It’s been a quiet few weeks on the Kris Bryant front since the free-agent market opened, but MLB Network’s Jon Heyman and MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand both report that he has a somewhat surprising suitor in the form of the Rockies (Twitter links). Feinsand suggests that while the Rockies have “real” interest in getting something done, however, there may not be time to put together a contract and complete a physical between now and the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.
Similarly, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post reports that it’s “less and less likely” the Rockies will make any sort of major move prior to the lockout (Twitter links). Saunders adds that the Rox have “definite” interest but that Bryant could be eyeing a deal in the $160-170MM range, which likely makes a more affordable outfield target (e.g. Michael Conforto) more palatable in Denver.
A deal with Bryant would be at least somewhat surprising given that the Rockies last major, nine-figure expenditure (Nolan Arenado) resulted in a trade to St. Louis that saw Colorado covering more than $50MM of the guaranteed money on the deal. The Rockies also balked at even a qualifying offer for righty Jon Gray and haven’t to this point been strongly linked to their own free agent with a case for a nine-figure deal: Trevor Story.
That said, it’s easy to see how Bryant could fit into the Colorado lineup — either in the outfield or at third base. The Rox could play Ryan McMahon at second base, move Brendan Rodgers to his original position (shortstop) and clear an easy path for Bryant at the hot corner.
In the outfield, things are even more open. Neither center fielder Sam Hilliard nor infielder/outfielder Garrett Hampson has provided any offense over the past two seasons, and while Connor Joe hit well this past season, it was only a sample of 211 plate appearances for the 29-year-old journeyman. Charlie Blackmon remains entrenched in right field, but it’d be easy to write Bryant in as the primary left fielder and let the others vie for time in center and/or around the infield.
It remains to be seen whether the Rockies will actually engage in a serious pursuit of Bryant or are merely hoping to serve as an opportunistic landing spot in the event his market doesn’t crystallize as hoped. But from a payroll vantage point, Colorado can certainly afford to make a splash of that nature. The Rox currently have about $103.5MM in projected salary, per Roster Resource — a far cry from the franchise-record $136MM payroll.
The dollars on any offer to Bryant will be paramount for Colorado — perhaps more so than with other teams. While Bryant would surely be intrigued by playing half his games at Coors Field, the Rockies’ generally noncompetitive status for the past several seasons could make for a tough sell to high-end free agents — at least if they have comparable offers from contending clubs. The Rockies have made some moves early in the offseason, re-signing would-be free agents C.J. Cron and Jhoulys Chacin while extending both righty Antonio Senzatela and catcher Elias Diaz.
However, all of those pieces were already in place in a 2021 season that resulted in a lowly 74-87 finish. Meanwhile, the Rox have already lost Gray to the Rangers and could potentially lose their best position player, Story. A series of extensions for 2021 holdovers shows a willingness to spend some money — as does even passing interest in Bryant — but doesn’t make a particularly compelling sales pitch for prospective free agents hoping to sign with a win-now team. That’s not to say the Rockies don’t have any chance at signing Bryant (or another free agent of this caliber), but they’ll likely need to go the extra mile in terms of an additional year and/or a premium in terms of annual salary — similar to the Rangers’ approach this winter.