It was in 2009 that Jim Tracy replaced Clint Hurdle as the manager of the Colorado Rockies. Tracy replaced Hurdle after the season was underway, and inherited a lousy record. The Rockies subsequently turned things around in a big way, and Tracy wound up winning the National League Manager of the Year award. However, things haven't been so sunny since. The highly-touted Rockies finished in third place in 2010. A year ago, they won just 73 games after being picked by many to go deep in the playoffs. At the end of January, at the SweetSpot blog, David Schoenfield put Tracy atop his list of managers on the hot seat.
So this news comes as a bit of a stunner, although "stunner" might overstate things given the subject material:
#Rockies & Manager Jim Tracy have a handshake agreement for Tracy to continue to be a part of the organization's leadership team.— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) February 20, 2012
That's kind of a weird tweet. "Organization's leadership team"? What does that even mean? Or, as best summed up by this response:
@Rockies What does that mean?— Kyle Wolf (@ksdubbs) February 20, 2012
Here's what that means, from Troy Renck:
In an offseason defined by change, general manager Dan O'Dowd made a stunning commitment to stability Monday, making Jim Tracy to the the team's manager "indefinitely" with a handshake agreement.
There's that word "stunning" again. People are very easily stunned. Basically, the Rockies have agreed to extend Tracy's contract. But they're not giving him a one-year or two-year or three-year extension, like usual. They're giving him an indefinite extension, where Tracy and the Rockies can re-evaluate each year. The way O'Dowd talks, he'd like to see Tracy stick around until he retires. And the way Tracy talks, he'd like to stick around until he retires. He went on the air and said he has "every intention of finishing my career in a Colorado Rockies uniform."
Tracy will, of course, eventually have to put pen on paper. He will sign a contract, and that contract will have specific terms. But at the end of that contract, Tracy and the Rockies intend to work out a new one.
Why do this now? You can never know the actual motivations of a baseball organization from the outside, but if one can hazard a guess, Tracy was entering the final year of the contract he signed in November 2009. The Rockies' front office didn't want Tracy's contract status to be a distraction. When the Rockies stumbled out of the gate in 2009 and let Hurdle go, Hurdle was in the last year of his contract, and there was talk that was distracting. Now the Rockies have nipped a similar potential issue with Tracy in the bud.
So. What to make of this? The Rockies, clearly, like Tracy a lot, and the feeling, clearly, is mutual. Tracy is far from a respected tactician, and even Rockies officials would probably tell you that Tracy isn't the most analytical person in the room when he's standing alone in a room, but a manager's job isn't all about tactics. There's also a lot of, you know, managing, and the Rockies wouldn't be committing to him if they didn't feel like he's the right guy to guide what they want to develop. And Tracy wouldn't commit if he didn't agree with the organization's plan.
Is Jim Tracy actually a good manager? Here, we just can't be sure, or anywhere in the neighborhood of sure. The people at Purple Row aren't fond of him, and that isn't worth nothing, but anyone who tells you he knows how to evaluate a manager's ability is a deadly hazard. (Because his pants are on fire!!) Tracy has managed successful teams in 2002, 2004 and 2009. Tracy has managed unsuccessful teams in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2011. It is impossible to know how much of that was Tracy, and how much of that was the team. And of course, a manager in one situation might be a bad fit, where in another situation he'd be a good fit. The Rockies think Tracy is a good fit for what they're going for, now.
And it's important to understand the difference between "indefinite" and "infinite". The Rockies did not just guarantee that Jim Tracy will be their manager for the next like two decades. Jim Tracy will probably continue to be the Rockies' manager for a good amount of time, but situations change, and minds change. You know who else the Rockies liked quite a bit? Clint Hurdle. They dropped him when the losing got bad enough. Maybe there'll come a point at which Tracy doesn't want to manage in Colorado anymore. Maybe there'll come a point at which the Rockies have underachieved too much for Tracy to remain. The Rockies and Jim Tracy like each other now, but baseball's an unpredictable sport. Over time, situations become different situations.
I've written a whole lot of words about a manager getting an unusual contract extension. If you don't feel like reading all of them and skipped to the end, here's what you need to know:
- The Rockies like Jim Tracy
- Jim Tracy likes the Rockies
- The Rockies think Jim Tracy is the right guy to lead their project
- The Rockies or Jim Tracy might someday change their mind
If you want to make this simple: the Rockies have a plan. Ultimately, that plan is about making the team good. They want Jim Tracy to be a part of this plan. But if the plan doesn't work, then they'll need a new plan. And with it, perhaps, a new manager. Jim Tracy might finish his career in a Colorado Rockies uniform, but depending on how things go he might finish his career a lot sooner than he thinks.
In closing, here are pictures of Jim Tracy hugging people: