’Dowd told me after the club announced its latest organizational shakeup this week.

“But he won’t do that and I can’t leave him because no one knows more about this place than I do. You bring another GM here and it will take him years just to get up to speed on the issues we have here, how different it is. I don’t have all the answers, but the only way you find answers is you’ve got to try different things. You can’t think traditionally.”

This is the crux of the difference in perception inside and outside the organization. Many fans believe playing at altitude is a minor or negligible issue, just another variable like the short porch at Yankee Stadium or the wind at Wrigley Field. Even mentioning it is just an excuse for poor performance, they believe.

Within the organization, it is considered the central challenge of operating the ball club. O’Dowd calls it the Rockies’ “Goliath.” The reason they don’t talk about it more publicly is it’s already next to impossible to get free agent pitchers to come to Colorado. Emphasizing the difficulty of succeeding here as a pitcher will only make that situation worse.

But the challenge of pitching at altitude has never been clearer than this year, when O’Dowd acquired four starters from other teams — Jeremy Guthrie, Guillermo Moscoso, Josh Outman and Tyler Chatwood — and not one of them proved able to survive at Coors Field.

We have nearly 20 years worth of major league data now, and the numbers are revealing.

Try this exercise: Imagine an average major league ballclub. Over a 20-year span, how many starting pitchers on this team would put up at least three seasons of 100 or more innings pitched with an earned-run average below 4.75? Pretty low bar, right? There should be plenty.

Over the past 20 years, the average National League club has had eight such pitchers. The average club in the NL West, the Rockies’ division, has had 10.

In their entire history, the Rocks have had two: Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez.

“We worked as hard as anybody trying to find pitchers,” said Bob Gebhard, the Rocks’ general manager from 1993-99. “Our first pick in the expansion draft was David Nied, who did a nice job for us but unfortunately he got hurt. So you do the best you can in trying to add pitchers but it was extremely difficult to convince free agent pitchers to come to Denver and pitch.”

“I’ll put it this way,” said Clint Hurdle, the Rockies’ longest-serving manager, from 2002 to 2009. “This is the most challenging venue to coach, manage, perform at in major league baseball. 5280 (feet above sea level) 81 times a year, there’s nothing like it anywhere else. There are dramatic changes you’ve got to make to things.”

Hence the latest attempt to think outside the box in seeking a solution to the high-altitude riddle. Six weeks ago, O’Dowd implemented a four-man starting rotation with pitch limits on those starters, an attempt to address the Rockies’ 20-year history of injury and/or rapid deterioration among their pitchers. This week it was installing a front office executive — Bill Geivett, O’Dowd’s right-hand man — in the clubhouse, in part because the first experiment got such a lukewarm response there.

“I understand how some people are going to look at this,” O’Dowd said. “But you tell me how you look at anything traditionally in this place. What may work anywhere else is just not going to work here. If anybody knows that, I do. So I’ve got two choices. Hell, I could resign and move on. I’ll get another job. But I’ve got an owner that embraces change. He loves to look and try to do things differently. He’s not a traditional thinker.”

Many fans point to anecdotal evidence that altitude really isn’t such a big deal. C.J. Wilson comes in and throws eight innings of five-hit ball for the Angels. Cole Hamels throws eight innings of six-hit ball for the Phillies. Everybody’s pitching in the same conditions, right? Why can’t Rockies starters do that?

Of course, some of them have. That’s the problem relying on anecdotal evidence. You notice what you want to notice and ignore what you want to ignore.

Few remember that Mike Hampton was terrific in his first half-season in Colorado, going 9-2 with a 2.98 ERA through his first 13 starts in 2001. He was never the same pitcher after that. Ubaldo Jimenez was 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA through 18 starts in 2010. He’s not been the same since.

“It’s a lot different coming here and starting one time per season or two times per season or even three times per season, which is the max someone will have, than starting 16, 17, or 18 times per season,” O’Dowd said.

Fans don’t tend to notice when opposing pitchers blow up. In fact, hard as it may be to believe given the current staff’s woes, the Rocks have a better ERA at Coors Field than visiting teams since 2006.

The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, has a career ERA of 2.89. His ERA at Coors Field is 5.91. Greg Maddux had a Coors Field ERA of 5.19. Curt Schilling’s was 5.51.

The Rocks have had one year in which they were able to deploy a consistent, traditional five-man rotation all season: 2009, the last time they went to the playoffs. Jimenez and Jason Marquis each started 33 times; Jorge De La Rosa, 32; Jason Hammel, 30; Cook, 27. With the exception of Hammel, each has suffered a major injury or a massive deterioration in performance since then.

“The purpose of limiting the pitch counts is that through the studies I’ve done with our trainers, Steadman-Hawkins and all of our medical people, we believe that injuries happen with load,” O’Dowd said. “When you pile on load and you are throwing pitches at the point of fatigue, that’s when the muscle tears and the tendons begin to get stretched, and that’s what causes injuries.

“This was a lost year. I wasn’t trying to develop a model to save this season. I’m trying to develop a model that has a chance to work here long after I’m gone. Because the environmental parts of this aren’t going to change.”

But experimenting with baseball orthodoxy requires an experimental mindset that baseball players, coaches and managers don’t often have. Playing every day for six months, baseball is a game of routine, of doing the same thing over and over and over again.

“My conclusion is we have to do it differently,” O’Dowd said. “We can’t do it traditionally the same way. That doesn’t mean we don’t get back to that at some point in time, but right now where we’re at, with the inexperience we have,  we are going to have to pitch differently. We are going to have to have a different concept and it’s going to have to be an ever-changing one.

“This is a ballpark about adaptability. I did not anticipate the ballpark was going to play the way it did this year because it hadn’t for the last four years. Why it is? Hell, I don’t know. There are other things that come up in this ballpark that I’ll never be able to truly understand but we’re going to have to be able to adapt to it a hell of a lot quicker than we did this year without fighting so many battles to be able to try something different and unique.

“We have to have a thought process of adaptability. We cannot think traditionally if we’re ever going to have any kind of sustained success here. If we do nothing, every ten years we’ll win twice, guarantee you. Every ten years, everything will fall into place and we’ll win twice. I’d like to have something that stands for a little more than that.”

They call the NFL a copycat league but no sport worships conformity more than baseball. In the early 1970s, most teams used four-man starting rotations. When the conversion to five-man rotations began, every single team fell rapidly in line. So when O’Dowd began tinkering with accepted norms, beginning with the four-man rotation and pitch limits, he found resistance not only among the chattering class, but also in his own clubhouse. That’s why Geivett is now taking up residence there — to help sell the experimental approaches the Rocks expect to try.

O’Dowd recognized that he needed a diplomat in this role. He also recognized that diplomacy is not his forte.

