video thumbnail

Cuddyer on his new team's lineup and chemistry

For the Astros, it was a natural outgrowth of an ownership change. For the Rockies, it was a conscious decision to change standard operating procedure.

By different roads, two teams that have undergone significant cultural shifts will arrive at the same place on Friday: Minute Maid Park in Houston for Opening Day.

After the Rockies took a step backward each year since making the playoffs in 2009, general manager Dan O'Dowd took a long look at how the organization had been going about its business. He decided that too often talented young players were brought along a little too quickly without enough veteran presence to help them find their way.

Yes, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is a clubhouse leader. But to reinforce his message, O'Dowd added veterans Michael Cuddyer and Ramon Hernandez to the mix and traded for Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Guthrie, who will start the opener.

"Changing the culture motivated the changes. And one thing led to another. There was a vision of what we wanted, but all the dots kind of connected on their own," he told the Denver Post.

The idea, he added, was to create a bridge for the prospects with "proven players who understand how to play the game with joy and perform well."

The centerpiece of this blueprint is Cuddyer, who got a three-year, $31.5 million deal in part because of the intangibles he provides.

"I think he's going to be a plus for us on the field because he gives nothing but 100 percent effort," manager Jim Tracy said. "But he's a huge piece to our clubhouse from the standpoint of morale and keeping everybody pushing in the right direction and minimizing adverse situations and turning negatives into positives."

Cuddyer said he learned the importance of peer leadership from Twins veterans like Torii Hunter and is now paying it forward.

"There are different definitions of leadership. I'm not an in-your-face, rah-rah football kind of guy. That's exhausting. What I am, though, is a friend and a teammate. I care about everyone in this room and I ask that in return," he said.

"One of the things Dan O'Dowd relayed to me was how he wasn't happy with how the clubhouse dynamic was last year. And, to his credit, he changed it. He got rid of a lot of good players and brought in a lot of quality guys, quality people and quality players as well."

Two bonuses: Guthrie pitched well enough in Spring Training to be named the Opening Day starter. And 49-year-old left-hander Jamie Moyer made the team. He brings a wealth of knowledge to the clubhouse.

Meanwhile, in Houston, the decision by Drayton McLane to sell the team he's owned for 19 years to Jim Crane had predictable consequences. New management almost always wants its own people and Crane was no exception. Longtime club president Tal Smith was replaced by George Postolos and general manager Ed Wade was replaced by Jeff Luhnow.

The Astros even hired a "director of decision sciences" to help organize information.

There were numerous changes on the field, too, for a team that lost 106 games in 2011. Livan Hernandez, Jack Cust and Zach Duke were released in Spring Training. When the final roster was announced, it contained 10 players who will open the season in the Major Leagues for the first time.

Only two players who were regulars a year ago, second baseman Jose Altuve and third baseman Chris Johnson are back where they were while Carlos Lee has been moved from left field to first base.

Opening Day starter Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ are the holdover starters while workhorse starter Brett Myers is the new closer.

Luhnow concedes that outsiders might not be impressed. "Most [experts] are picking us to be dead last in the Central and 29th or 30th in all of baseball," he said. "Even the Vegas line has it that way.

"But I think we're going to surprise some people. We have an expectation, an attitude in the clubhouse and among the coaching staff and in the front office that we can do this. We have the talent in the organization to win any series. I think our guys have the potential to win a lot of games, a lot more than people expect. You're going to see 100 percent effort and the results are going to track that."

One of the few changes the Astros didn't make will be responsible for making that happen. That would be manager Brad Mills, and he provides a link to their Opening Day opponent. He was the Rockies' first Triple-A manager at Colorado Springs.

Of course, no matter what happens this season, there are even bigger changes in store for the Astros, who will move into the American League in 2013.

MLB.com Comments