UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Maybe it’s time for a change in the dugout

With just under one quarter of the season left, it can be said that the Rockies have been a huge disappointment in 2022. 

They’re 17 games under .500, more than 30 games out of first place in their division, and among the nine teams with the lowest winning percentage in the Major Leagues.

It’s easy to point to the absence of Kris Bryant, who has played in only 42 of the club’s 123 games through last Sunday and say that things would be different if he had been healthy all season. 

He does have a .306 batting average in 160 at-bats, but realistically, it’s highly doubtful that his daily presence would have translated into a winning record or Wild Card contention.

The loss of Tyler Kinley didn’t help, either. But the biggest reason for what is shaping up to be one of the most disheartening letdowns in the Rockies’ first 30 seasons is the performance of the misnamed “Big Three” in the starting rotation.

German Marquez, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela have combined for a 16-25 won-lost record and a combined earned run average of 5.01. 

That’s hardly what Kris Bryant had in mind when he signed with the Rockies for $182 million over seven years. Nor is it what Colorado General Manager Bill Schmidt envisioned when he locked up Freeland for five years and $64.5 million and Senza for five at $50.5 to go with the two years plus a mutual option remaining on the five-year deal Marquez signed while Jeff Bridich was still in charge.

The long-term contract that Ryan McMahon signed this spring (six years, $70 million) hasn’t worked out, either. At .252 with 12 home runs and 56 runs batted in, he isn’t on pace to even match his 2021 season numbers (.254, 23-86) much less improve on them.

On top of all that, neither catcher Elias Diaz nor lefty Austin Gomber have been able to build on last season’s hopeful signs, and All-Star C.J. Cron hasn’t hit his weight since the All-Star Break.

While the defense has improved in the past couple of months, the team still ranks next to last in the Majors with 81 errors (behind Pittsburgh’s 85) and is tied with six other clubs for next-to-last in fielding percentage.

Yet Kyle Freeland, for one, says, “We’re better than this.” Several teammates agree and have made similar statements. GM Schmidt apparently believed them at the trade deadline, when Colorado was the only team in either league that did not move or acquire anyone.

So, looking ahead to 2023, what’s to do?

In early February, before Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association reached agreement to end the lockout that delayed spring training and the start of the 2022 season, the Rockies announced a one-year contract extension with manager Bud Black.

That means he’s ticketed to return to the dugout for at least another season. But should he?

If Freeland and others are to be believed, maybe it’s time for fresh leadership in the clubhouse and on the field, a shift to greater accountability. 

This is Black’s sixth season as Rockies manager. After winning 178 and losing 147 in his first two seasons, his teams have lost 58 more than they’ve won since. That’s an overall .484 winning percentage—barely better than his .477 in nine seasons with San Diego.

For sure, a team’s performance is not entirely a manager’s fault. As they say, the players play the game.

But Black received kudos for being an ex-pitcher who related to the mound staff when the Rockies went to the playoffs in 2017 and 2018. It seems only fair, then, that he should shoulder at least some of the responsibility for the miserable pitching performances from both starters and relievers in 2023. 

With Chris Woodward’s dismissal by the Rangers last week, four managers have been replaced this season. It’s the first time since 2018 that any team made a change in-season. Two of the first three seem to have been changes for the better.

The Phillies, who axed Joe Girardi in early June after a 22-29 start, are 44-26 since and hold the third and final qualifier spot in the National League Wild Card race, a game and a half ahead of Milwaukee.

Toronto is 19-13 since John Schneider took over for Charlie Montoyo. and the Blue Jays are in a three-way tie atop the American League WC standings, followed closely by the Twins, Orioles and White Sox.

Maybe someone slightly less understanding of defensive missteps calling the shots next season would inspire better performance from the millionaires. But with all those long-term contracts, it’s unlikely that Schmidt will clean house even if he’d like to. 

And it would be out of character for Rockies owner Dick Monfort to approve—much less initiate—a managerial change.  

But it’s something they should seriously consider.

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 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.