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Looking at the Rockies problematic payroll in 2024 and beyond

Colorado Rockies news and links for Friday, December 1, 2023

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In a slow offseason where the best part of being a Rockies fan is thinking about the future, it’s fun to think about potential Rockies rosters in the years ahead.

Thanks to Baseball America and Renee Dechert’s Purple Row breakdowns of possible 2025 and 2027 lineups, I’ve been daydreaming about a team filled with players with serious home run potential, speed, and defensive beauty.

This is the Rockies’ projected 2027 lineup: Drew Romo (C), Elehuris Montero (1B), Adael Amador (2B), Ryan McMahon (3B), Ezequiel Tovar (SS), Nolan Jones (LF), Jordan Beck (CF), Kris Bryant (RF), Yanqueil Fernandez (DH), Kyle Freeland (SP1), Chase Dollander (SP2), Jordy Vargas (SP3), Carson Palmquist (SP4), Gabriel Hughes (SP5), Evan Justice (CL) Baseball America

Even though some will never happen, like Renee pointed out with Gerrit Cole and Will Smith calling Colorado home, there was one staple in 2025 and 2027 that was impossible to ignore: Kris Bryant.

As Renee said, “That Bryant contract is going to haunt the Rockies for a long time.”

Seriously. A long time. The Rockies will be feeling every dollar of the eight-year, $182 million deal that will dish out $27-28 million a year through 2027.

To be fair, there is still time for Bryant to turn things around. If he’s able to put together a few seasons where he can play 140 games and hit around .300 with a bunch of doubles, he could be a valuable asset for the Rockies. Even if his power days are behind him, and even if he might not quote be worth 20% of the team’s payroll, at least it would be a bright spot in the lineup.

But what if that doesn’t happen? What if Bryant can’t stay healthy?

In his first two years with the Rockies, he’s played in 122 games with 516 plate appearances, 460 at-bats, and 119 hits while earning $46 million. For those counting at home, that’s $386,554.62 per hit, $377,049.18 per game, $100,000 per at-bat, and $89,147.29 per plate appearance. Good work if you can get it.

But when it comes to building a winning team, that roster spot and the percentage of payroll hurt the organization’s ability to play someone else who might contribute more and cost less.

It would be bad enough if Bryant’s deal was the only damaging one on the Rockies books, but, unfortunately, it’s loaded with money-eating, mind-blowing contracts. Look no further than the top three payouts for the Rockies in 2021, 22, and 23. The projected numbers on the books through 2027 don’t look much better.

Rockies Top Payroll Players from 2021-2027 

Year No. 1 Player Payout % of Payroll No. 2 Player Payout % of Payroll No. 3 Player Payout % of Payroll
Year No. 1 Player Payout % of Payroll No. 2 Player Payout % of Payroll No. 3 Player Payout % of Payroll
2021 Blackmon $21.3 million 18.33% Story $18.5 million 15.89% Arenado $14.5 million 12.40%
2022 Blackmon $21.3 million 15.24% Bryant $18 million 12.86% Márquez $11 million 8.07%
2023 Bryant $28 million 16.37% Arenado $16 million 9.36% Blackmon $15.33 million 8.97%
2024* Bryant $28 million 21.22% Freeland $15 million 11.37% Blackmon $13 million 9.85%
2025* Bryant $27 million 31.76% Freeland $16 million 18.82% McMahon/Senzatela $12 million each 14.12% each
2026* Bryant $27 million 33.33% Freeland $16 million 19.75% McMahon $16 million 19.75%
2027* Bryant $27 million 36.49% Freeland $17 million 22.97% McMahon $16 million 21.62%
* Projections (percentages of team payroll will decrease after rosters are finalized and figures could change with trades)

If you were to just look at the 2023 payroll and not know the Rockies record, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn they lost 103 games.

Bryant, the top earner, took 16.37% of the team’s payroll and played only 80 games. The second-best earner, Nolan Arenado, earned 9.36% of the payroll to hit .286/.343/.527 with 26 homers and 93 RBI in his third season with the St. Louis Cardinals. Even in a down year, Arenado’s homers and runs batted in would have topped the team leaders list in Colorado.

Charlie Blackmon came in as the third-highest earner, taking home 8.97% of the Rockies payroll. He played in only 96 games. Germán Márquez was a close fourth at $15.3 million and 8.95% of payroll and only pitched four games before suffering a season-ending injury and having to undergo Tommy John surgery. Even though injuries happen and aren’t the Rockies fault, the Bryant and Arenado deals are 100% the Rockies fault.

Arenado was one of 13 players the Rockies paid “leftover salaries” to in or before 2023, even though Colorado traded or cut them. Seven of those 13 players earned seven-figure salaries: Jurickson Profar, Dinelson Lamet, C.J. Cron, Randal Grichuk, José Ureña, Pierce Johnson, and Brad Hand. If you add their contracts to Arenado’s, it totals over $47 million. That’s 27.56% of the team's payroll.

It’s important to point out that some of those trades netted future pitching prospects and opened up spots for current position player prospects that could be brilliant moves down the road, so not everything is measured by payroll.

However, those eight salaries, combined with Bryant’s, took up 43.93% of Colorado’s payroll in 2023. Of those nine players, Grichuk posted the highest rWAR at 1.0, followed by Brad Hand at 0.4. Not a lot of bang for your buck. Except for Arenado, who posted a 2.4 rWAR for the Cardinals.

On the other hand, the Rockies top player — Nolan Jones and his 4.3 rWar — earned $510,972 or 0.3% of the team’s payroll. Standout young players often are great deals for teams, but the top earners should be pulling their weight a bit more.

At least 2023 was the last year of big money from Colorado to Arenado, but the Rockies still owe Arenado $5 million per season through 2026 thanks to his 2021 restructuring. The Rockies will literally being paying for bad contact mistakes for years.

Will they learn lessons to make better deals in the future? Will they keep Bryant on the team through 2027 if he continues to miss significant time with injuries?

With the abundance of talented outfielders and first basemen on the roster or in the next round of exciting prospects, each roster spot is valuable. A combination of trades and tough decisions — hopefully aligning with a long-term plan — are needed from the Rockies front office. Maybe the Winter Meetings next week is a good place to start.

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Will Helton add Cooperstown to his address book? | MLB.com

Mike Lupica has a great argument about why Todd Helton should be in the Hall of Fame. For Rockies fans, he’s preaching a well-known message to the choir. Even Dodger manager Dave Roberts agrees. Helton fell 11 votes shy of Cooperstown last year. Hopefully, more columns like this catch voters’ attention to get No. 17 into the class of 2024.

MLB Hot Stove matchmaking: A free-agent fit for all 30 teams as Winter Meetings near | The Athletic ($)

Everyone can agree, the Rockies need more starting pitching. However, a lot of teams need starting pitching. The Athletic’s Jim Bowman offers a potential match between RHP Marcus Stroman and Colorado. He’s struggled with injuries his last two seasons with the Cubs, but has a 3.69 ERA and 56.6% ground ball rate over nine MLB seasons. I am not holding my breath since pitchers are hesitant to come to Colorado and the Rockies have been scared away from signing pitchers, but I am intrigued.

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