Friday, April 20, 2012

Offseason moves already paying dividends for Colorado Rockies

Michael Cuddyer is making O'Dowd look smart so far.
Colorado Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd takes his fair share of criticism from Rockies fans.

Some of it, as he would probably admit, is deserved. He has made moves that have backfired. He has waited too long for prospects to develop, hindering their trade value.

However, for the amount of criticism O'Dowd takes, he doesn't ever receive praise for the good moves that he does make.

After the most disappointing season in franchise history in 2011, O'Dowd faced a huge decision. The decision was one that would risk his job.

Years ago, O'Dowd was part of a group that was convinced to build from within. He believed that having patience with a farm system was the way to go. The plan worked. As the youth movement that caused great pains among Rockies fans came full circle, rewarding the patience of a fan base and a front office, O'Dowd was proven correct.

However, a few years later, the plan wasn't working. The clubhouse had become content and stale. As much patience as the club had shown its prospects, those prospects clearly did not have enough pressure on them to perform. They grew content and lacked drive.

The choice that O'Dowd made could not have been easy. Yet, he pulled the trigger.

Instead of investing more time into the prospects that hadn't reached their potential at the Major League level, O'Dowd shipped off the content players who lacked the hunger to maximize their talent.

It certainly is still early, but the rewards of that decision are already becoming apparent.

Two of the moves were to acquire Michael Cuddyer and Marco Scutaro. Cuddyer came through free agency, and Scutaro through trade.

On Friday night in Milwaukee, both players baseball savvy was on display. Jason Giambi looped a base hit into left field with the game tied in the top of the 9th inning. Eric Young, Jr. pinch ran and moved to second base on a slightly wild pick off. Scutaro was at the plate and squared to bunt with the idea of moving the go-ahead run to third base with one out. When the second baseman couldn't get the bunt down and was down two strikes, he wisely took the next pitch and drove it to right field, deep enough to allow Young to move up.

Cuddyer, who was on the bench because of the foul ball he hit off of his big toe on Wednesday, stepped to the plate, hitting for Dexter Fowler. The former Twin looked calmly at the plate and instead of swinging for the fences, he drove a pitch back up the middle of the diamond, scoring Young from third base.

Those two at-bats, along with Young's speed, allowed the Rockies to win the baseball game. Of course, it is impossible to know what would have happened had O'Dowd not pulled the trigger on the moves. However, anyone who watched the Rockies in 2010 and 2011 knows that the majority of the time when the team found themselves in a similar situation, the batter's swing got too big. Instead of allowing the pitcher to feel pressure, the batter tried to do too much. It all too often resulted in failure.

Both Scutaro and Cuddyer took perfect approaches at the plate in the 9th inning. The professionalism that they displayed was remarkable, and exactly what O'Dowd was looking for.

Their contributions go beyond Friday night. On Saturday, in the middle of a cold rain, Scutaro got hit by a pitch from Diamondbacks closer and, knowing he was the tying run, bounced up, clapped in the direction of the Rockies dugout, and sprinted to first base.

Cuddyer has shown professionalism all month long at the plate. Instead of over-swinging, he is wearing out the right-center gap, drilling six doubles already. One of the most difficult things for a player to do is learn to go with a pitch and not roll over on it. Cuddyer shows exactly how it is done.

For the criticism that O'Dowd takes, he has made some brilliant moves that have helped the Rockies be a better team. Instead of waiting for the next round of prospects to be ready in a couple of years, O'Dowd found a way to get veterans who know how to play the game. They may not make the Rockies favorites, but they might just put them in a place where they can surprise some people.

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