“The bottom line is we have to come up with a different model,” he said. “The altitude’s not going to change. Do you realize that even if we dome this place, we could not create enough barometric pressure to come close to normalizing the environment indoors? You couldn’t pump enough air in here to make that happen. You could bring it down some, but we’re at 5,183 feet above sea level. The next closest club is the Diamondbacks at 1,040 feet. Do you see how well we play every spring (in Arizona)?”

Strange but true: The elevations of other NL stadiums are minuscule compared to Coors Field, but the Rocks persistently play better at the stadiums that are relatively higher and worse at those comparatively lower. While most of the focus is on their pitching, their hitters consistently struggle with the transition from altitude to sea level at the end of each home stand, adjusting each time to the greater break of the pitches they face.

“We were certainly aware of the splits in the averages,” Gebhard said of the Rockies’ early days. “The great hitters, the Larry Walkers and the Andres Galarragas, at times would have as much as a 100-point spread between home and away.

“Dante Bichette, way back when, had his own little pitching machine. It was a curve ball machine that he would take with him on the road trip and get into a batting tunnel at the stadium and have it throw nothing but curve balls.

“That was a very true issue because playing at Coors Field, you’d see a curve ball and it would be a spinner and it might be good one time and not so good the next time. And all of a sudden the next day you’re playing in Chicago or you’re playing in Atlanta and that same curve ball is a quality pitch. We struggled with that. I can’t say that we came up with a sound solution but we were well aware of that and hitters were frustrated because they would go on the road and the first couple days we didn’t hit very good.”

Many outsiders, clearly, don’t buy any of it. In some cases, this is because they haven’t studied it. Nobody in the game thinks it is an insignificant factor. They just don’t have any idea what to do about it. Most of them are glad to play here only occasionally.

“We’ve only got to be here three days and we’re getting out of town,” Hurdle said with a laugh when he visited Coors last month with his current team, the Pirates. “We don’t have to worry about it.”

If he can find the right candidate, O’Dowd plans to create another new position in the organization when the season is over: director of pitching operations. He wants someone to supervise the way the Rocks develop pitchers throughout their system rather than having a different pitching coach doing his own thing at every level.

He knows that all of this will be seen as an excuse or worse by many who don’t walk in his shoes.

“Hey, listen: At 52, turning 53, I realize I’m on the back end of my career. I’m just at a point in time where I want to do what I think is right and I’m not all that concerned what people say about me.

“I know I’m throwing myself under the bus from a perception standpoint. I know what I’m doing. But I also think it’s the right thing to do. So what do you do? You talk the talk or you walk the walk. Whatever everybody’s going to say, they’re going to say. The only thing that matters is if we find something here that works better than what’s working right now, and has ever worked.

“A market our size, and our payroll, you win more than you lose every 2.7 years. The goal of this thing for me is not winning defined that way. The goal for me is to find something that has a chance to have sustainable success so the peaks aren’t so high and the valleys aren’t so low. That has nothing to do with our personnel model. That has everything to do with the Goliath we face every single day.”

The Rockies’ desperate gambit

No one can say for certain who originated the popular aphorism, “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” although it goes back at least to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, referring to people who were desperately ill.

Yup, the same dude who wrote the Hippocratic Oath, the one promising to do no harm, which is perhaps an oath baseball managers should also take, not that they can help themselves.

The Hippocratic Oath, by the way, was sworn to Apollo, Greek god of the sun. Just saying.

Perhaps the most succinct form of the sentiment comes from the Latin: “extremis malis extrema remedia.” Google Translate turns this into “the evils of the remedies,” which brings us to the Rockies.

I probably don’t need to explain why these are desperate times for the Rocks. Their starting pitching is as bad as it has ever been, going all the way back to the pre-humidor days when baseball games in the thin air a mile above sea level produced football scores and Rockies fans prayed for late field goals when Dante Bichette or Vinny Castilla came to bat with a couple of men on base.

This season’s early injury to Jhoulys Chacin, last year’s winningest starter, certainly didn’t help. Neither did the unexplained regression of rookie Drew Pomeranz, prize of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. Nor the continued setbacks during rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery of Jorge De La Rosa, who has yet to pitch an inning of big-league ball this season after blowing out his elbow a year ago. That’s three starters the Rocks hoped to have in their rotation by now, and none of them is.

But by far the biggest disappointment has been Jeremy Guthrie, acquired over the winter in what right now looks like one of the worst trades in club history. The Rocks exchanged inconsistent starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom for Guthrie. In Hammel’s most recent outing for Baltimore, he threw a one-hit, complete-game shutout over the Braves to improve his record to 7-2 and his earned-run average to 2.87.

Frankly, no screams of anguish filled my inbox when general manager Dan O’Dowd traded him following a 7-13, 4.76 campaign for the Rocks last season, but in retrospect he has become Rockies fans’ all-time favorite pitcher. This is mostly because of Guthrie, who has been, in a word, horrendous.

Following his latest horror show — according to one Twitter wag, it is now the Rockies Horror Pitching Show, derived from the old camp classic, the Rocky Horror Picture Show — Guthrie was summoned to manager Jim Tracy’s office on Tuesday in Philadelphia and informed he was being dropped from the starting rotation. A record of 3-6 and an ERA of 7.02 will often have that effect.

Rather than replace Guthrie with the next in line of the usual suspects, Tracy made a startling announcement. For the time being, the Rocks will operate with a rotation of four starters, not five, and each will be limited to about 75 pitches per start, owing to the fact that each will be pitching next on three days of rest rather than four.

This, then, is the Rockies’ desperate measure.

I texted Tracy in Philly this morning to see if he’d like to talk about it and he replied with a friendly personal note that also included this:

“Not much to say about it. As you and I have discussed in the past, we play in a very unique place and we’re just trying something different and we’ll see where it goes.”

Let me say at the outset that in the abstract, I am almost always in favor of trying something different. Baseball in particular has a tendency toward Orwell’s groupthink that I find maddening. A pitcher throws an eight-inning shutout, completely dominant, and the manager pulls him in favor of his “closer” in the ninth, who promptly blows it. I mention this only because the Cubs do it about once a week, or nearly every time Ryan Dempster pitches. But I digress.

So, in the abstract, I love the idea the Rocks are doing something that makes baseball fans everywhere scratch their heads. I mean, seriously, why not? What, exactly, do they have to lose? They already have the worst pitching in the game.

Unfortunately, decisions in baseball, like decisions in pretty much every other sphere of human activity, are not made in the abstract. They are made in the particular, the practical, the concrete, not to bring up the playing surface of the Phillies stadium that preceded the current one.

So let’s examine the particulars of the Rockies’ new plan. It has two basic elements. One is the four-man rotation, as opposed to the conventional five. The other is the 75-pitch limit, as opposed to the conventional (and mostly unspoken) 100-125, depending on the pitcher and circumstances. (The Mets’ Johan Santana was permitted to throw 134 against the Cardinals on June 1, mostly because he was throwing a no-hitter, but he had to convince his manager to let him finish.)

