PHOENIX -- After seeing Bill Schmidt reset Colorado's front office. helping foster improvement while running the team on an interim basis over the last five months, the Rockies promoted him to GM on Saturday.
Schmidt, 62, formerly the team’s vice president of scouting, was hired as the fourth GM in the club’s history. He is being asked to push the team forward. The starting pitching staff that was key to postseason trips in 2017 and 2018 is still in tow. However, consistent power and run production along with the bullpen are areas that must be improved, and the talent and depth the Rockies carry is more concentrated at the lower levels.
“It’s been enjoyable -- it’s something different,” Schmidt said. “I’ve been used to planes, rental cars [and] bouncing around. I’m a little more settled, but you deal with different things -- player development, budgets, administrative stuff and really trying to serve. 'How can I help us make people better?'”
Schmidt took care of step one before being promoted officially. During his interim term, he helped the Rockies pull towards a positive direction after former GM Jeff Bridich stepped down on April 26 and other front office officials left. From the team’s 31-47 nadir through June 27, the Rockies have played at a .524 (43-39) clip through Saturday night's 11-2 loss to the D-backs at Chase Field in the penultimate game of the season. Antonio Senzatela turned in his shortest career start, two-thirds of an inning, and gave up six runs.
President and COO Greg Feasel said the intention was throwing open the process to outside interviews, but admitted that he liked Schmidt’s operation and stayed in contact with MLB to stay within its standards for offering opportunities.
“What he did over the four months -- and then it just kept building -- he didn't give us a choice,” Feasel said.
Schmidt’s burgeoning tenure will be judged on the next steps. The Rockies also know they are being prejudged for a hire from within. Schmidt -- who is considered an officer of the club, which means the Rockies don’t consider him as having a contract length -- has been with the team since Oct. 1, 1999, and run every MLB Draft since.
But Schmidt was part of the process that led to the hiring of new research and development director Scott Van Lenten from the Nationals, who has begun a department expansion that will take it beyond previous levels.
Saturday’s announcement also included promotions and enhanced job titles for Danny Montgomery, whose deep experience evaluating amateur and professional talent is valued, and Zack Rosenthal, whose expertise is in operations, rules and contract/arbitration planning. Schmidt has been working with Feasel on improving on-field and off-the-field areas of the organization, and it will lead to outside searches, although he is not persnickety about job titles.
“We’ve got to continue to grow,” Schmidt said. “Really, what’s the skill set of each person? We’ll evaluate what we think will help us.”
With 2022 seeming to be an opportunity to make a leap at the Major League level while continuing to develop the talent at the lower Minor League levels, the Rockies must manage their Major League payroll coming off one season with no fans and one with limits for much of the season. The Rockies also are in the first year of a multi-year rights fee extension with AT&T SportsNet, although terms were never announced.
The Rockies entered this season with a payroll of $105,575,629 that ranks 18th among 30 teams, according to Cot's Contracts. The payroll, which includes a $14,429,500 contribution to third baseman Nolan Arenado’s salary with the Cardinals as part of a trade, is well down from season-ending payrolls of $142,686,009 in 2017, $147,574,463 in 2018 and $151,889,647 in 2019, per Cot’s.
“We think we're going to gain ground in '22, and we think we'll be back to ’18-‘19 levels in 2023. That's what the plan is,” said Feasel, though the caveat is that there still is COVID-19 pandemic uncertainty, and the Rockies look at expenditures as an issue greater than the big league payroll.
Signs suggest that the Rockies have opportunities to spend should they choose. Beyond players under club control, there are few salary commitments past this year. Key free agents are shortstop Trevor Story, who is not expected to return (although Schmidt didn’t close the door), right-handed starting pitcher Jon Gray, first baseman C.J. Cron and righty reliever Jhoulys Chacín.
But none of this will lead Schmidt to trying to out-splash NL West rivals the Dodgers and Giants, who play in much bigger markets, during the offseason. The Rockies will simply have to compete by making smart decisions under their principles.
“At the end of the day, we’re a scouting, draft and develop organization, and that’s not going to change,” Schmidt added.
Schmidt is a daily presence in the clubhouse, with manager Bud Black and the coaches, and on the field before games. Colorado front-office, scouting and Minor League officials have been visible at home and on the road. They watched and evaluated as the Rockies improved at situational hitting and saw young relievers develop in '21.
“I think his presence did help us,” said Black, who is signed through ’22 and said that he has been too busy to push for an extension. “He’s a good baseball man who sees the game with traditional values and standards, yet there is a creative side to Billy as well that’s progressive and forward-thinking.”