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4 colorado Rockies
Lars Anderson
March 27, 2000
Last year's cellar-dwellers have a slew of new faces and a fresh style of play
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March 27, 2000

4 Colorado Rockies

Last year's cellar-dwellers have a slew of new faces and a fresh style of play

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by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (NL rank)

1999 record: 72-90 (fifth in NL West)

Batting average

.288 (1)

Opponents' batting average

.301 (16)

Runs scored

906 (2)

ERA

6.01 (16)

Home runs

223 (1)

Fielding percentage

.981 (8)

The 10-page document bound with a plastic cover is never far from its author. When he goes on the road, general manager Dan O'Dowd keeps his blueprint for building a championship franchise in his black shoulder bag. When he's in Denver, he stores it in the top left drawer of his desk. He rarely allows anyone else to touch the document, much less read it.

"From 1988 to '98 I was with Cleveland, and I saw how [ Indians general manager] John Hart built that organization into a winner," says O'Dowd, who was hired by Colorado last September. "I kept copious notes the entire time, and I put them all in this manual. I refer to it constantly."

The first section of O'Dowd's blueprint is entitled "Identify What Needs to Be Fixed." It's clear that when he joined the Rockies seven months ago, O'Dowd identified plenty that needed repairing. He spent the off-season gutting a team that finished last year in the National League West cellar. Through a series of trades and free-agent acquisitions, he added 18 players to Colorado's 40-man roster. In the process he reshaped the Rockies into a faster club, putting an end to the days of the Blake Street Bombers. "I'm aggressive by nature," says O'Dowd, "and I'm not done dealing yet. More changes will be made."

O'Dowd's first move was to hire Buddy Bell as his manager. Bell has never seen a game in Coors Field, so he doesn't have any firsthand knowledge of the nuances of playing in the rarefied air. Still, he'll be as aggressive as he was when he managed from 1996 to '98 in Detroit, where he regularly employed the steal and the hit-and-run. Bell values speed and defense—precisely the areas on which O'Dowd focused in the off-season. "We're not going to be as powerful as the club was last year," says Bell, "but that doesn't mean we won't score as many runs."

Consider how new third baseman Jeff Cirillo and new leftfielder Jeffrey Hammonds will affect the offense. They're replacing popular veterans Vinny Castilla and Dante Bichette, both of whom were traded this winter. Castilla and Bichette, combined, averaged 68 home runs and 247 RBIs in each of the past four years. Cirillo and Hammonds averaged a combined 27 homers and 118 RBIs over the same span. Simple arithmetic obviously doesn't justify the swap, but O'Dowd likes Cirillo's and Hammonds's defense and ability to move runners. His thinking: In spacious Coors Field bad defense and a lack of speed can be just as debilitating as bad pitching. That's the big reason that O'Dowd infused the Rockies with fresh and fast blood—even if it did cause some awkward moments at training camp. "I had to wait for guys to sit in front of their locker before I could go up and introduce myself, because I had no idea who a lot of the new guys were," says rightfielder Larry Walker. "It was a little uncomfortable."

Early in the season Colorado will be uncomfortable on the field as well, because their every-day lineup features four new starters: Cirillo, Hammonds, centerfielder Tom Goodwin and catcher Brent Mayne. The key player is Goodwin, who over the past five years has the most stolen bases in the majors (243). Last season, with the Rangers, he hit .259, and his on-base percentage was just .324. He needs to draw more than the 40 walks he had in 1999 to give slugging first baseman Todd Helton and two-time defending batting champion Walker sufficient RBI opportunities.

"We don't need to score 10 runs a night to win," says O'Dowd. "We just need a few, because our pitching is vastly improved." Last season the Rockies' ERA was an unsightly 6.01—the highest in the majors. That number should drop significantly this year because of the addition of Rolando Arrojo, acquired from the Devil Rays, and Masato Yoshii, picked up from the Mets. Arrojo was an All-Star in 1998 and has a good command of four pitches. Yoshii struggled at the beginning of last season but rebounded to become New York's top starter down the stretch. Colorado's ace is 30-year-old righthander Pedro Astacio, whom the Rockies feared might be deported to his native Dominican Republic during spring training because of a domestic violence charge. (A judge temporarily suspended deportation proceedings in early March by allowing Astacio to withdraw his guilty plea to third-degree assault of his pregnant estranged wife last August, and ordered Astacio to attend a trial scheduled for July 5; he still faces deportation if convicted.)

The bullpen took a hit in spring training when Jerry Dipoto, slated to be the closer, was diagnosed with a bulging disc in his neck that will sideline him for at least the season's first two weeks, and possibly longer. But the Rockies remain optimistic. "I think our staff, like the rest of our team, will be improved," says O'Dowd. "Rebuilding this franchise won't happen overnight, but we've got good enough players so we can win as we rebuild."

If that happens, O'Dowd ought to find a literary agent—he might have a best-seller on his hands.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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