Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort, fiercely loyal to his employees, perhaps to a fault, had a critical decision to make.
He had to choose this past winter between firing general manager Jeff Bridich or trading All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado.
Monfort knew the two were not going to co-exist, and the situation was going to get ugly if no move was made.
Monfort sided with Bridich.
He ordered Bridich to find the best deal he could and trade Arenado.
They gave him away to the St. Louis Cardinals in a laughable trade, called the “dumbest trade in Colorado sports history’’ by the Denver Post, with the Rockies even paying $51 million of his remaining $199 million salary.
And now, 21 games into the season, they have neither man.
Bridich, after nearly 17 years in the organization, walked away Monday, either believing the situation was untenable, or no longer willing to take the stress and accept the burden of the organization’s downfall.
Jeff Bridich stepped down as Colorado Rockies general manager on Monday. (Photo: David Zalubowski, AP)
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Really, the only surprising aspect of the announcement, Rockies front-office employees will tell you, was the timing.
They anticipated that Bridich might resign, if he was not fired, this past winter. They thought it could certainly happen this winter. But not now, just three weeks into the season.
The breakup was inevitable.
The Rockies called it “a mutual’’ decision,’’ and although it certainly smells of a firing considering it's so early in the season and there is no replacement awaiting, Rockies executives told USA TODAY Sports that it was Bridich’s decision.
Bridich told several executives on Sunday that he was resigning, and on Monday it became official when employees received an urgent email telling everyone to be on a Zoom call in 20 minutes.
The call, with Monfort, Bridich, chief operating officer Greg Feasel (who was promoted to president) and executive vice president Hal Roth, was short, sweet and unemotional.
There were no tearful good-byes, just a stoic one, with Monfort telling everyone that this was Bridich’s call. He didn’t ask him to resign or accept a demotion. It was Bridich who came to him and offered his resignation, saying it was simply time.
“After recent conversations with Dick and Greg regarding the organization and its future,’’ Bridich said in a statement, “it became abundantly clear that ushering in a new leadership structure is critically important. With that in mind, we arrived at this decision to part ways, and ultimately it will be what is best for the Rockies and for me….
“Dick has a clear vision for the Rockies, and after nearly seven years as general manager, I believe it is time for someone else to help lead that vision.’’
Departing #Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich has released a statement: pic.twitter.com/yyESJe8d8M
Bridich, according to those on the Zoom call, actually looked relieved, as if a huge weight were lifted off his shoulders.
“This is something,’’ Bridich told the group, “that I need to do.’’
The Rockies, with little time to prepare, are expected to promote scouting director Bill Schmidt or assistant GM Zack Rosenthal to be their interim general manager for the res of the season and conduct a full-scale search for a replacement in the offseason.
The leading candidate to become only the fourth Rockies’ GM in history is Minnesota Twins general manager Thad Levine. He spent six years with the Rockies before leaving for the Texas Rangers in 2005, and is widely respected by Monfort and the rest of the organization. He was one of the top candidates for the Philadelphia Phillies’ president of baseball operations vacancy but pulled himself out of the running before it was filled by Dave Dombrowski.
The position may be the most daunting, challenging GM job in the game with Coors Field's high altitude, massive outfield and graveyard for pitching.
The Rockies have never won the NL West title in 29 seasons, and are sitting with the National League’s worst record this year at 8-13, despite winning four of their five games.
But they are a hot mess.
“Look, if we’re looking to pass blame,’’ Bridich said three months ago in his last public interview, “you can blame me. It’s the job of a GM to create a team that competes and wins as much as humanely possible.’’
Bridich’s résumé will show that he was the architect of the only Rockies’ teams to earn back-to-back playoff berths in 2017 and 2018, but he also made perhaps the worst free agent signings by any GM in history.
The Rockies spent $281.5 on their last 17 free agents, and they collectively accounted for a negative 2.7 WAR.
Their latest disaster was letting D.J. LeMahieu walk away as a free agent three years ago and replacing him with Daniel Murphy. LeMahieu has become the New York Yankees’ best all-around player, hitting .330 with a .901 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 37 homers and 135 RBI while Murphy hit .269 with a .742 OPS, 16 homers and 94 RBI.
“In hindsight, losing DJ was a big deal,’’ Monfort said. “I wish there was a way we could have kept DJ.’’
The Rockies, who have the fourth-worst farm system in baseball, according to MLB.com, appear to be the verge of losing their latest star in a couple of months, perhaps triggering a rebuild.
All-Star shortstop Trevor Story is a free agent after the season, and with the price tag expected to exceed $200 million, there have been no contract talks. The question is not whether the Rockies will keep him; it’s where they will trade him at the July 30 trade deadline.
Bridich’s tenure, even with all of the free-agent busts, the trade of popular star Troy Tulowitzki, and his .466 winning percentage (493-566), will be defined by the ugly Arenado breakup.
This is one of the greatest players in Rockies history, perhaps headed to the Hall of Fame one day with his eight Gold Gloves, five Silver Slugger awards and four All-Star appearances. He loved Colorado and Colorado loved him back with the two agreeing to an eight-year, $260 million contract extension in February 2019.
Just nine months later, Arenado wanted out, believing Bridich lied when he promised he’d build a team around him.
The Rockies went from a 91-71 win team in 2018 to a 71-win team the next, with their $106 million in bullpen expenditures blowing up in their face.
Arenado criticized the front office in the final weeks of the 2019 season. Bridich ridiculed Arenado in a private meeting after the year. The two never spoke again.
The Rockies fans sided with Arenado. Bridich held his ground. And Monfort made the decision which one had to go.
Incredibly, both are now gone in a matter of three months.
“There are relationships that do last forever,’’ Bridich said, “but we are in a business where relationships don’t last forever. Commitments don’t last forever.’’
It was proven again Monday, loud and clear, reverberating off the Rockies’ mountaintops right down to Coors Field.
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