DENVER -- Manager Clint Hurdle's options for 2005 and 2006 were exercised Wednesday by the Colorado Rockies, who also gave general manager Dan O'Dowd a two-year extension through 2006.
"The agreements that we have reached with Dan and Clint represent both our trust in their leadership abilities and the continuity within our organization that we believe is the key to our long-term success," Rockies chairman Charlie Monfort said.
Hurdle joined the Rockies as a minor league hitting instructor in 1994 and became the big league manager in April 2002 after Buddy Bell was fired. Colorado finished 67-73 under Hurdle that year and was 74-88 last season, but Monfort said there have been improvements not reflected in the standings.
The Rockies were more competitive last season than have been in years, staying above .500 as late as July 31, and Hurdle's straightforward approach seemed to be just what was needed in the clubhouse.
"We're very confident that Clint is the man for the long haul," Monfort said. "Last year the clubhouse was better than we've ever seen it and a lot of that is dedicated to Clint. He has everyone pulling the rope in the same direction."
Turmoil within the organization had some wondering if O'Dowd was doing the opposite.
Since he became GM in 2000, Colorado has had a winning record once and the roster has been overhauled almost annually. O'Dowd has taken much of the blame, but Monfort said ownership decisions made it difficult to put together a winning team.
Colorado signed free agent pitchers Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton to contracts totaling $172 million in 2000, but ownership wanted them gone by the end of the 2002 season.
O'Dowd managed to ship Hampton off to Atlanta, but Neagle is still on the roster and might not play next season because of elbow surgery.
O'Dowd also was told to limit the payroll to $54 million in 2002 due to low financial projections.
And it won't get any easier this season.
The Rockies already have allocated $53.1 million to six players: Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Neagle, Preston Wilson, Charles Johnson and Hampton. That leaves only about $10 million to fill out the remaining roster spots.
"We felt that we had a team that wasn't going be very good for several years, so we had to make some moves that would give us some flexibility to become better," Monfort said. "They weren't popular moves, but we decided for surgery instead of to keep trying medicine to feel better. Dan took the heat for that, but a lot of it was ownership mandated."
But while O'Dowd has been limited with the big-league roster, he has turned Colorado's minor league system from a weakness to a strength.
Colorado solid prospects at every level and most of its pitching has come through the minors. That includes the 2002 NL Rookie of the Year Jason Jennings and Taiwanese pitcher Chin-hui Tsao, who broke into the big leagues last year.
"The minor league system is kind of like his report card," Monfort said. "It's probably the best we've ever had it and I think we're going see the results of that at Coors Field in the coming years."
And the Rockies are still looking for ways to get better.
Hurdle said last week that the team would be willing to listen to trade offers for Helton and Wilson, two of the team's more popular players.
Helton hit .358 and just missed his second NL batting title, and Wilson had a league-high 141 RBIs after being traded from Florida in the Hampton deal.
"Trust and commitment is a two-way street and I fully intend to continue to do everything I can to give the fans of the Colorado Rockies a team they can be proud of," Hurdle said.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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