Rockies stayed true to plan
After free agents went bust, team turned to development
DENVER -- Rockies president and CEO Charlie Monfort doesn't recall being struck by any flashes of enlightened lightning. A look at payroll and finances was enough to shock the club into a new way of thinking.
After a winning season in 2000, the Rockies spent a combined $172.5 million over 13 years for pitchers Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. The moves flopped when injuries and slumps derailed the pair of lefties, and the Rockies found their market didn't provide enough dollars to build a full team that way.
"It's basically you're put in a corner and you say, 'Now what do we do?'" Monfort said. "This thing isn't working. We can't keep going out and finding free agents and stuff. We've got to build from within. That's what we came up with.
"It's not like some revelation, 'Hey, let's build from within.' It was born out of necessity. We're the 19th-sized market out of 30."
How'd that plan, executed on the baseball side by general manager Dan O'Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle, work? Well, Monfort spoke standing near second base at Coors Field, after receiving the National League Championship on Monday night.
The Rockies, winners of 21 of their last 22 games dating to a daring run late in the regular season to make the playoffs, are going to their first World Series. Nine of the 16 players who participated, including NLCS Most Valuable Player Matt Holliday, were brought into professional ball by the Rockies' system.
It was a long climb for Colorado, which had losing seasons from 2001 through 2006.
Holliday, third baseman Garrett Atkins, right fielder Brad Hawpe and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki are regulars that came through the Rockies' system in recent years. Before that, first baseman Todd Helton was by far the best position player the club had produced, with since-dealt players Juan Pierre and Neifi Perez the next level, and next-to-nothing below them.
Some of the time that the Rockies were working on their youth movement was confusing for outsiders. They brought in a dizzying number of well-traveled veterans through trades and free agency, but many of those players were place-holders until homegrown talent was ready.
With O'Dowd, who was hired before the 2000 season, and Hurdle, who replaced Buddy Bell as manager in April 2002, and a front office, Latin American program and Minor League system on the same page, faith was maintained in the Rockies' methods even though winning would take a long time.
It was a long wait between winning seasons, but this year got here on time.
"I'll be honest with you, I think 2007 was thrown out by Dan and his people," Monfort said. "But in 2002, 2003, 2004, that seemed aggressive. I know that's hard for people to understand, because you think you could get your act together by then."
Nonetheless, the Rockies trusted their leaders.
The idea that they believed in their plan was driven home on Opening Day, when the club announced contract extensions through 2009 for Hurdle and O'Dowd despite the absence of a winning season. The moves were met with heavy criticism.
"It seemed to us Dan and his people had done their job," Monfort said. "We've got a good, strong farm system, so why not give him an extension? Clint, we have seen, has learned how to deal with Coors Field and everything else, so why not?
"We felt we were going to be strong, but if we got out of the gates slow, all the focus was going to be on Dan and Clint."
After a road loss to the Diamondbacks, the Rockies were 18-27. But since then, they've gone a blistering 79-46, including the playoffs.
The extensions for the GM and manager meant it was up to players to produce.
The leadership came from within, with left-hander Jeff Francis taking over as pitching ace when Aaron Cook was injured in August, and Manny Corpas taking control of the closer's role.
The system that produced Francis, Cook and Corpas also gave the Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez and left-hander Franklin Morales when injuries beset the starting pitching. Also, after dipping into the old ways and bringing veterans Steve Finley and John Mabry for key bench roles, the Rockies used younger farm-system products Jeff Baker, Ryan Spilborghs, Cory Sullivan and Seth Smith to handle those roles.
"It's good for so many different people on so many levels," Hurdle said. "It's good for our ownership group. They showed patience. It's good for [club president] Keli McGregor and Dan for making good decisions and staying tight.
"I was fortunate to be brought in the loop on everything that's gone on. My focus is on the game and everything that's gone on down here. They were respectful of that. The coaches have been great. But the bottom line is the players play the game, and you can't miss that."
However, the right organizational plan helped the players win.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.