It’s been 14 months since the Rockies shipped away a star third baseman on a nine-figure contract. On Wednesday, they acquired another one in an apparent attempt to avoid the mistakes of the past.
Colorado’s reported seven-year, $182 million deal to sign Kris Bryant is, at best, a puzzling one. The Rockies’ trade of Nolan Arenado just over a year ago had nearly everything to do with cutting salary, even though they sent $50 million to St. Louis to make the deal go through. Rather than take the money saved on Arenado’s deal and spread it around the roster more efficiently, Colorado has decided to go all-in on another star—one who’s older than Arenado was when he was traded and whose contract will now run a year longer than the one the team was so desperate to rid itself of last January.
The Rockies’ offseason moves, to this point, have done little to suggest they’ll be a contender in 2022. The team has brought in shortstop José Iglesias, seemingly ending any chance of a reunion with Trevor Story. Also in the fold are pitchers Jhoulys Chacin, Alex Colomé and Chad Kuhl, all on one-year deals.
Last summer’s decision to not trade Story or starting pitcher Jon Gray—who has since signed with Texas—looks all the more puzzling upon further examination. Any money that could have been used to retain those two has now been poured into Bryant’s mega-deal, without the benefit of having any younger, cheaper players that could have been acquired at the deadline.
Kris Bryant is joining a club facing a significant rebuild.
Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports
In Bryant, the Rockies are getting a player proven to be among the most consistent hitters in the league. He’s posted a wRC+ better than 120 in all but one season, the exception being an injury-plagued, pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. Colorado needs help everywhere, so Bryant’s defensive versatility will come in handy as it attempts to patch together a competent lineup. The former National League MVP is now just the fourth player in Colorado’s lineup projected to have a wRC+ above league average (100), joining C.J. Cron (116), Connor Joe (107) and Charlie Blackmon (103).
Bryant is a fine player, but almost by virtue of signing with the Rockies, the deal portends disaster. Colorado has been a graveyard for free agent signings, from the high-priced variety (Ian Desmond, Wade Davis) to perceived value signings like Daniel Murphy, Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw and Mike Dunn. Though he’s spent his entire career in Denver, Charlie Blackmon’s production has diminished since he signed his $108 million extension, as he had a wRC+ of just 94 last season with 13 home runs in 150 games.
As cynical as it sounds, it’s natural to wonder how long Bryant actually lasts in Colorado before he follows the same path Arenado did. Bryant helped usher in a winning era in Chicago, then joined a 107-win Giants team after a midseason trade. He’s made the playoffs six times in his seven-year career, and never ended a season on a team with a losing record. Both trends are very likely to end in 2022, with the Rockies’ projected win total hovering around 71.
Perhaps this is a play for the years to come, with a strategy of bringing in a proven, winning player to build around. The Rockies possess one of the weaker farm systems in the league, making the road ahead for new general manager Bill Schmidt rather rocky (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Maybe a high-priced, veteran third baseman will be the answer to Colorado’s prayers—it’s just a script we’ve already read before, and it didn’t have a happy ending.
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