SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss doesn't make prognostications. He isn't given to assessing how close his club is to contending after struggling through his first three seasons running it. He isn't even concerned about where the final year of his contract fits in the scheme.All Weiss knows, as
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss doesn't make prognostications. He isn't given to assessing how close his club is to contending after struggling through his first three seasons running it. He isn't even concerned about where the final year of his contract fits in the scheme.
All Weiss knows, as official Spring Training began Friday morning for pitchers and catchers, is he's ready for anything.
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It's hard to find anyone who isn't predicting more of the same from the Rockies, mainly because the pitching staff has more hope -- that rookie Jon Gray is a monster immediately and righties Tyler Chatwood and Jordan Lyles return to form after injury -- than predictable excellence. If building is necessary, Weiss plans to build.
But if the starters make that leap and the decision to base the offseason moves on improving the bullpen and giving the lineup more ways to produce than slugging -- modeling mid-'90s Rockies teams -- he's equipped.
"I try to stay more in-tune with our process," a relaxed Weiss said from his office at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. "If we play the game hard, we play the game right, we play the game together, who knows? There have been a lot of great stories in baseball history with teams that have turned it around quickly. For the last three years, I always thought that was going to be us.
"But that'll be the fun part, playing with a lot on the line. Those are the types of games I was in most of my career. That's fun."
Maybe it comes from success during a 14-season playing career as a shortstop during which he was never optioned to the Minors and played in eight postseasons and three World Series. Maybe it's because he played for two of the sport's most successful managers, his mentor and friend Tony La Russa as well as Bobby Cox. Maybe it's the fact he was part of the Rockies' first playoff team in 1995. Possibly all those factors work into a self-assuredness that despite his 208-278 record on pitching-poor Rockies teams, he can usher the team to competitiveness and handle the big games when it happens.
"I played in the postseason most of my playing career," Weiss said. "I've been in big games. Obviously, it's different as a player.
"The game will tell me what to do. I'm not afraid of that. I'm not afraid of putting my neck on the line and being judged for it. I know that's part of what comes with the territory. It doesn't scare me."
Weiss said that while he would never "be upset about getting a big-time starter," he believes general manager Jeff Bridich's big offseason acquisitions of righties Jason Motte and Chad Qualls and lefty Jake McGee could be a winning combination. After all, he lived as a player on the '95 Rockies, who had a competent starting staff but won because the bullpen led the National League in WAR and was second in the Majors, according to Fangraphs.
"Not that there's formulas in this game, but I do believe that we need to focus on the last three or four innings of a game just as much as the first five or six innings," Weiss said. "You've seen some [other] teams do that, too, but especially for us. I saw us be successful. I was a part of that when we had a really good bullpen. If our bullpen can beat the other team's bullpen, I like our chances."
Weiss learned about not being afraid to be a little different from La Russa.
"Tony was one of the first guys that I can remember that put guys in different positions defensively," Weiss said. "You'd come to the field and your second baseman would be in left field that day. He did that with Tony Phillips. He did that with a kid named Lance Blankenship. He was always looking for the slightest edge.
"I talked about trying to create that at times with a guy like [first baseman Ben Paulsen]. I threw him in the outfield. To be honest with you, the Paulsen thing, I don't know if I'd have done that if I hadn't played for Tony and watched him do it."
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Weiss said he "never let the terms of his contract dictate" his approach as a player and won't as a manager. He also believes the team finished last season with a good approach, despite the weight of the 68-94 record.
To reinforce that, Weiss said he will meet individually with each player in camp. It will allow him to take into account where each player is in his career and set parameters of how that fits into the Rockies' attempt to win games.
"I really like our staff, the way our staff works -- the work ethic, the way they connect with our players," he said. "We have very authentic people on our staff. The players are a good bunch. They continue to fight. We're all in this together."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and** like his Facebook page**.