When it comes to the Major League Baseball offseason, money is on everyone’s minds. Most of the baseball world is still digesting Shohei Ohtani’s 10-year, $700 million deal (that will actually pay out until 2043). In the Rocky Mountains, many Colorado fans are still lamenting Kris Bryant’s seven-year, $182 million deal that goes through 2028.
While the Rockies may not have a lot of good things going on in the payroll department with Bryant’s deal and an uncertain and certainly less lucrative TV future in 2024, there is some good news for two of the Rockies best players. Thanks to MLB’s new Collective Bargaining Deal from 2022, rookies Nolan Jones and Ezequiel Tovar got some sweet bonuses to their 2023 salaries.
The CBA not only raised the MLB minimum salary from $570,500 to $700,000 in 2022, but also allowed players in pre-arbitration (usually players with less than three years of MLB service time) to earn performance-based bonuses. These bonuses go to the top 100 players in the pre-arbitration pool, including award winners and nominees.
Jones finished No. 22 on the bonus list, netting an extra $539,046 — more than doubling his 2023 salary. Only 25 of the 101 players who got bonuses hit amounts of half a million or more and Jones is in the group. Tovar came in at No. 87, earning a bonus of $270,785.
Jones, who was the Rockies best player with a 4.3 rWar and the team’s only nominee for the All-MLB team, was set to earn $510,972 in 2023. The league minimum was $720,000 in 2023, but Jones didn’t get the call-up to the Rockies until May 26, missing the first two months of the season. The bonus pushed him over the million-dollar mark to $1,050,018
Tovar, who had the third-best rWAR on the team at 2.5, made $722,000 and his bonus pushed his first-year MLB paycheck to $992,785.
This is a big deal and well-deserved for guys like Jones and Tovar, who before the bonuses accounted for a combined 0.72% of the Rockies payroll. In a seasonal analogy, it’s the kind of money that lets Clark Griswold put in a pool instead of getting a one-year membership in the jelly of the month club.
MLB has long rewarded players who complete the pre-arbitration (years one through three) and then arbitration (usually years four through six) with a chance to hit the market and sign big free agent deals, like Ohtani. Many players who already are or are becoming stars grind through those six years of being under team control with minimal contracts. The current CBA finally gave young stars a chance to earn more before teams offer them big contracts or players elect for free agency.
Seattle’s Julio Rodríguez was the top bonus collector with $1,865,349 and National League Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll came in right behind him at $1,812,337. These are elite players who deserve more than the $720,000 salary minimum This is the first season these kinds of players are being financially rewarded immediately.
Ohtani and former Rockie young greats never got that chance. Let’s start with Ohtani as an example. Ohtani’s first contract came with a signing bonus over $2.3 million in 2018, but he only made $545,000 his rookie campaign when he happened to win the American League Rookie of the Year. In 2019, he made $650,000. In the shortened 2020 season, he netted $259,259 in his final pre-arbitration year.
In Ohtani’s arbitration years, he made $3 million in 2021 as the AL MVP and $5.5 million in 2022 as an All-MLB player. In 2023, he signed a one-year, $30 million deal before signing his record contract with the Dodgers this month.
Unlike Jones, the biggest Rockies young starts in the last decade never earned a million dollars in their pre-arbitration years.
Charlie Blackmon had five pre-arbitration seasons and in his last of that time frame in 2015, he made $517,500. It took until his first year of arbitration to ink a one-year, $3.5 million deal. He signed two more one-year deals before netting the big one: a five-year, $94 million contract in 2018.
Nolan Arenado inked $415,027 in his rookie year in 2013, the year he also started his 10-year Gold Glove winning streak. He made $500,000 in 2014 and $512,500 in 2015 to finish his pre-arbitration term. His first of three one-year deals was $5 million in 2016 before signing his eight-year, $260 million deal in 2019 (the Rockies will still pay him $5 million to play for the Cardinals in 2024).
Trevor Story followed a similar trajectory with a $507,500 deal in 2016, $540,000 in 2017, and $555,000 in 2018. He then signed a one-year contract for $5 million in 2019, and then two more short deals before joining the Red Sox on a six-year, $140 million contract.
Jones and Tovar each have two more years of pre-arbitration remaining and could be rewarded with bonuses for top-level play in their second and third years in the league. Even with a slight bump in the minimum salary to $740,000 in 2024, Jones and Tovar have a chance to earn more than previous young Rockies stars.
This is good for Jones and Tovar. It could be good for other Rockies prospects and young players. It’s good for MLB all around.
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It’s a good time to reflect back on 2023. Even though the Rockies record is one to forget, thanks to Rockies team photographers Kyle Cooper and Rachel O’Driscoll, there are some great photos documenting beautiful nights at Coors Field and memorable moments throughout the season. Some of my favorites include seeing Rockies at Fenway and Camden Yards, Blake Street Bomber reunions, and all pictures of Elias Díaz — radiating joy in the best season of his career.
Elias Díaz took home the All-Star Game MVP and Brenton Doyle won the NL Gold Glove for center field. Those are two pretty awesome awards, but that was it for the Rockies trophy case in 2023. Even though there are numerous awards to win from MLB and other entities, Anthony Castrovince chose to do one final round of honors to players who didn’t win any. Nolan Jones earned a spot in the outfield for his bat, his arm, and his road OPS that was actually higher than his OPS at Coors Field.
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