Baseball’s transition from the four-man to the five-man starting rotation is, frankly, a bit mysterious. It happened during my lifetime. In a remarkably short space of time, every team followed, like a troop of Pavlovian dogs.

I recall as if it were yesterday the 1971 Orioles staff. Mike Cuellar started 38 games that year. Jim Palmer and Pat Dobson started 37 apiece. Dave McNally started but 30, owing, if I recall, to an injury of some kind. They comprised the last big-league pitching staff with four 20-game winners (McNally won 21).

Cuellar finished 21 of his 38 starts. Palmer was right behind him with 20 complete games. Dobson had 18; McNally, 11. Dave Leonhard, a reliever who got six spot starts, finished one of those.

The major-league leader in starts that year was the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich, with 45. Forty years later, 2011’s leaders, eight of them, started 34 games apiece.

What happened? Have pitchers grown more feeble? While football, basketball and hockey players grow ever bigger, stronger and more athletic, are baseball players shrinking into fragile flowers? Has evolution mistaken them for ballet dancers?

Or is it just that they make way more money today and the people who run ballclubs and pay the large guaranteed salaries are scared to death of destroying their massive investments through overuse?

That’s a column for another day. Suffice it to say for now that ample historical evidence demonstrates a four-man rotation is not beyond the physical capability of the human species. If one team out of thirty wants to give it a try, I say, more power to it.

(Unfortunately, the Rockies are probably the one team out of thirty for which this experiment is least advisable, owing to the additional stress on the arm of trying to make pitches break and move with less air resistance a mile above sea level, a phenomenon to which any number of hurlers has testified over the club’s twenty-year history. Again, a subject for another day.)

It is the second element of the Rocks’ desperate measure that throws me off the track into the tumbleweeds. The central problem posed by the club’s sorry starting pitching this season has been the burden on the bullpen, which already leads the National League in innings pitched.

Ineffective starters have had to come out of games early, leaving too much of the game to be pitched by relievers, which wears them out and leaves them less effective when the Rocks are actually ahead late in a game, as rare as that is these days. Rather than solve that problem, the new strategy gilds it into club policy.

If a starter must come out after 75 pitches no matter what, even when the Rocks get that rarest of all silver moonbeams, an effective start, that rare masterpiece will have to end prematurely and the bullpen will have to be called upon, even if, for a change, it isn’t really needed.

The problem here is one of simple arithmetic. When Tracy moved Guthrie to the bullpen, he designated him one of two “long” relievers — the sort that comes into a game early when the starter comes out early. The other long man in the Rocks’ bullpen is Guillermo Moscoso.

So, when Tracy pulled starter Josh Outman on Day 1 of the experiment at 72 pitches with one out in the fifth inning, he called on Moscoso, who came on to finish the fifth and pitch the sixth, acting as a bridge to the (these days) normal bullpen innings — the seventh, eighth and (if necessary) ninth. This evening, one assumes, when Tracy pulls Alex White after 75 pitches, it will be Guthrie who serves as the bridge.

And what about tomorrow? Moscoso again? Are the two long men now sentenced to pitch multiple innings every other day? Does that sound like a good idea?

Maybe the Rocks are counting on occasionally getting a really efficient start in which 75 pitches get them into the sixth and no long man is required. But in the case of such a start, why the heck would you want to remove a guy pitching so efficiently? To follow some pre-ordained plan that makes no allowance for the common-sense notion that, Hey, this dude is pitching really well! Leave him alone!

The more pitchers you use in a game, the more likely you are to use one who is ineffective that particular day. If you have a system that guarantees you’re going to use four or five every single day, the chances at least one will blow up are pretty good.

Take Tuesday, Day 1 of the experiment. Adam Ottavino has been one of the Rockies’ best relievers this season. But he happened not to have it Tuesday. The third pitcher in, he gave up three runs in one inning of work. A 4-2 deficit became a 7-2 deficit. Game over.

The last time a baseball club decided the solution to its problems lay in a committee, it was the Cubs and their college of coaches in 1961 and ’62. The manager’s job rotated among seven coaches, every one of whom had a losing record. That will be the column’s final Cubs reference. Promise.

Common sense in baseball has always suggested this: When a pitcher is going well, leave him in there. When a pitcher is going badly, take him out. All sorts of “innovations” have worked against this simple principle. Managers routinely remove pitchers now simply because they throw with the wrong arm. A left-handed batter is coming up, therefore the right-handed reliever throwing well must come out and a left-handed reliever must come on. A pitcher throwing well must come out because his turn in the lineup is coming up (National League). And so on.

In short, the fewer arbitrary rules a team has, the more likely it is to follow common sense and allow effective pitchers to keep pitching. This should be the goal.

So, what’s the alternative for the Rocks, a team in admittedly dire straits? Well, I’m sorry to say, it’s not experimental and it’s not innovative. Sometimes the simplest solution is also the right one.

Moscoso, a 28-year-old right hander from Venezuela, started 21 games for Oakland last season, finishing with a record of 8-10 and an ERA of 3.38. When the Rocks obtained him and Outman from the A’s in exchange for Seth Smith last winter, they envisioned him as a candidate for the starting rotation. Unfortunately, Moscoso was terrible in spring training and about as bad during a brief (two starts) major-league audition. A demotion back to the minor leagues followed.

Since his return in early June, he’s been getting progressively better. Including his stint in relief of Outman on Tuesday, he has now pitched 6 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in three relief appearances. He has earned another chance to start.

With youngsters Pomeranz and Tyler Chatwood trying to get their acts together in the minor leagues and Chacin, De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio working their way back from injuries, this need not be a permanent solution. But for now, it is the obvious one: Add Moscoso to the rotation as the fifth starter, replacing Guthrie. Trade Guthrie, a mental casualty of Coors Field, as soon as possible.

That leaves a starting rotation of White, Moscoso, Outman, Jeff Francis and Christian Friedrich. If, by some miracle, one of them pitches a really good game, Tracy can leave him in there to pitch as far as he can rather than remove him for no good reason because he’s hit an arbitrary pitch limit.

And if none of them ever does, well, the Rocks are right back to where they are now, ringing that bullpen phone too early.

I empathize with Tracy’s plight. And I admire his willingness to try something different in a league where groupthink often appears to be the only thinking going on. But sometimes, when you wrestle with a problem too long, you can just out-think yourself.

At times like those, it’s sometimes a good idea to take a break and pop in a DVD of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

“You just keep thinking, Butch,” says Sundance. “That’s what you’re good at.”

