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Bill Schmidt appears to be building his team his way

Colorado Rockies news and links for Thursday, March 17, 2022

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It’s been a far more interesting free agency period than Colorado Rockies fans are used to, as new general manager Bill Schmidt works at filling holes and making improvements on the roster. Since taking the reigns following the 2021 season, Schmidt has made a bevy of moves to make his mark.

Before the lockout, Schmidt signed starting pitcher Antonio Senzatela, first baseman CJ Cron, and catcher Elias Díaz to healthy extensions. While Senzatela is now locked down as a key member of the rotation, Cron and Díaz are here to stay until promising prospects like Michael Toglia and Drew Romo are ready for their big league debuts. Schmidt also retained the services of right handed pitcher Jhoulys Chacín on a cheap one-year deal, after the past-and-present Rockie had a strong season out of the bullpen.

When the lockout ended, Schmidt started doing something Rockies fans might find unfamiliar: signing Major League free agents. The Rockies hadn’t spent over $1 million on one since the club brought in Daniel Murphy for two years and $24 million. That was on December 21, 2018. That was 1,182 days ago, which is well over three years.

While not overly impressive, Schmidt added some solid low-risk free agents to the team. Shortstop José Iglesias— on a one year bounceback deal worth $5 million— will assume the veteran role in the middle infield with the departure of Trevor Story.

The pitching staff has been bolstered with the additions of right handers Alex Colomé and Chad Kuhl. Colomé acts as bullpen reinforcements and the potential closer, though his contract isn’t yet finalized. Kuhl will be making $3 million plus incentives while competing for the fifth and final rotation spot.

While these are solid moves, nothing Schmidt had done thus far was particularly world-shaking... until news dropped on Wednesday afternoon.

The Colorado Rockies signed former MVP and Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant to massive deal clocking in at $182 million over seven years, including a full no-trade clause.

This is likely the biggest splash of Bill Schmidt’s free agency: his crown jewel.

Since the news dropped, I’ve seen everyone from colleagues to Ken Rosenthal question why the Rockies, a team that jettisoned a disgruntled Nolan Arenado along with $51 million to the St. Louis Cardinals and allowed Trevor Story to leave in free agency for naught but a compensatory draft pick, would sign a new superstar for superstar money. I’m going to do by best to explain why.

Jeff Bridich and Dick Monfort did a lot of damage to the team over the last four years, culminating in the massive loss of star power when Arenado and Story departed. Arenado was angry. Story was upset and confused. The well appeared so thoroughly poisoned that it was incredibly unlikely either player would have stayed if given the opportunity. Arenado was angry at Bridich and the organization’s failure to deliver on their promise of building a winning roster around him. Story was angry after the Arenado departure, which was made worse after Dick Monfort’s “deadline by committee” failed to trade him at the 2021 deadline.

It’s speculated by myself and others that Bill Schmidt didn’t actually have much power as the interim GM in 2021, largely installed as a figurehead while Dick Monfort ran the show. Our Renee Dechert posited it as such:

“The Rockies (I suspect) are still making decisions by committee with Schmidt as a figurehead interim general manager while Dick Monfort does the big baseball calls. Moreover, I’ve come to think that Monfort sees the word “rebuild” as bad for business, which would explain the Rockies-don’t-do-rebuilds philosophy. After all, who wants to pay money to see a self-admitted losing team?”

Jeff Bridich mercifully left the organization, though Monfort remains. Now that Bill Schmidt is the actual general manager, he has the power to start building onto the roster he inherited. More importantly, he’s cleaning up the mess that the previous regime left for him. Kris Bryant is the key to that mission.

The signing might placate owner Dick Monfort and give Schmidt a bit more breathing room to work considering the business ramifications of Kris Bryant in the Mile High City. Think about how many Cubs fans live in the Denver metro area, something made painfully clear every time they come to Coors Field. A much beloved former Cub star might convince them to come to the ballpark more often than just during Rockies vs Cubs series... and maybe even buy a jersey.

More importantly though, it’s a smart baseball decision. For a team adamant they aren’t going to be rebuilding, this is a competitive move. The Rockies only really had Charlie Blackmon and Germán Márquez remaining in terms of star power, and Bryant’s arrival is an immediate boost. Bryant is equally recognizable as Arenado or Story in being a former NL Rookie of the Year, MVP, four-time All-Star and World Series Champion on a big market team.

While it’s still unknown what Trevor Story is going to receive in free agency, Bryant’s $26 million AAV is much cheaper than Arenado’s $32.5 million AAV. While the Rockies lost Arenado’s platinum glove defense, they gain Bryant’s positional versatility. He can be slotted in for any outfield position in addition to his corner infield prowess.

Signing Kris Bryant is also very much a Bill Schimdt move. Leading up to the 2013 MLB amateur draft, the Rockies possessed the third overall pick in the first round and had heavily scouted the young third baseman out of the University of San Diego. The VP of scouting and the man in charge of the Rockies draft at the time was Schmidt, who was strongly interested in Bryant. When the Cubs drafted Bryant at no. 2 overall, the Rockies were forced to make a different selection in big Jon Gray from the University of Oklahoma. Ironically Bryant is now with the team and Gray has departed.

Bill Schmidt’s short tenure as GM hasn’t been perfect. Losing the aforementioned Jon Gray to the Texas Rangers in free agency was a major misstep, as were the negotiations that preceded it. However, I’m left to wonder how much Schmidt’s “figurehead” status as interim GM caused the delay in contract discussions until the end of the season, and how big the hole had been dug once he gained the power of being the actual GM.

Since officially gaining the title, Schmidt has solidly been building up the Rockies roster with extensions and actual free agent contracts to make his mark on the team in a way the head scout can’t. Schmidt is doing something that Rockies fans have been begging for the last few years: spending money on the roster.

While I understand tensions are high after several rough seasons in LoDo, I think it’s important that people—both fans AND Dick Monfort—let Schmidt do the job he was hired to do and give him a chance to build a résumé that speaks for itself.

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Kris Bryant signs with the Rockies | Bleed Cubbie Blue

Our dear friend Al Yellon over at BCB voices his thoughts on the Kris Bryant news, wishing the World Series champion luck with his new team. He does voice concerns other writers have on whether Bryant will finish his contract in Colorado despite the no-trade clause, reflecting back on Nolan Arenado’s situation. Regardless, he believes Bryant will do well at Coors Field.

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