In a statement released by the Rockies, the team and executive vice-president/general manager Jeff Bridich “have mutually agreed” that Bridich will step down from his duties with the club. The Rockies will appoint an interim GM for the remainder of the 2021 campaign and then look for a full-time general manager after the season.
The baseball operations department is now under the purview of Greg Feasel, who has now been promoted to the role of team president as well as chief operating officer. Feasel was already COO and an executive VP since the 2010 season, and he has been a member of the organization for 26 seasons.
The news comes as the Rockies are off to an 8-13 start, and are widely seen as heading towards their third straight losing season. A front office shakeup in late April makes for unusual timing, yet it could allow time for Feasel and the interim GM to alter the franchise’s direction as it heads towards the July trade deadline. Assuming owner Dick Monfort signs off on the decisions, impending free agents like Trevor Story and Jon Gray could now be prime trade candidates, to say nothing of Charlie Blackmon, German Marquez, or really just about anyone if the Rockies decide that a rebuild is necessary.
Bridich has been a fixture in Denver since 2004, working his way up from his initial job as the Rockies’ manager of minor league operations to senior director roles in baseball operations and player development before being named GM following the 2014 season. That move also came on the heels of a somewhat surprising resignation, as former GM Dan O’Dowd and senior VP of major league operations Bill Geivett both stepped down, and the Rockies seemingly didn’t perform much (if any) of a candidate search before promoting from within.
Still, a shakeup seemed necessary at the time given how the Rox were coming off four consecutive losing seasons, and Bridich began the heavy lifting of a rebuild by moving longtime shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays as part of a blockbuster deal at the 2015 trade deadline. However, it didn’t take long for Bridich to turn the Rockies into a winner, as the team reached the postseason in both 2017 and 2018 by winning wild card berths. Colorado lost the 2017 wild card game to the Diamondbacks, but defeated the Cubs in 2018 to advance to the NLDS before being swept by the Brewers.
This ended up being the high point for Bridich, as the 2018 Rockies succeeded despite some ill-fated transactions that ended up being some of the most notable misfires of Bridich’s tenure. It was Ian Desmond’s second season of a five-year, $70MM free agent deal that surprised many at the time of the signing, both because the Rox gave up the 11th overall pick of the 2017 draft as a compensatory pick (under the old qualifying offer system) to land Desmond, and because they were going to deploy him as a first baseman. Desmond simply didn’t produce during the 2017-19 seasons, and he chose to opt out of playing in both 2020 and this season.
The 2017-18 offseason saw Bridich’s front office spend $106MM on three free agent relievers in Wade Davis, Jake McGee, and Bryan Shaw, none of whom succeeded in bolstering the bullpen. Daniel Murphy’s two-year, $24MM deal in the 2018-19 offseason also backfired on the Rockies, especially since Murphy struggled and the player he effectively replaced (DJ LeMahieu) went on to become an MVP candidate after leaving Colorado to sign with the Yankees.
This focus on free agent moves was due in part because Bridich didn’t swing many trades, and yet ironically, his time with the team will largely be remembered for both the Tulowitzki swap near the beginning of his GM tenure, and the Nolan Arenado trade that came near the end.
Arenado signed a hefty contract extension prior to the 2019 season, guaranteeing the star third baseman $234MM in new money over seven additional seasons and seemingly locking him up as the Rockies’ signature star. However, the team’s struggles in 2019 almost immediately soured the relationship between not just Arenado and the team, but Arenado and Bridich specifically. The “disrespect” that Arenado said he felt immediately sparked speculation that a trade was inevitable, and after much speculation, Arenado was dealt to the Cardinals this winter. Left with relatively little leverage thanks to both Arenado’s no-trade clause and his ability to opt out of the contract following the 2021 season, the Rockies ended up sending $51MM to St. Louis to help cover Arenado’s remaining salary, while receiving an unspectacular trade package of Austin Gomber and three non-elite prospects.
Beyond these public controversies, there were also plenty of issues behind the scenes, as illustrated by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Nick Groke in a wide-ranging piece published in March. Rosenthal and Groke dove deeper into Bridich’s conflict with Arenado, the Rockies’ lack of investment in an analytics department, the failed free agent signings, and some criticisms of Bridich’s personality and demeanor from some players and former employees, specifically in regards to his communication (or lack thereof) with the team and the rest of the front office.
Beyond Bridich, however, several criticisms were also directed at Monfort, described by one source as someone who “likes the limelight, likes being in the middle of it all.” If Monfort continues taking such an active role in Colorado’s baseball operations, it remains to be seen how a change in general manager might improve things in the Mile High City. According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, assistant GM Zack Rosenthal and scouting director Bill Schmidt are two early candidates for the interim GM role. It isn’t surprising that the Rockies would look to a familiar face for an interim job, though it doesn’t help shake the perception that the organization is very insular.
Feasel’s new role could be a step in a new direction, however, even though Feasel is himself a longtime Rockies employee. This is the first time the club has has an official team president since former president Keli McGregor passed away in 2010, and Rosenthal/Groke noted that Monfort more or less stepped into the president role. Feasel comes from a business background rather than a baseball background, and it is possible he could return to focusing on the team’s business operations after the season if the Rockies were to hire a new president of baseball ops to specifically handle the on-field product. A new voice from outside the organization might be necessary to get the Rockies back on track.