Dan O’Dowd unplugged

Whether things are going well, badly or somewhere in between, I try to touch base with Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd at roughly the one-third and two-thirds marks of each season to take his pulse on the team. I’ve known O’Dowd for more than a decade now, and whether I was at the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Post or 850 KOA, he’s always accommodated these requests for his time.

The one-third mark, the Rockies’ 54th game, falls on June 4 this year, which also happens to be the first day of the baseball draft, so I hit him up a few days early and we spoke this morning.

The state of the Rockies is no secret. They rank third in the National League in runs, second in home runs and second in OPS, which is the sum of on-base percentage and slugging percentage (the acronym stands for On-base Plus Slugging). They’re a good offensive club with a chance to be better than that, although their situational hitting has at times left something to be desired.

They rank last in the league in earned-run average (5.18), more than three-quarters of a run higher than the next-worst team. The combined ERA of their starters (5.80) is more than a run higher than the next-worst starting staff. On the bright side, their overworked bullpen has a better ERA (4.20) than those of four other NL teams, suggesting it might actually be pretty good if the starters did their jobs.

The Rocks have 15 quality starts (a starter throws at least six innings and gives up three earned runs or fewer) out of 48 games, the fewest in baseball. They are the only team in baseball not to have shut out an opponent all season. In 48 tries, they do not have a complete game by a starting pitcher. They lead baseball in blown saves with 11.

In short, their pitching has been frightful. And that’s chiefly why they go into tonight’s home game against Houston 10 games below .500 at 19-29.

They stand fourth in the NL West, 12.5 games behind the Dodgers, who have the best record in baseball. They have a chance to attack that deficit this weekend when L.A. makes its second trip of the season to Coors Field. The Rocks took two of three from the Dodgers on the first visit, April 30-May 2, but that seems like a long time ago, perhaps because it immediately preceded the Atlanta series in which everything fell apart.

The Rocks were 11-11 in April. So far, they are 8-18 in May. Two of their starting pitchers, Jhoulys Chacin and Jeremy Guthrie, have spent time on the disabled list. Chacin is still there. Another, Jorge De La Rosa, has been on the DL since last summer, when he underwent Tommy John surgery. He is currently making rehab starts at Triple-A Colorado Springs. A fourth starter, Drew Pomeranz, was demoted to the Springs to work on his mechanics and get his velocity back. At the moment, the starting staff consists of Guthrie, 49-year-old Jamie Moyer and three rookies — Christian Friedrich, Juan Nicasio and Alex White.

I began by asking O’Dowd an open-ended question about his evaluation of the first two months of the season.

“Honestly, a couple things,” he said. “Leaving spring training, I thought a lot of things would have to go right from a pitching standpoint for us to get out of the gate real well. I had hoped that we could play .500 or close to for the first two, three months of the season until our young pitching began to mature. Obviously, that happened in the month of April. Obviously, a lot of things have gone wrong in the month of May.

“I would say, looking at it objectively, I like our position-player club a ton. I think it’s probably one of the better position-player clubs we’ve ever put on a field because of its depth and versatility and the quality of the players. I think (Wilin) Rosario, (Jordan) Pacheco, (Tyler) Colvin, (Eric) Young give us a really nice blend of youth to go with our veterans. I think CarGo and Tulo are going to end up having monster years. I think (Michael) Cuddyer has been a solid addition. So I think that’s played out even better than I could have hoped for.

“But our starting pitching has been so bad at times that it’s really exposed our bullpen. I think if we got any kind of starting pitching, our bullpen would actually be one of the strengths of our club.

“I banked on some things which, obviously, I’m accountable for, with Guthrie and Chacin and hoping De La Rosa would get back around this time of year, this week or next. Guthrie’s been bad and Chacin got hurt and De La Rosa’s probably still four or five starts away from helping us. So we’re in a tough box relying on a lot of kids right now that have ability, but it looks like there’s just a significant gap between their potential and their performance right now.”

I asked him for a diagnosis on Guthrie, acquired from Baltimore in February in exchange for starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. Over his previous three seasons, Guthrie threw 617 1/3 innings for the Orioles with an ERA of 4.39. So far this season, he’s thrown just 40 2/3 for the Rocks, missing a handful of starts because of a freak bicycle accident, with an ERA of 5.31. On the road, he’s 2-1 with a 2.22 ERA. At Coors Field, he’s 0-2 with a 9.92 ERA.

(Full disclosure: I’ve followed the Orioles for years and admired Guthrie as a horse who took the ball every fifth day for a team that was truly awful for most of his stay. I wholeheartedly endorsed this trade.)

“I don’t know,” O’Dowd said. “I know I’m supposed to have all the answers. I went back over our process with this one. I know Jason Hammel’s pitched well, but I’ve got a long list of Coors Field bounce-backs, so that doesn’t surprise me. Guys leave here and they pitch much better than they pitched here.

“Four years of 200-plus innings, pitching in the American League East, actually getting his brains beat in at times, you’d think that would prepare him for the gauntlet that he’d go through here at times. I think the freakish injury certainly didn’t help. He’s three starts back from that now.

“He hasn’t even looked close to being the pitcher that we scouted over a long period of time. That one’s been a little perplexing to me to be frank with you, especially the lack of strike throwing. He’s always been a guy that threw strikes and pitched innings. Both he and Chacin, I thought that we’d have guys that would have 4.5 to 4.8 ERAs, but I thought we’d get 200 innings out of each of them, which would then take some pressure off the group of young starters that would end up stepping forward, and, again, hoping that De La Rosa would come back.

“So we’ve got to tread some water here and make up some ground because I think with the starting pitching, if we can just be serviceable — I mean, we’re going to go through some moments when we struggle offensively, too, but I think for the most part it’s a club that’s going to put up some runs.”

I mentioned that Guillermo Moscoso, obtained in January from Oakland along with left-hander Josh Outman in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith, had a similar disconnect, going from very reasonable numbers as a starter with the A’s (8-10, 3.38 ERA in 21 starts in 2011) to horrendous numbers before being sent down by the Rocks (0-1, 11.57).

Prior to the installation of the humidor at Coors Field in 2002, the Rockies’ ERA at home averaged more than a full run higher than their ERA on the road. Since the humidor was installed, that differential has come down to less than half a run. This year, it is back up over a run a game. The Rocks’ ERA at Coors is 5.71. On the road, it is 4.55.

So I asked O’Dowd if the park might be having an outsized effect on the numbers of pitchers coming from other places.

“For some reason, this year it’s playing much differently,” he said. “I wish I knew the answer for that. Quite honestly, when the schedule came out and I saw two nine-game home stands to open up the season, I was concerned. We’ve never had that.

“Sometimes, with particular weather patterns, you can survive that. But I was concerned about the length of those home stands. Honestly, we were doing fine up until those two Atlanta games (May 4-5) and we have not played well since then. We’ve played better this last week, but starting on that Friday night against Atlanta when we had that six-run lead and coughed it up and then we did the same thing again on Saturday, we really have never recovered from a pitching standpoint.

