Barely 10 days into the month, October has already been wild for the Colorado Rockies. On October 2nd they finished the 2016 season with their best record since 2010—albeit 12 games under .500. A day later, Walt Weiss stepped down as the team’s manager, citing a lack of a “cohesive” relationship with general manager Jeff Bridich. Five days after that came the news that the Rockies fired four members of their coaching staff, including hitting coach Blake Doyle and bench coach Tom Runnells.
The housecleaning by Bridich, who took over the general manager role from Dan O’Dowd before the 2015 season, sends a clear message: Most of the team’s problems trickle down from the top. But the GM’s next moves to find replacements for some of the team’s most important roles will likely demonstrate whether he’s part of the problem—or the solution.
As the Rockies proved throughout the season, their talent base is strong. Built around under-30 stars like Nolan Arenado (MLB’s season leader in RBIs) and DJ LeMahieu (the National League batting champ), Colorado also showcased several promising youngsters this year—including ace starting pitcher Jon Gray and shortstop Trevor Story, who would have been a leading Rookie of the Year candidate before a thumb injury ended his season in August, though his 27 homers will probably earn him more than a few votes regardless. The team’s outfield has abundant speed and power, and the club’s pitchers (well, the starters, anyway) have displayed flashes of brilliance.
But the team has always had strong position players. What Rockies’ management has struggled to do this entire decade is turn that raw ability into wins. The key culprits? Strategic mismanagement and poor baserunning on a small scale, as well as larger issues such as bad trades and failure to a promote a winning clubhouse culture. (Off-field issues also have plagued the front office—see head-scratching behavior by owner and CEO Dick Monfort, and illegal behavior by Monfort’s co-owner and brother, Charlie.)
Many of those problems have been nagging the club for years, so replacing most of the coaching staff and bringing in fresh perspectives should appeal to many Rockies fans. But every Rockies manager since 2002—as well as Bridich—came from within the organization, so the likelihood of them poaching a manager from elsewhere is tough to assess. (Weiss was coaching high school baseball when he got the Rockies’ job but hadn’t coached or managed for any other MLB organizations.)
The key to the next hire will be finding a good fit—someone who understands the way his players work but can “coach them up” to get the full use of their skills. Well-liked among his players, Weiss certainly had the first part down. But as a former Rockies special adviser with no professional managerial experience, Weiss rarely showed the fire or expertise necessary to bring new life out of his players the way more successful big league managers do.
At this point, the most likely candidate for the job could be Glenallen Hill, the current manager of Colorado’s Triple-A farm team, the Albuquerque Isotopes. Hill served as the big league club’s first base coach from 2007 to 2012, so he’s already built relationships with Rockies young and old. Under his leadership, the Isotopes have flourished in their most important role: getting players ready to contribute right away once they get to the big leagues. But Rockies fans have to wonder if the team can learn how to win from the inside out, and whether Hill would bring any more to the bench than Weiss did.
Enticing candidates from other clubs are out there, including Braves’ first base coach Eddie Perez and former Padres manager Bud Black. As Jordan Freemyer and Bryan Kilpatrick note on Rockies blog Purple Row, Perez is major league lifer who, during his playing days as a catcher, handled some of the game’s greatest pitchers, including hall of famers Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Greg Maddux. He’s also a manager in the Venezuelan Winter League, and he’s bilingual—a valuable asset to a team rich in young Latin American talent. Black had little success with the Padres as their skipper from 2007 to 2015, but he led a club that embraced the types of analytics that could do wonders in modernizing Colorado’s approach to the game.
Other worthy outside names have piqued the Rockies’ interest, including Indians bench coach Brad Mills and Angels third base coach Ron Roenicke. Both have recent big league experience as managers (for the Astros and Brewers, respectively), and both would bring a new outlook to a Colorado club that too often gets stuck in its ways.
No matter which replacements Bridich is leaning toward, Rockies fans deserve a strong decision from him. By cutting ties with five members of his coaching staff, the young GM made a statement, and now he’s the one who’ll have to set the club on a better course by filling those holes with the right people. An in-house option could work this time, but choosing that inherently safer (and cheaper) route hasn’t delivered many wins during the past seven or eight seasons, and now Rockies fans are wondering just how much more patient they’ll have to be.