UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – All signs point to Schmidt shedding “interim” tag

When Bill Schmidt was named “interim” General Manager of the Colorado Rockies in early May and, at the same time, the ballclub talked of a far-reaching search to find the baseball genius who could build a consistent winner in the mile-high altitude, my immediate thought was that he had just been given the worst job in all of major league baseball: damned no matter what he did; damned no matter what he didn’t do.

But four months into the “interim,” I’m beginning to wonder if maybe, instead, it was the chance of a lifetime: five months to demonstrate courage, patience, prudence and competence; five months to demonstrate the ability to communicate with players; five months to articulate a vision for a franchise that has suffered eight losing seasons in the last 10. So far, the audition has gone well.

Recipient of the West Coast Scout of the Year Award and a Legends in Scouting Award, both in 2019, Schmidt has 30 years of scouting experience. He also has almost a decade of on-field coaching experience, from high school and college to the low minors for the Reds, Brewers and Yankees. He played, though not professionally, so, it can be said that he’s seen the game from all sides.

Schmidt, who recently turned 62, joined the Rockies in October 1999, one of then-new Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd’s first hires. The club’s second-ever director of scouting, Schmidt came from Cleveland—of course—having worked for O’Dowd and the Indians (or should I refer to them as the Guardians?) during the 1995 through 1999 seasons.

He ascended to Rockies “interim” General Manager in the wake of the roundly criticized trade of Nolan Arenado to St. Louis and the subsequent resignation of then-General Manager Jeff Bridich, whose aloof style and dubious communication skills resulted in Arenado’s vocal displeasure, which precipitated his trade demand. The resignations of some key front office personnel soon followed, and the pending free agency of Trevor Story, Jon Gray and Mychal Givens loomed.

Instead of such turmoil and uncertainty causing indecision and paralysis, however, Schmidt has asserted himself as if the “interim” tag had been removed—or was never there in the first place.

In the face of pressure from many sources, principally media and fans, to deal Story by the July 31 trade deadline, Schmidt insisted on a better return than Bridich was able to get for Arenado. Absent that, he had the courage to pass, despite howls from the ignorant. 

Shrewdly, he harvested two young arms—including one who had been drafted by the Rockies just the year before, Case Williams of Highlands Ranch—for Givens, who seemed likely to sign with another team before next season anyway.

Schmidt has the patience to let the Story soap opera play out this off-season, content that he’ll do no worse than a supplemental draft choice if Story rejects the club’s qualifying offer and leaves via free agency.  Such a bold stance is not typical of those trying to play it safe to improve their chances of surviving. Nor is a caretaker usually allowed to paint an unknown successor into such a corner. 

(Note: Given the indifferent season Story is having, don’t be surprised if he accepts that qualifying offer in hopes he can have a better season in 2022 then try free agency again. By then, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javy Baez, Marcus Semian, Chris Taylor and Andrelton Simmons won’t be crowding the shortstop market and sucking up available big-dollar contracts.)

In Gray’s case, not only did Schmidt eschew a trade but he’s now negotiating a long-term contract with the quirky righthander, whom Schmidt made the third overall pick in the 2013 Major League Draft. “Interim” GM’s don’t negotiate long-term contracts with their own free agents without ownership trusting their prudence. And they aren’t usually allowed to tie a STBN (successor to be named) to the millstone of a new long-term contract.

Concerning those front office defections, Thomas Harding reported in an MLB.com story last week that Schmidt is overseeing the filling of at least three positions in the analytics area—long a weak spot in the Rockies’ operation. (I’m no fan of the increased emphasis on analytics in baseball, but if everyone else is relying on data to improve, I begrudgingly applaud the Rockies’ growing attention to this dimension.)

Harding wrote that Assistant GM Zack Rosenthal said these hirings are likely the first phase of an R&D expansion. Once again, someone keeping the seat warm for someone else isn’t usually the one who hires people the next guy will have to live with.

Earlier this season, Schmidt told Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post, “I’m a big proponent of the mental side of (baseball).” Saying that he had discussed this with Monfort, Schmidt also said, “I think we have to build up the mental skills side as much as we do the analytics area . . . we’re dealing with human beings.”

To that point, Harding reported that Schmidt is looking into expanding the mental skills/sports psychology capabilities of the organization.  This also is not something a part-timer typically would undertake.

This is now Schmidt’s 22nd year with the Rockies, which makes him part of the family in the eyes of owner, chairman and CEO Dick Monfort—a fact whose importance should not be underestimated when considering his future. Monfort is nothing if not loyal to long-time club employees.

It’s unlikely that the Rockies will address the “interim” nature of Schmidt’s position before the 2021 season concludes on October 3. But all signs point to Schmidt being given the chance to continue his efforts once the last out is made.

We’ll know soon.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 13 books, seven of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at info@
comservbooks.com.