“If you remember the way the ballpark used to play, where pitchers would try to avoid contact and then make a quality pitch and then get hit and then the wheels would start to turn mentally, it seems to be that situation again. I don’t think you’re seeing as many fluke home runs but, boy, you’re seeing some balls really driven off pitches that, quite honestly, aren’t that bad. Whatever mistakes we’ve made have just been absolutely hammered.

“Atlanta scored 19 runs on 42 hits in three games here. They had 14 extra-base hits, seven of them home runs. And then they went to Chicago and they scored four runs on 19 hits in three games at Wrigley. They had four extra-base hits and one home run. So that’s always going to be the case. You’re always going to have moments like that.

“But it’s not playing the same as it has over the last couple of years. Now, we’ve pitched (poorly), too, so that has certainly contributed to it. But the first game of the doubleheader the other day, Nicasio threw a fastball down and in at 95 (mph) to Carlos Lee and he hit a rocket into left-center and I went, ‘Gosh darn, I don’t know how that happened right there.'”

So I asked what fans have asked me: Is the humidor turned on? Did the Rocks forget to pay the electric bill?

“Oh, it’s the same setting and everything,” O’Dowd said. “Honestly, I wish we could turn that sucker up at times.”

I mentioned that far from the bounce-back effect we’ve seen with Hammel and Lindstrom in Baltimore, Ubaldo Jimenez has a higher ERA in Cleveland than he had in Colorado. Although the Indians’ massive run support has provided him with a respectable won-loss record of 5-4, his ERA is 5.79. Last year, his ERA in Cleveland after the trade was 5.10. Pitching for the Rockies, his 2011 ERA before the trade was 4.68. In 2010, his best year, it was 2.88.

“I know I’m taking a pounding, some of it justified, but man, where would we be if we had held onto Ubaldo?” O’Dowd asked. “Seriously, what would we have done?

“Right now, we’ve got (Joseph) Gardner pitching well in Double-A, (Matt) McBride is fourth in the (Pacific Coast League) in hitting, Pomeranz is a work in progress and with all White’s struggles, his numbers are better than Jimenez, pitching half his games in Coors Field!”

(White’s ERA is slightly higher, but his walk/strikeout ratio and baserunners-per-inning (WHIP) numbers are substantially better.)

The Rocks obtained all four in exchange for Jimenez.

Between the injuries and spontaneous implosions to veterans who were supposed to bridge the gap to the young pitching, the Rocks are force-feeding major league innings to young starters who are learning on the job. The club has little choice now but to ride those kids, for better or worse.

“I knew this was going to be a transition year,” O’Dowd said. “I never expected Jamie Moyer would last till June. We just looked at him as a guy to give us probably 10 starts at most until we could transition to someone else. But when you’re in the middle now trying to develop a pitching staff, there’s going to be good times and bad times. There’s a ton of ability here and there’s depth to it. We’ve just got to figure a way to get them over the hump, and that’s not going to be easy.”

Moscoso has four quality starts for the Sky Sox in his last four outings through May 24. I asked if it was time to give him another shot with the big league club.

“Yeah, we’re going to give him another shot,” O’Dowd said. “We’re not looking for miracles, we’re really just looking for somebody to come up here and throw consistent strikes. And I think we’re going to stretch Outman out a little bit, too. We’re going to back him up on Friday with Moyer and begin to stretch him out. Though we think he’s most suited to the bullpen, he does look like a duck out of water right now.

“One of the more discouraging things to me has been what’s happened with (Rex) Brothers, because other than the (Jonny) Venters guy in Atlanta, this kid should be one of the more dominant left-handed back-end guys in the game. And his meltdown this year was almost unexplainable to me, to be frank with you. Last season, he gave up one run in his last 16 innings. Started out this year OK, and then it’s been absolutely downhill ever since.”

I asked if it might be a product of overuse. Brothers made 22 appearances in the Rocks’ first 38 games before being sent down. On the other hand, pitching situationally in some of those appearances, he threw a total of 15.1 innings and never more than one inning per game.

“I don’t think so,” O’Dowd said. “I think it’s all mental. I think the kid had such a high expectation for himself as it relates to working into our closer role, I think he just got mentally locked up. I think he was certainly tired at times, but no, I think he’s more mentally tired than physically tired.”

On the bright side, in three outings for the Sky Sox, Brothers has pitched five innings and given up one run on three hits.

With three-fifths of the starting staff learning on the job, I asked if the veteran position players acquired during the offseason, particularly 36-year-old second baseman Marco Scutaro and 35-year-old catcher Ramon Hernandez, were now a mismatch for the young staff.

“I think there’s a misconception about this,” O’Dowd said. “We don’t have a young second baseman to turn to. I wasn’t comfortable going with Chris Nelson and didn’t really have any other alternatives. Jonny Herrera’s not an everyday player. The industry is bereft of second basemen to go get. So I don’t know really what our alternative would have been there.”

(The Rockies’ projected second baseman of the future, Josh Rutledge, turned 23 last month. He is batting .279 at Double-A Tulsa and looks to be at least a year away.)

“In Hernandez’s case, he was brought in for Rosario. He had just got done tutoring (Devin) Mesoraco in Cincinnati for two years, and we thought that Hernandez would be the perfect complement to Rosario as relates to Rosario’s development at the big-league level.

“So both things weren’t designed necessarily to put a championship club on the field. Heck, at the end of this year I’d like to bring Scutaro back. In Hernandez’s case, we feel we’ve got a young guy in Rosario who’s certainly got some rough edges we’ve got to work through and we feel we’ve got a guy here who’s a perfect mentor to him. (Chris) Iannetta would have never accepted that.”

I asked if veteran Will Nieves, recently called up to replace the injured Hernandez, might be a good complement to Rosario going forward.

“He could be. Same type of guy,” O’Dowd said. “I thought (assistant GM) Bill Geivett did a great job, he and (player development director Jeff) Bridich, in bringing Nieves back here. I think we’ve got good catching. That’s the shame of it. I really do think this is one of the better position-player clubs as far as how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.”

I asked how long it might be before Pomeranz gets another shot at the big-league level.

“Last night (Tuesday, May 29), he threw six innings, gave up nine hits, five of them were hit hard — I watched the game on MiLB.TV — he didn’t walk anybody and punched out seven. I thought he looked much more athletic. But we’re not going to bring him back here until we get his delivery back to the way he looked in Cleveland, not the way he looked here, because this was a 92 to 94, 95 (mph) guy throwing 88 to 90 here. He threw 91 last night, so it’s creeping back up. I’d love to have him back in the rotation by the beginning of July.”

And Chacin?

