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.