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Kris Bryant’s contract is officially an albatross

The hype that we felt when KB first signed is gone, and now all that remains is anxiety

Welcome to the 2023 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2023. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 52, Kris Bryant: -1.0 rWAR

When it was announced, I was among the most vocal supporters and hype men of the Kris Bryant signing. I’m on the record as saying it was one of the most exciting developments in recent Rockies history — in fact, maybe ever. A former MVP looking to get back in the groove by taking advantage of hitter-friendly Coors Field? Sign me up!

We know now that his first season is purple pinstripes did not yield the kind of results we had daydreamed of, as injuries and inconsistency derailed much of Bryant’s debut campaign. I wrote about his issues in last season’s Ranking the Rockies series, and ended that article optimistically looking forward to a bounce back season for the veteran.

Unfortunately, Bryant was unable to make that bounce back. Injuries once again reared their ugly heads, this time in the form of a heel issue and a broken index finger after a hit-by-pitch. These maladies kept the slugger to appearing in just 78 games — almost twice as many as 2022, but again less than half of Colorado’s total contests - not exactly what we were hoping for from the star’s sophomore season.

One thing that could be said for Bryant last season was that he was effective when he did play, but that wasn’t necessarily true in 2023. His slash line last season finished at .306/.376/.475, a line that Rockies fans could be optimistic about heading into this year. Sadly, even though KB had more playing time, he saw that same line diminish to .239/.318/.375. If last season’s quiet debut was cause for concern, I don’t blame some fans for feeling panic after the 2023 campaign.

Bryant’s situation in particular is compounded by the uncertainty of his primary position. Assumed to be the primary left fielder for the future, that has now come into question by the rise of young superstar Nolan Jones. KB ended up playing the majority of his games in right field, but as the Rockies look to get more out of players such as Sean Bouchard and Michael Toglia (as well as the phenom Zac Veen, waiting in the wings in Colorado’s minor league system), they transitioned Bryant to more first base time at season’s end. Even that seems only a temporary solution, as Colorado will have to balance out time between Bryant and seemingly-first base incumbent Elehuris Montero. Things are only going to get more complicated as Colorado juggles all of these talents, and it may force the team to part ways with one or multiple of those aforementioned players.

Bryant, of course, will not be moving — not with that huge contract. Instead, Colorado will just have to hope that he can somehow find the fire and ability to return to what he was with the Chicago Cubs. This contract has already garnered comparisons to unfavorable deals like those of Mike Hampton and Ian Desmond — not necessarily great company to share, in that context. Through their first two seasons with the team, Bryant holds the “highest” WAR at -0.5, followed by Desmond’s -1.1 and Hampton’s -1.6. These deals, largely considered overpays even before play began, are starting to all share an air of ill omen.

It’s not impossible that Bryant finds his swing again and is able to be the lineup anchor that he was meant to be, but it’s starting to look less and less likely. His injury history is becoming longer and there’s less optimism that he’ll ever approach that level again. I’d love to see him do it — any Rockies fan would — but this past season was a clear sign that things aren’t working. Season three has got to be a turnaround for KB and the team. If it isn’t, this deal has a very good chance of becoming just the most recent in an unfortunately increasing line of ill-advised contracts handed out by the Colorado Rockies.