Analysis: Rockies’ big bets on Kris Bryant, continuity fail to pay off in another lost season – The Denver Post

When the Rockies signed outfielder Kris Bryant to a seven-year, $182 million contract during spring training, owner Dick Monfort was giddy.

“This is a great day for us,” Monfort said. “Just so many things make this feel really, really right. We’re extremely excited to have Kris with us for the next seven years, and to help us win that elusive World Series that we are all looking for.”

Elusive is the key word in that statement.

With nearly two-thirds of the season in the books and the Rockies on pace for a 90-loss season, a World Series title seems like a pipe dream. Nonetheless, as the club stood still at last week’s trade deadline, general manager Bill Schmidt endorsed the direction of the team.

“I believe in the club,” he said. “We haven’t performed to our expectations, but we are continuing to grow in a lot of areas. And I think the future is bright.”

But given the lackluster performance of several of Colorado’s core players this season, as well as the financial straightjacket the club faces due to long-term contracts, Schmidt’s optimism must be tempered. While the Rockies remain winners at the box office, where they rank sixth in the majors in attendance (32,450), it’s difficult to see how the franchise is headed in the right direction.

Schmidt, who led the Rockies’ scouting department from 1999 until being promoted to general manager last year, has been proactive in his first season running the team. In addition to signing Bryant to the largest free-agent contract in franchise history, the Rockies extended long-term contracts to left-hander Kyle Freeland (five years, $64.5 million), right-hander Antonio Senzatela (five years, $50.5 million), third baseman Ryan McMahon (six years, $70 million), catcher Elias Diaz (three years, $14.5), all-star first baseman C.J. Cron (two years, $14.5), and closer Daniel Bard (two years, $19 million).

They also traded outfielder Raimel Tapia to Toronto in exchange for outfielder Randal Grichuk, who will be on Colorado’s payroll for $9.5 million next season.

The result of all those signings? Mostly disappointment.

Bryant, plagued by lower-back issues early this season and currently on the injured list with plantar fasciitis of his left foot, has played just 42 games. When healthy, he’s delivered, hitting .306 with a .851 OPS, five home runs, and 12 doubles in 181 plate appearances. But he’s currently wearing a walking boot and there is no timetable for his return.

Cron, despite slumping since the All-Star break, has been a bargain and Colorado’s most productive offensive player. He entered the weekend hitting .277 with a .836 OPS, leading the team with 22 home runs and 72 RBIs.

Bard, who deserved to be an All-Star, has been one of baseball’s best closers, posting a 2.04 ERA and converting 22 saves in 24 opportunities. But when his contract expires at the end of the 2024 season, he’ll be 39.

Entering the season, manager Bud Black touted the rotation as the team’s strength, but it’s been a frustrating, roller-coaster season for the starters, who own a collective 5.19 ERA, the second-highest in the majors. In late June, Schmidt said that he would be reluctant to trade any rotation pitchers.

“I still say that our pitching is our strength,” Schmidt said. “And it’s too hard for us to acquire pitching. So we still have the core that we are going to build around, going forward. That hasn’t changed.”

But right-hander German Marquez, an All-Star last season and under team control through 2024, has been one of the club’s biggest disappointments. Despite pitching much better lately, Marquez entered the weekend 6-9 with a 5.29 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and .274 opponents’ batting average.

Freeland (7-7, 4.56 ERA), Senzatela (3-6, 4.87) and lefty Austin Gomber (5-7, 5.64), all considered part of Colorado’s future, have run hot and cold, though Freeland has recently shown flashes of his 2018 form when he posted a 2.85 ERA and finished fourth in the voting for the National League Cy Young Award.

Colorado signed Bryant, acquired Grichuk, and gave McMahon a big contract with the expectation that their home runs would power up a tepid offense. But Bryant’s been hurt, and Grichuk has hit only 10 homers. McMahon entered the weekend slashing .241/.336/.384 with just nine homers and 49 RBIs, a huge drop from what the team expected.

Looking toward next season, the Rockies better hope that their core players turn things around, because they have a lot of money invested in that group. A look at their contracts doesn’t leave a lot of room for a major investment for next season.

The Rockies’ payroll this season is $137.7 million, ranking 17th in the majors, according to Spotrac.com. The club’s payroll for 2023 is projected to rise to $149.9 million. But of that total, 55% will be paid to just four players, one of whom is no longer with the team.

Bryant will make $28 million next season and accounts for 18.67% of the payroll. Veteran outfielder Charlie Blackmon ($18.33 million, 12.2%) and Marquez ($15.33 million, 10.20%) eat up another chunk.

The fourth player? That would be Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado, whom the Rockies traded to St. Louis before the 2021 season. He’s on the Rockies’ books next season for $21 million because one of the major provisions of the trade was the Rockies’ agreement to commit around $51 million to St. Louis to help cover a portion of Arenado’s contract.

This season, the Dodgers’ payroll is $265 million and the Padres’ payroll is $221 million.

At the trade deadline, Schmidt conceded that the Rockies can’t compete with the NL West’s big spenders, at least not financially.

“We are who we are,” he said. “We all try to stay up with the Joneses but sometimes you can’t do that, right? We’re not financially in that situation. So we’re going to do the best we can with the resources we have.”

The Rockies don’t use the word rebuild, but their apparent blueprint calls for their best prospects to join Bryant and the other core players to form a playoff-worthy team by 2024-25.

Schmidt has repeatedly called the Rockies a “draft-and-develop” organization, so long-term success depends on their farm system. But prior to this season, and before July’s draft, the Rockies were consistently ranked in the bottom 10 by those who cover minor league baseball. Baseball Prospectus ranked the Rockies 27th, The Athletic 25th, MLB.com 24th and ESPN 23rd.

Schmidt, however, is much more optimistic.

“Over the last couple of seasons, and overall, I’ve seen growth in our system,” he said. “I think in the near future, some of these guys will start showing up in Denver.”

Rockies’ projected 2023 payroll

According to Spotrac, the Rockies’ projected payroll for the 2023 season is $149.9 million. Following are
the salaries for the projected 2023 roster:

Active playersAgePos.Total salary
Kris Bryant31OF$28.0 million
Charlie Blackmon36OF/DH$18.3 million
German Marquez28SP$15.3 million
Kyle Freeland30SP$10.5 million
Randal Grichuk31OF$10.3 million
Daniel Bard38RP/CL$9.5 million
Ryan McMahon283B$9.0 million
C.J. Cron331B$7.25 million
Antonio Senzatela28SP$7.25 million
Elias Diaz32C$5.5 million

Retained Salary: Rockies will pay $21 million for Nolan Arenado’s contract with the St. Louis Cardinals as
part of 2021 trade.

Arbitration eligible players

PlayerAgePos.Status
Austin Gomber29SP/RPArb 1
Garrett Hampson28UTLArb 2
Tyler Kinley32RPArb 2
Peter Lambert32SPArb 1
Brendan Rodgers262BArb 1
Robert Stephenson30RPArb 3

Pre-arbitration Players

PlayerAgePos.Status
Yonathan Daza29OFPre-arb
Sam Hilliard29OFPre-arb
Connor Joe29OF/1BPre-arb
Elehrius Montero231B/3BPre-arb

Source: Spotrac.com

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