“Chacin’s injury, we got good news last week on it, which was it was not an artery problem like (Aaron) Cook. He has a nerve issue. Every time he went to cock and throw, there’s a nerve that runs right under your clavicle that was really almost cutting everything off on him. So we think we’ve found what was wrong, but now getting it right, I don’t know how long that’s going to take. I’m hoping we get him back right after the All-Star break, if he’s one of our better guys at that point. Eventually, we hope some of these kids start stepping up.”

I noted that O’Dowd is taking a lot of heat from unhappy fans.

“I’m used to that,” he said. “It’s my 30th year doing this. If I get (fired) at the end of the year, then it happens. There’s nothing I can do about that. I believe in what we’re doing. This is painful. I get it. But I like our players, I like what’s going on in our clubhouse, I like the ownership some of our players are taking, I like the lessons some of them are learning.

“So I think a lot of good things are going on. I never expected Pacheco to turn into this. Rosario to me is way ahead of schedule. EY has completely turned his career around, which has forced Dexter to step up or Dexter knows he’s going out. And I have to tell you, I couldn’t be more pleased with the LeMahieu-Colvin deal for (Ian) Stewart.

“Colvin, that kid can hit a fastball. He’s still got to learn to hit a breaking ball and change-up, but he absolutely can hit anybody’s fastball.

“I know it looks like crap. I just think we’re positioned really well. I think the Pomeranzes and the Whites and the Friedrichs and the Nicasios, I think a year from now we could have one of the best starting rotations in our division and it could last for a long time. If I don’t survive, then whoever’s going to take my job is going to be in a really good situation.”

Rockies would rather not be our punching bag

To understand the Rockies’ decision to take manager Jim Tracy’s contract status underground, you have to understand the relationship between ball clubs and old media — newspapers, radio and television.

This is difficult for most people to do because you don’t hear much about this relationship. That’s because, until very recently, you got most if not all of your information about ball clubs from old media, which are neither inclined nor equipped to examine their own role in this dance dispassionately.

As you may have noticed, things are changing rather rapidly in this respect. Many athletes now bypass the old media filter and communicate directly with their fans through new media, Twitter and Facebook being the most obvious examples. Clubs are beginning to do the same. The Broncos have taken to breaking their own news through the organization’s Twitter account or that of John Elway, the face of the front office. They have their own videographer, Chris Hall, who posts news conferences and edited video features on the team’s web site.

The Broncos also issue a media credential to a former employee and current independent blogger, Andrew Mason. Using his own resources, Mason covers the team both at home and on the road pretty much as a traditional old media beat reporter would, except that he is more comfortable with a variety of platforms — photography, videography, the written word — than most old media reporters. He posts his work on the web site MaxDenver.com.

Both the Broncos’ and Mason’s sites are aimed at the Broncos’ very substantial fan base, both locally and nationally. They emphasize the good news and minimize the bad.

The Nuggets, too, have brought news dissemination in-house in the person of former Associated Press and Rocky Mountain News writer Aaron Lopez, who tweets and writes for the organization’s web site.

To date, this self-dissemination of the news remains limited. Although the Broncos were well aware of the investigation into Spygate II in Josh McDaniels’ final season as head coach, they were not about disclose it publicly. Still, once the Denver Post broke the story, the Broncos took immediate control of it, calling a news conference the same day — a Saturday — to announce the investigation was complete and the NFL had fined both the organization and McDaniels for breaking league rules by videotaping a San Francisco 49ers walk-through at London’s Wembley Stadium four weeks before. In effect, they were announcing that the story was over before old media had a chance to sink their teeth into it.

The Broncos have become even more pro-active about public relations under Elway, who was hired a little more than a year ago. One could imagine them beating old media to the punch the next time, announcing both the infraction and resolution simultaneously, thereby providing the story as little shelf life as possible for old media to chew on afterward.

At first glance, this looks like the traditional inclination of any organization, public or private, to manage the news and minimize negative publicity, and it certainly is that. But it is also something more. It is one result of old media transforming themselves as their monopoly on information slips away.

While those of us who grew up in old media are loath to admit it, pandering to web hits — internet page views — has become a fact of the modern age. Page views drive digital advertising, and digital advertising is the key to the internet land grab.

Years ago, people in the media business had the luxury of debating whether to provide the information people needed or the information people wanted. Even then, reader surveys indicated we could not provide too much celebrity news. And they suggested we could very easily provide — and often did — more information than most people wanted about the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

But we had a monopoly on the existing platforms for news dissemination, so we got to decide. Generally speaking, we tried to strike the balance they teach in journalism schools. Many people resented this gatekeeper function, but what were they going to do? Where were they going to go?

Fast forward to today. Old media institutions are fighting for their lives amid the creative destruction of capitalism that has brought down so many old industries and delivered so many new ones. I worked for one of them. TheRocky Mountain News went under three years ago after 150 years of existence. Given such cautionary tales, the surviving institutions of old media are now focused primarily on survival.

In this brave new world, all media, old and new, are in a battle to the death for your eyeballs. As recently as ten years ago, writers had no idea how many people read this column or that one, just as advertisers had little or no idea how many of their sales grew out of any particular print or broadcast ad.

Today, thanks to the internet, we know exactly how many page views each column gets, and we have learned a few things that do not, in the end, come as any great surprise:

Provocation sells. Extreme, even absurd claims, often get more web hits than moderate, reasonable ones. Thanks to something called search engine optimization, celebrity news gets the most attention of all. If you think the amount of media attention devoted to Tim Tebow is very nearly insane, you haven’t seen the web analytics. If you saw local page view counts for anything including Tebow’s name, you would understand why so many apparently unrelated pieces find a way to throw it in there.

The web rewards extremism not necessarily because readers are becoming more extreme in their views, although they might be. Mainly, the web rewards extremism because extreme claims drive curiosity. If I write a column saying Tracy has some good traits and some bad ones as a big league manager, it will get far fewer clicks than if I declare he is either the Rockies’ savior for the next ten years or he is a joke and has no business in a major league dugout. Either of the latter claims is likely to provoke a heated dispute, preferably in the comments section of my employer’s web site. The former claim is not provocative enough to fully stimulate that partisan debate and will therefore almost certainly be less successful in attracting eyeballs to my employer’s web site.

Which brings us back to the Rockies. The Rocks have not yet been as pro-active as either the Broncos or Nuggets in managing and disseminating their own news, but they are getting there. They have begun tweeting from an organizational account and they publish the writing of correspondents who work for mlb.com on their rapidly improving web site.

More than most organizations in town, they have been battered by old media’s recognition that extreme stands attract more attention than moderate ones. When the Rocks are good, as they were in 2007 and 2009, old media lavish attention on them. When they are bad, as they were in 2008 and 2011, old media rip them as if they had never accomplished a thing.

