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Should the Rockies (try to) sign Kris Bryant?

The rumors suggest there is interest.

Last week when I made the case for the Rockies signing Seiya Suzuki (who is rumored to be touring Arizona training facilities this week . . .), there was interest in the comments about the Colorado Rockies signing Kris Bryant. Here at Purple Row, we aim to please, so let’s consider the possibilities.

Back in November, Jon Heyman started a dumpster fire in his Twitter mentions when he tweeted this:

The tweet launched a thousand geography jokes (Vegas is not, in fact, that close to Denver), but later in the day, Mark Feinsand offered this follow-up:

Soon after, Thomas Harding referred to the Rockies’ “weeks-long interest” in Bryant, which means the story is for real — or at least it was before the lockout began. To be clear, the Rockies’ logic is a mysterious thing, so this may be nothing more than conjecture, but let’s game this out a bit to see if Kris Bryant would be a good fit (after the current labor issues are resolved).

Quick Refresher: Who Is Kris Bryant?

Kris Bryant, who will be 30 when the 2022 season starts, was drafted by the Cubs in the first round of the 2013 draft. Prior to that, the Las Vegas native played at the University of San Diego. (That year, he was College Player of the Year, and in 2014, he would be the Minor League Player of the Year.) After the Cubs finished manipulating his service time, Bryant made his debut in 2015 and was voted NL Rookie of the Year. In 2016, he was named the NL MVP.

TLDR: Kris Bryant has a serious baseball pedigree.

His first three seasons with the Cubs were red hot. From 2015-17, he had an fWAR of 30. After that, he cooled off, and his 2020 was so bad there were rumors he would not be tendered a contract. But his performance in 2021 was strong enough that his value has stabilized. In July, Bryant was traded to the San Francisco Giants.

He has a career fWAR of 31.8, a wRC+ of 134, and an OPS of .880. In other words, he can hit.

This Stephanie Apstein piece is a nice profile of a player in a transitional moment, and it’s worth noting this line:

A few seconds later, Jess [his wife] would tell him that a friend scrolling Twitter had seen the news: He was headed to the Giants. He would rejoice, then burst into tears. He would watch as Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, the most obvious trade chip on the market, remained with his moribund team and pulled himself from the lineup in frustration. “Man, I feel for him,” Bryant says.

Not only is Kris Bryant talented, but he also seems like a nice person.

How Was His Offense in 2021?

After a bad 2020 (a wRC+ of 75 and an fWAR of 0.4), in 2021, Bryant made a comeback, and in July, he was traded to the Giants. Last year, he played in 144 games, slashing .265/.353/.481 for an OPS+ of 124.

In 2021, he also hit 25 home runs. Here’s one, in case you’re interested:

The bat is for real — Bryant has a career SLG of .504. Here’s how he’s done at Coors Field according to Baseball Reference:

Source: Baseball Reference

To be fair, it’s a small sample size, but given that the league average OPS between 2015 and 2021 was .738, when Bryant has played at Coors Field, he has been above average.

Plus, he’s a righty, which would offset a very lefty-heavy Rockies outfield. Bill Schmidt has been clear the Rockies need to gain offensive power in the offseason, and Kris Bryant seems like a perfect fit.

So How’s the Defense?

He’s versatile, spending time at first base, third base (the position at which he’s played the most), shortstop (the position at which he’s played the least), and the outfield, primarily in left field. (Connor Joe, step aside.)

Sure, Kris Bryant can play (pretty much) anywhere, but what’s his preferred position? Turns out, he likes center field. (He answered this question in a video clip you can no longer see because the Cubs have locked down their media.) The Rockies would probably move him around a bit, but he would likely spend most of his time in left.

Here he is in action, helping out old friend Jake McGee:

Defensively, Bryant is average to slightly below average. His career DRS at third is -4 while his best defensive position is left, where he has a DRS of 4. His outfield Outs Above Average was -3, so not terrific. Still, he’s defensively much better than most of the other free-agent sluggers (e.g., Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos).

Bottom Line: What Kind of Contract Is He After, and Does This Seem Possible?

According to Patrick Saunders, Bryant is believed to be seeking a deal for six years, $160-170 million, which is consistent with the prediction of MLB Trade Rumors. (Kiley McDaniels ranked Bryant as the eighth-best free agent and projected a contract of five years at $90 million.)

If McDaniels is correct, this contract seems plausible; if MLB Trade Rumors is right, it’s difficult to see this happening. That’s a big commitment and a lot of money for the Rockies. (Then again, if this is the last hurrah of the Rotation Bridich Built, then why not spend the money and go for it?)

But the larger issue is Bryant’s willingness to sign with the Rockies who continue to lose at both baseball and public relations. (The reactions to Heyman’s tweets provide a case in point.)

As Sean Keeler writes, “Bryant has yet to finish an MLB season on a roster with a losing record. He’s gone to the playoffs six times in his first seven big-league seasons.” The Rockies would present a significant change. (For Keeler, if Dick Monfort wishes to change the narrative, Bryant would be the first in a number of contracts the Rockies would need to sign.)

When I saw the rumors, I had trouble believing Bryant would sign with the Rockies; after reading his comments about Trevor Story, I’m even more doubtful. If he signs a contract, Story’s fate could be his, and the Rockies’ recent history is littered with players trapped on a losing team. It seems unlikely Kris Bryant would come to terms with the Rockies unless he had no other options.

And he will have other options.