The Colorado Rockies are almost a novelty act that turns out a good baseball team once in a blue moon. Denver’s high altitude means Coors Field practically makes for a season-long home run derby and fans turn out in droves to watch the show. Believe it or not, the Rockies have never ranked lower than 14th in average attendance in the last decade.
That’s not bad considering the team has made the playoffs a whopping five times since debuting in 1993. A miraculous run to the World Series in 2007 seems almost a distant memory. Now, the Rockies are trying to win in an NL West that’s getting more competitive with each passing year.
In a nutshell, this is what’s kept the Rockies from reaching the top. Ownership sees the decent attendance figures and just stays the course instead of building more.
Thus, the Rockies can probably look forward to another long season where they finish at or near the bottom of the division. They play the Mets six times in May, but the only games that matter are the three in Denver. The same goes for when the Yankees visit in July to kick off the second half.
That’s when the fans will turn out to the park in droves, watch the long home runs fly, and shout for more over deafening applause.
Greatest Addition: Hensley Meulens. It’s unconventional that a new hitting coach can be that great an addition to the team, but such is Meulens’ record. The former Yankees prospect spent ten years on the Giants’ coaching staff and won three World Series rings. Meulens was also the Mets’ bench coach in 2020, spent last year as an assistant with the Yankees, and also manages the Dutch national team.
That last tidbit is what makes Meulens an interesting hire. He isn’t here just to get more power out of a Rockies lineup that ranked 23rd in home runs last season. Rather, what if he’s next in line to manage the Rockies? Bud Black has been phoning it in for years. Some new blood in the manager’s office could be the fix the Rockies need.
Plus, it helps that Meulens was also the runner-up to Aaron Boone for the Yankees job in 2018.
Greatest Loss: Jose Iglesias. The journeyman infielder has never been a standout talent at bat or in the field but always seems to find work. This for a .279 career hitter who has only 281 extra-base hits in 11 years.
The reason Iglesias has lasted so long is because he is a pure, old-fashioned baseball player. He shows up to work and gives his best effort. It doesn’t matter how good or bad his team is. He’s there to take the field when needed.
For a Rockies team that lost 94 games last year, that type of work ethic is hard to replace.
Greatest Strength: Kris Bryant. Yes, I’m serious and it doesn’t matter that back and foot injuries limited him to 42 games last year. Bryant still hit .306 with five home runs and a 125 wRC+ in limited action. The Rockies also felt his loss in the standings, especially after he signed a seven-year, $182 million deal in free agency.
The good news is the Bryant of old seems to be back. He’s hit .314 with four home runs and a 1.129 OPS in spring training and should be the everyday right fielder. The Rockies aren’t a playoff team with Kris Bryant back in the lineup, but his bat and leadership should mean improvement in 2023.
Greatest Weakness: Owner Dick Monfort. The Rockies have developed a reputation as a chaotic organization under his watch. Granted, The Athletic detailed how much of that was because former general manager Jeff Bridich’s unprofessionalism, but Monfort isn’t much better.
Who gave star third baseman Nolan Arenado an eight-year, $260 million contract extension and then traded him to the Cardinals two years into it? That would be Monfort, who got little to nothing back from St. Louis and is on the hook for $164 million in remaining salary. Monfort also replaced Bridich with two glorified yes-men, one of whom is a scout with no decision-making power. The other is a retired NFL offensive lineman with no actual baseball background.
At the end of the day, Dick Monfort sees the attendance numbers and that’s good enough for him. Winning is secondary and a nice surprise if it happens. As Ken Rosenthal reported in 2021, it’s all about the money. Nothing will change in Colorado if this remains Monfort’s top priority.
Are the Rockies automatically ticketed for last place? It’s hard to say. The Diamondbacks aren’t great, but they have an exciting young lineup and two solid pitchers at the top of the rotation. The Rockies should win a few more games if Kris Bryant stays healthy, but that’s not enough to rally the team. Colorado’s pitchers posted an MLB-worst 5.07 ERA and management didn’t improve the rotation in the offseason.
This is the Rockies’ unfortunate reality for the foreseeable future. Nothing will change until proper baseball men are back in the front office. Until then, Monfort and his front office will run the same player development playbook and get excited if/when the team wins. Maybe one day they’ll realize that good attendance can become great if there’s a consistent winner on the field.
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