So the decision to quit making public announcements about the contract status of their top executives and manager is just a way of giving old media fewer fat pitches to hit. After all, who else does such a thing? Does the Post announce that it is re-upping a sports editor or columnist, opening the door for the public to chime in on whether that’s a good idea? Does KOA declare how long it intends to keep me around? Does CBS4 announce the term of any anchor’s contract?

The Rocks remember well the beating they took in old media when they announced on the first day of the 2007 season that they were re-upping general manager Dan O’Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle for two years apiece. They were slapped around for weeks. What had O’Dowd and Hurdle ever done to deserve these extensions? Didn’t it prove that the organization didn’t really care about winning?

Six months later, the Rocks went to the World Series. They got no apologies. Old media were too busy capitalizing on the club’s success with special sections and special programming glorifying an organization they had excoriated earlier that same year.

This drives the owners and executives of sports organizations nuts. They see it as a total absence of accountability and intellectual honesty. Old media executives don’t much care. They believe their accountability is to the marketplace, where there’s a referendum every day.

Old media are doing what they must to survive in a world in which anyone with an internet connection and an inspiration can self-publish in an instant, a world in which advertisers have a broader array than ever before of media platforms from which to choose. In a (relatively) free market economy, old media institutions have every right to do what they feel they must to survive.

And organizations such as the Rockies have every right to chart their own course, to do what they can to avoid being punching bags. All they announced last week is that they will provide fewer artificial occasions for us to slap them around. Tracy will be employed in his current position until he’s not. Just like you or me.

Jeremy Guthrie part of Rockies’ bridge to the future

Just two weeks before pitchers and catchers report to the Rockies’ spring training complex in Scottsdale, the club finally got its innings-eater.

Jeremy Guthrie has thrown 200 or more innings in each of the past three seasons as the largely unappreciated pitching mainstay of a perpetually rebuilding Baltimore Orioles team. Throughout that stay, the former first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians was a mix of fiery competitor and goodwill ambassador for a franchise spinning its wheels.

And yes, that’s three former first-round picks by the Tribe as candidates for the Rockies’ starting rotation: Guthrie (2002), Drew Pomeranz (2010) and Alex White (2009).

Guthrie’s record in Baltimore wasn’t great (47-65), but his winning percentage (.420) was better than the team’s (.415) and his earned-run average (4.19) was fine considering he pitched in the murderous American League East at hitter-friendly Camden Yards.

“We spent a lot of time breaking him down, really since the trading deadline of last year,” Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd said.

“When we went through the Wandy Rodriguez thing,” — the Rockies put in a waiver claim on the Astros starter last season but couldn’t work out a deal before Houston pulled him back — “he was somebody on our list that fit kind of what we were looking for — the guy that might be a little overlooked because of where he pitches, the position he pitches in, the role that he was used in, that’s been extremely durable, well above-average athlete, extremely competitive, very tough guy. That’s exactly what we saw as a fit for us.”

Within a couple of hours of Monday morning’s trade announcement, Guthrie tweeted a picture of himself Tebowing on a pitching rubber in a Rockies cap and Tim Tebow jersey.

“X-Factor in this trade: my new strikeout celebration is suddenly more appropriate! @TimTebow,” he wrote.

Having followed Guthrie’s Twitter feed when he was with the O’s, I can tell you this much: Rockies fans are going to enjoy this guy.

“He rides his bike to the ballpark,” O’Dowd said. “I think he’s one of those physical fitness freaks. Knock on wood, he hasn’t spent a ton of time on the DL. We liked the competitive nature of how he goes about preparing to do his job. I think he’s a real good get for us.”

To acquire him, O’Dowd gave up starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. Although both have live arms and remain intriguing, Guthrie is an upgrade over Hammel for the rotation and the Rocks have numerous candidates to replace Lindstrom in the bullpen.

Orioles fans, on the other hand, are a bit confused. They felt sure that new general manager Dan Duquette would use Guthrie to acquire talented prospects who would help with the rebuilding rather than exchange him for other mid-career veterans. In a poll on the Baltimore Sun web site that offered seven possible takes on the deal, the most popular in early voting was “Don’t understand it.”

Guthrie and the Orioles had been preparing for a contentious arbitration hearing, with Guthrie seeking a salary of $10.25 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility and the Birds offering $7.25 million. After hearing of the pending trade back to his native West — Guthrie was born in Oregon and went to Stanford — he swiftly agreed to a one-year deal for $8.2 million.

That’s pretty close to the combined salaries of Hammel and Lindstrom and leaves the Rocks’ prospective payroll a shade below $90 million, or about where it was last season.

Guthrie is not a No. 1 starter by talent, but by necessity that’s the role he filled in Baltimore without complaint. He’s a fly ball pitcher, so he’ll give up some dingers at Coors Field, but he throws in the mid-90s and is known for competitive zeal and good humor, not to mention a love of sneakers.

He’s also another important piece of the bridge the organization is building to the future. No longer content to wait on the development of homegrown talent, the Rocks overhauled their roster after a disappointing 2011 campaign to bring in veterans with a competitive edge who would take the pressure off not-quite-ready-for-prime-time prospects.

“We went into the offseason with a specific game plan, but I can’t tell you that anything ever would connect the dots the way this winter did, one to another,” O’Dowd said. “It usually does not happen that way. This winter, for whatever reason, it did. That doesn’t mean it’s going to turn out great. It just means we had identified a group of guys within each category we wanted to get and we were able to get a lot of them.”

Consider: With Guthrie (208 innings in 2011) and Jhoulys Chacin (a franchise-leading 194) heading the rotation going into spring training, there’s less pressure on the 23-year-old Pomeranz to replace Ubaldo Jimenez as the staff ace immediately and less pressure on veteran Jorge De La Rosa to come back from Tommy John surgery before he’s ready.

If all four are starting in June, with White, Juan Nicasio, Guillermo Moscoso, Tyler Chatwood and Josh Outman competing for innings in the bullpen or minor leagues, the Rocks could be deeper in starting pitching than they’ve ever been, with the flexibility to make further moves if needed.

Veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez is the bridge to Wilin Rosario or Jordan Pacheco. Veteran infielders Casey Blake and Marco Scutaro are the bridge to Nolan Arenado and Josh Rutledge. Veteran outfielder Michael Cuddyer could be a bridge to a prospect or a big bat on the trade market.

The Rocks are no longer content to throw their prospects into the big league pool and let them sink or swim. Frankly, too many of them sank with that approach. Except for young stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, much of the last wave — Chris Iannetta, Ian Stewart and Seth Smith, to name three — did not live up to the organization’s expectations.

Whether Guthrie is more than a one-year rental remains to be seen. If he eats innings as expected and long-term contracts for middle-of-the-rotation free agent starters remain scarce next winter, the Rocks might well be interested in bringing him back.

