Weiss, Rockies cut three-year deal
Colorado improved record by 10 games this season under rookie manager
DENVER -- The desire for stability led the Rockies and manager Walt Weiss to agree on a three-year contract on Tuesday. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Weiss took the job last November after Jim Tracy resigned and operated under a one-year deal, which drew the attention of some who said having a manager on a one-year contract wasn't beneficial to the team. But Weiss established his leadership and led the team to a 10-win improvement from the 2012 season. Other than players, the Rockies have had no one under a multiyear deal in recent years, but that policy changed after negotiations between Weiss and Rockies ownership and management -- owner and CEO Dick Monfort, general manager and chief baseball officer Dan O'Dowd and senior vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett.
"I think it comes down to stability for our club from the players' perspective, that the manager is going to be around," Weiss said. "That's not an issue that comes up during the season because you know the manager is going to be there.
"Dick, Givo and Dan felt the same, that it would make a statement. We're trying to build something here."
Under Weiss, who turns 50 on Nov. 28, the Rockies were a surprise contender in the National League West through the first three months of the season and were in first place as late as May 27 before key injuries exposed a lack of depth. Their 74-88 final record left them last in the division for a second straight year -- the first time in club history it has had consecutive last-place finishes.
However, the club went from 64 wins to 74 and the three-year deal shows that management believes Weiss has the program headed in the right direction. With the exception of hitting coach Dante Bichette, who announced his resignation late in the regular season to spend time with his family, Weiss said the entire coaching staff will return.
Weiss also said he, ownership and management are discussing whether to join the trend of employing an assistant hitting coach. The Rockies already have a two-man tandem for hurlers in pitching coach Jim Wright and assistant pitching coach Bo McLaughlin.
To become a contender, Weiss said the Rockies will seek a more diverse offensive approach, especially on the road, where performance has been historically poor, improved starting pitching, which got a boost this year from strong performances by left-hander Jorge De La Rosa and right-handers Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood, and tweak to their bullpen plan.
"There are some good things in place," Weiss said. "We've got to play better offensively, especially on the road, for us to be a serious contender, but if you turn on the TV [during the playoffs] and watch the games, you see a lot of dominant arms. That's part of what it takes to play in October. We're developing some arms -- we had guys step up and hopefully have got some guys on the radar."
Weiss, a Rockies shortstop from 1994-97 and the first former Colorado player to manage the team, worked as a special assistant to the general manager from 2002-08 before leaving professional baseball to coach his sons at Regis Jesuit High School in nearby Aurora as an assistant from 2009-11 and a head coach in 2012.
Under Weiss, the Rockies showed surprising improvement in starting pitching, going from 29-68 with a 5.81 ERA in 2012 to 54-60 with a 4.57 ERA in 2013 with the only significant differences being the health of De La Rosa and Chacin, both of whom missed significant time in 2012 because of injuries, and the improvement of Chatwood.
The Rockies are expected to try to sign an established pitcher on the free-agent market, hope to find consistency from right-hander Juan Nicasio, who went 9-9 with a 5.14 ERA but had a full season after two injury-shortened years, and hope to get something out of their upper-tier starting pitching prospects.
The team also is expected to retool a bullpen that was hurt by closer Rafael Betancourt's injury-filled season, which forced several relievers to pitch out of their normal roles. The Rockies found a new closer in lefty Rex Brothers, who recorded 15 of his 19 saves after the All-Star break.
Weiss also said he will tweak his bullpen usage strategy. Because the starters are coming off healthy years, he said that the 2014 bullpen will be less reliant on multi-inning relievers appearing early in games, which in turn should save wear and tear on the late relievers.
The offensive woes, meanwhile, must be corrected.
Colorado's 29-52 road record and 272 road runs in 2013 were the exact same stats as the team posted in 2012. The Rockies had three position players start in the All-Star Game in shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, left fielder Carlos Gonzalez and right fielder-first baseman (and NL batting champion) Michael Cuddyer, and had two promising young players in catcher Wilin Rosario and rookie third baseman Nolan Arenado. Yet, as a team the Rockies hit .246 and posted a .298 on-base percentage away from Coors Field.
Rockies history shows that their road average tends to be low, but the road runs and on-base percentage tend to be considerably higher during their successful seasons. For example, the 2007 team that went to the World Series hit .261 on the road but had a .336 OBP and scored 382 runs. The 2009 team hit .235 on the road -- lower than in either of the past two years -- but compiled a .319 OBP and scored 340 runs.
"We struggled at times with our situational at-bats -- a lot of teams have the same complaint, that they don't perform well enough with runners at third and less than two outs," Weiss said. "Every team is trying to get better in situational-type at-bats.
"We have a lot of power in our lineup, but when we got away from Coors Field we tried to maybe slug our way to a win. We struggled with some big swings and more empty at-bats on the road. We have guys that are talented offensive players, but it comes down to being a more complete offensive unit."