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The Kris Bryant contract is off to a historically bad start

Colorado Rockies news and links for Saturday, September 17, 2022

In what was supposed to be an upstart season with Kris Bryant steering the organization back in the direction of contention, the Colorado Rockies cemented their fourth straight losing season with a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Friday. It was their 82nd of the season with 18 games still left to play.

During the team’s floundering season, Bryant has appeared in just 42 games and the odds are against him appearing in any more. A return hasn’t officially been ruled out, and he has resumed some moderate baseball activities, but his chances of being healthy enough to play before the schedule runs out are not favorable.

The only real reason for Bryant to return to the field is to simply show he can. Losing the first of a seven-year pact has stung the Colorado franchise, and surely they would appreciate any positive signs from their investment before the season runs out. Because, with six years and $164 million remaining on his contract, Kris Bryant isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

To say Kris Bryant’s first season has been a letdown would be an understatement. When he has played, he has been reasonably productive. An .851 OPS is eye-popping, especially when compared to the rest of the Colorado roster, and a 126 OPS+ is the type of season figure you’d expect from one of the game’s better hitters. But it took 23 games for him to hit a home run and if you average his totals in 181 plate appearances over 162 games it comes out to just 19 home runs for the season, a steep drop from his prime days with Chicago.

But there is a grain of salt to be taken with these numbers. The injury bug has plagued Bryant multiple times in 2022, chewing large stretches of games at a time. He missed 21 games after the first IL stint in April. After returning for two games in May, Bryant went down for another 33 games until late June. After suiting up through all of July, plantar fasciitis set in and has kept Bryant out for the last 41 games.

This game of red-light/green-light with Bryant’s health surely affected his production when he was on the field, making it easy to believe his performance was hindered in some way or another when he was in the lineup. But it speaks to the overall lack of Bryant’s first year. In fact, Colorado’s newest investment is lacking more than any other team’s has before.

Fewest games after $100M+ FA contract

Player Games Played First Season Contract
Player Games Played First Season Contract
Kris Bryant 42 2022 7 yr / $182M
Anthony Rendon * 58 2021 7 yr / $245M
George Springer 78 2021 6 yr / $150M
Yoenis Céspedes 81 2017 4 yr / $110M
Trevor Story 94 2022 6 yr / $140M
*excludes 2020 pandemic season

Of free agent contracts for position players totaling $100 million or more, no player has played fewer games in their first season than Bryant with the Rockies. Anthony Rendon, whose contract with the Angels is already being viewed as one of the worst in baseball, is the next closest in games lost during a full-season. In fact, if you want to get technical and include the abbreviated 2020 season, this still applies as Rendon appeared in 52 of those 60 games.

Envisioning Bryant’s deal becoming an albatross on the level of Rendon’s or Yoenis Céspedes’ – a contract the New York Mets have successfully fought to devalue – is a scary proposition on its own for those that want to see the Rockies succeed. But it gets even worse when you add context to how lost a year 2022 has really been, and how it could be just the first level of seven.

Let’s start with the fact that Kris Bryant still has more games played with the San Francisco Giants (51) than he does with the Rockies, despite only spending two months in 2021 calling San Francisco home.

Beyond that, his total games missed is set to be the most of any Rockies’ position player making $3,600,000 or more in a single season. Troy Tulowitzki, the prime example of a fragile star label, never played in fewer than 47 games in a season with the Rockies. This also includes Ian Desmond, who forfeited at least $13.5 million by electing to sit both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The only thing that keeps this financial bar from being any lower is 2B José López, who was under contract for $3.6 million in 2011 but only lasted 38 games with Colorado before being released.

Kris Bryant made $18 million in 2022, though, approximately 13% of Colorado’s total payroll. His annual salary will balloon to $27 million for the next two before settling at $26 million for the final four years of 2025-2028. A middle-market team like Colorado can survive lost seasons from moderately priced role-players, but not from their highest-paid core pieces. That lesson was learned the hard way during the Tulo/Cargo years of 2011-2014.

This is not to say that Kris Bryant cannot return to a healthy form, both in the short-term perspective of this season and (more importantly) over the remaining life of his contract. His signing has always made the most sense when being viewed through a prism that focuses on the next generation of a competitive Rockies roster arriving. That plan can still come to fruition — the front office has 168 million reasons to believe it will — but there is no denying it has gotten off to a very turbulent start, a start worse than any other big spending franchise has experienced so far.

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Colorado Rockies GM Bill Schmidt: 1-on-1 on Kris Bryant, 2023 needs, more | Rox Pile

Kevin Henry over at Rox Pile provides an insightful interview with Rockies’ GM Bill Schmidt, hitting on some of his general takeaways from the 2022 season. After singing praise for Alan Trejo’s performance in José Iglesias’ absence and Garrett Hampson’s defensive defensive capabilities, Schmidt looks forward to Ezequiel Tovar one day while emphasizing the goal right now is to focus on his rehabilitation instead of forcing a promotion to the majors.

Schmidt also speaks on the lost season of Kris Bryant, noting his absence in the lineup this season being too big a task to overcome. He also takes time to discuss the debuts of Michael Toglia and Sean Bouchard before touching on ideas to improve the roster in the future:

“Ideally, we probably need to try to find a center fielder and ideally a leadoff type guy. Is that the same person? Hopefully it is. We also need to add some speed somewhere,” Schmidt said. “We have pieces. I said last year we have pieces and we need to get more. It hasn’t changed. We’re getting more pieces, but there are still pieces we need to be the type of club we want to be.”

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On The Farm

Triple-A: Oklahoma City Dodgers 12, Albuquerque Isotopes 9

It was a tough night for Albuquerque pitching. The theme for starter Karl Kauffmann was five, as that’s how many hits, walks and runs he allowed before departing in the fifth inning. Relievers Matt Dennis, Nick Kennedy and J.D. Hammer didn’t fare much better, combining to allow seven runs over the next 2 23 innings.

But while the outcome of the game was flop, there were highlights along the way. First was Ezequiel Tovar’s first Triple-A home run, coming in the third inning.

After that, down 12-4 in the eighth, Wynton Bernard made history with Albuquerque’s 14th grand slam of the season, setting a Minor League record for most in a season by any team.

Double-A: Binghamton Rumble Ponies 6, Hartford Yard Goats 0

Ronny Mauricio got Case Williams’ Double-A debut off to a rough start, hitting a three-run homer to put the Yard Goats down early. But Williams was able to straighten the ship for just one run over the next five innings, finishing with an electric 12 strikeouts to just one walk over his six innings pitched.

Unfortunately, it didn’t matter much how Williams fared as the Hartford offense was unable to generate any momentum throughout the game. The Yard Goats tallied just three hits over nine innings while striking out 11 times themselves.

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