“Our thing is not so much the dollar in the given year, it’s just we don’t want to commit a lot of length to anybody and create  lack of flexibility for ourselves,” O’Dowd said.

There are no guarantees the various veteran acquisitions will perform, as Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez demonstrated a year ago. But they all fit the profile the Rocks constructed after last season’s disappointment — pro’s pros more focused on winning than accumulating service time.

If they don’t work out, the organization will be one year closer to handing over the keys to the generation of Pomeranz, Rosario, Arenado and Rutledge. If they do, the Rocks might just surprise again, but this time in a good way.

O’Dowd: Rockies got rid of guys who didn’t ‘get it’

Coming off last season’s deeply disappointing 73-89 record and fourth-place finish, the Rockies turned their roster upside down this winter.

It didn’t feel like an overhaul because the moves came piecemeal, stretched out over the offseason. But the purpose wasn’t piecemeal. The purpose was to change a culture in the clubhouse that Rockies brass believed had been undermined by self-interest since the team’s last playoff appearance in 2009.

Four of the eight everyday starters have changed. A new pitching rotation will be culled from nearly a dozen candidates. But there’s a common theme to the changes.

“We’ve got some great guys and I think they have a chance to be tremendous leaders,” general manager Dan O’Dowd told us on the Dave Logan Show the other day. “I don’t think it’s on any one person. But I think the group of them overall needs to step up and take accountability for our clubhouse.

“We got rid of a lot of players we just feel like weren’t going to get that. Not all of them we got rid of for that reason, but a lot of players we got rid of for that reason. We moved them on to other places that hopefully will help them in their career and give them a fresh start, but (we) just didn’t feel like they were ever going to get that part of it.”

Five of the nine players in the starting lineup for last season’s April 1 opener will not be wearing Rockies uniforms for this season’s opener: starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, catcher Chris Iannetta, second baseman Jose Lopez, third baseman Ty Wigginton and right fielder Seth Smith.

Ian Stewart, for years the team’s third baseman of the future, is gone. So is closer Huston Street.

“I think we took a step back at the end of the year and realized, OK, where are we at and where are we trying to get to and do the players we currently have, are they going to get us there?” O’Dowd said.

“Quite honestly, I just feel like we needed to address our culture more than anything. We certainly need to address our talent, but I think talent becomes secondary if your culture is not where it needs to be. I think we had too many players, not naming anybody, that were more worried about collecting service time than actually worried about winning and playing the game the right way.

“So our focus going into the winter was to create flexibility and then to try to add the type of individuals that No. 1, we think are good players, but No. 2, they get it, as it relates to the underlying philosophy that you’ve got to be a little bit other-focused within your clubhouse day-in and day-out to be able to maximize whatever talent you do have. And we had a tough time with that last year.”

In place of Iannetta behind the plate is veteran Ramon Hernandez, 35. In place of Lopez, who was released shortly after being acquired last season, is veteran Marco Scutaro, 36. In place of the failed combination of Stewart and Wigginton at third is veteran Casey Blake, with young Nolan Arenado now in the role of third baseman of the future. In place of Smith is veteran Michael Cuddyer, 32.

The common denominator, as you might have noticed, is “veteran.” These are experienced players in their 30s. Rockies brass hopes they will do the little things that help teams win, even if they don’t show up in the box score.

“I think it’s kind of who you are as a person,” O’Dowd said. “In Cuddyer’s case, I don’t think it’s about Michael. I think Michael is a good player, but I also think Michael really wants to win and he understands the best way to win is not only him being a good player, but him being the kind of teammate that gets the most out of everybody else there by holding to a level, a standard, on how we should play the game and how we should be accountable to one another in all aspects of being a team — on the plane, on the bus, in the hotel, in the clubhouse and on the field.

“And taking ownership of one another to be able to do that. We’ve worked real hard to bring in players that can help us do that, but you heal from the inside out. We had a miserable year last year on our record, but I don’t think it was a good year in how we went about doing what we did, either.”

In Blake, 38, the Rocks hope they have a bridge to the 20-year-old Arenado, who had a sensational Arizona Fall League, but would be attempting a gargantuan jump from Class A to the major leagues if he were to win the third base job out of spring training.

“We just want to get an average Casey Blake year,” O’Dowd said. “We did not guarantee Casey’s contract. We didn’t do that, one, from a health standpoint, and No. 2, with Nolan, he’s put us in an interesting position. I think talent-wise, he probably could handle the jump. I think the question is maturity-wise if he can handle the jump. I think that’s what the concern is. We’re going to take a good long look at that, but we’re not going to push Nolan if the maturity level is not there because I don’t feel that’s fair to him. He’s going to be playing catchup for a long time if we do that to him.

“There weren’t many third basemen on the market. We had our eye on Casey all along because we think he’s a pro’s pro. He’s probably a 100-game to 110-game guy, max. At some point in time, Nolan could even factor into that picture. But we look at the versatility that (Blake) brings between the two corner positions. We think he’s a professional hitter and he’s just another guy that gets it as it relates to his responsibility with creating the kind of culture a championship team should be all about every day.”

As he rebuilds the starting rotation in the wake of trading Jimenez last season, O’Dowd assembled a passel of arms to provide competition when pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale next month. Half the spots on the team’s 40-man roster are occupied by pitchers.

Among the candidates for the starting rotation are Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel, Drew Pomeranz, Juan Nicasio, Alex White, Esmil Rogers and offseason acquisitions Tyler Chatwood, Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman. Jorge De La Rosa is expected back from last year’s Tommy John surgery by late May or early June.

“When you look at putting the rotation together, I think we’re going to look at it a little differently this year,” O’Dowd said.

“Some of those starters could very easily end up being additions to our bullpen and either starting for us at some point in time during the course of the season when we think it’s necessary to give people rest, picking up the dead innings and bringing them along that way, or some of them may even gravitate towards the back end of the bullpen. So of all those guys, eight of them could end up on our staff in some way, shape or form.”

With young stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to build around, veterans Todd Helton and Jason Giambi providing continuity and Pomeranz, the jewel of the Jimenez trade, penciled in to replace Ubaldo as the staff leader, the Rocks have a decent foundation. But they have replaced many of the other pieces.

A year ago, the club over-promised and under-delivered. Having subtracted a number of young players trying to make names for themselves and replaced them with veterans who have long since finished that process, the club hopes to do the opposite this year.

“The underlying principle of every team is being able to get out the most of the entire team with everybody having an accountability factor in the process of doing that, and not just showing up every day and worrying about your particular space and your particular responsibility, which they do need to do, but also worrying about being part of the process with the team,” O’Dowd said.

“We had that in ’07, we had that in ’09. I think winning created that within our culture. I think we have it a little backwards. I think our culture probably needs to create more of that.”