- Kyle Freeland will get the ball on opening day for the Rockies, per Danielle Allentuck of The Gazette. It will be his second time as the Rockies’ opening day starter, having done so in 2019 as well. No Rockies starter has ever made three opening day starts for the club. The 28-year-old has put together 191 1/3 innings of 4.33 ERA/4.64 FIP over the past two seasons after a disastrous 2019 campaign.
3:32PM: Toronto will send Colorado $9,716,333, according to Rob Gillies of The Associated Press. Those payments are split up as $5,383,333 this season and $4,333,333 for the 2023 season.
1:57PM: Both clubs have officially announced the trade.
12:01PM: The Blue Jays and Rockies have agreed to a trade sending outfielder Randal Grichuk from Toronto to Colorado in exchange for outfielder Raimel Tapia, reports Mark Feinsand of MLB.com (via Twitter). The Jays will acquire infield prospect Adrian Pinto from the Rockies, and they’ll also send cash to Colorado to help cover Grichuk’s contract, Feinsand adds.
Grichuk, 30, has been viewed as a trade candidate for more than a year now as the Rockies have deepened their outfield mix and Grichuk’s performance has slipped. Signed to a five-year contract covering the 2019-23 seasons, Grichuk is still owed $9.33MM both this season and next, while Tapia and the Rox settled on a $3.95MM salary earlier this week. He’s arbitration-eligible and controlled through the 2023 season himself. The difference in salary between the two players clocks in at about $14.7MM.
Grichuk signed a five-year, $52MM contract back on April 2, 2019 — fresh off a 2018 season in which he’d batted .245/.301/.502 with what was then a career-high 25 home runs in 462 plate appearances. It was something of a head-scratching deal even at the time, as Grichuk’s perennial OBP struggles worked to offset his power and solid glovework in the outfield. That’s not to say he wasn’t a useful player, but the Jays already controlled Grichuk for two seasons and were effectively committing about $39-40MM on top of what he might’ve earned in arbitration to buy out his first three free-agent seasons.
Since putting pen to paper, Grichuk has posted a .242/.286/.448 batting line with 65 home runs in 1414 plate appearances. Among the 159 players with at least 1000 plate appearances in that three-year stretch, he ranks 158th in on-base percentage. To his credit, Grichuk curbed his strikeout rate from 26.4% in 2018 all the way down to 20.9% in 2021, but the gains in contact didn’t result in a better average and his walk rate dipped to a career-low 5.0%. It’s clear that there’s above-average pop in his bat, but defensive metrics have also soured on Grichuk’s work in center over the past couple seasons. Meanwhile, the Jays have signed George Springer and received breakouts from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez since signing Grichuk to that long-term pact.
There were reports even while the lockout was still ongoing that Tapia could be on the move when transactions resumed. Adding Kris Bryant as the new primary left fielder surely only hastened the Rockies’ efforts to move Tapia, who’d previously occupied that position. Grichuk can serve as a primary center fielder or right fielder in Colorado, and he’ll bring the Rox quite a bit more power than Tapia ever offered — albeit at the expense of some speed, on-base percentage and (arguably) defensive value.
In Tapia, the Jays will get a much-needed lefty bat to help balance out an entirely right-handed outfield mix (and a generally right-leaning lineup overall). The 28-year-old has served as Colorado’s primary left fielder since 2019, logging a .282/.327/.394 slash line that appears solid on the surface but falls well shy of average after weighting for home park and league (79 wRC+). Tapia has strong bat-to-ball skills but an extreme ground-ball approach that has resulted in just 16 home runs through 1186 plate appearances since 2019. He can swipe a base when needed (37 steals with a 77.1% success rate across the past three seasons. Like Grichuk, he’s not one to take many walks (6.3% since ’19), but he’s also a tough strikeout, evidenced by last year’s career-best 13.1% mark.
Tapia has received solid marks in left field from metrics like Defensive Runs Saved (4), Ultimate Zone Rating (6.0) and Outs Above Average (7) since emerging as a regular in the lineup at Coors Field. He’s at least capable of playing center in a pinch, having logged 189 innings there in his career (15 this past season, none in 2020, 83 in 2019). Those ratings, plus his left-handed bat, make him a better fit for Toronto’s roster than the right-handed-hitting Grichuk was.
While Tapia may not be the star the Rockies envisioned when he ranked among the sport’s 50 best prospects in the 2016-17 offseason, he’s emerged as a solid defensive outfielder with better-than-average speed and bat-to-ball skills. The Jays will likely hope to coax some more fly-balls out of Tapia, thus generating some extra power, but even if his batted-ball profile remains unchanged, he can be a useful fourth outfielder for a club that is deep in slugging right-handed options.
As for the 19-year-old Pinto, he’ll give the Jays something of a prospect wild card to plug into the low levels of their farm system. Baseball America rated Pinto 19th in a fairly thin Rockies system this spring, labeling the 5’6″ second baseman as a “breakout candidate” who could take substantial steps forward as he moves from the Dominican Summer League to a full-season affiliate.
Pinto hit .360/.486/.543 in 224 DSL plate appearances last season, walking at a massive 17% clip against just an 8% strikeout rate while leading the league with 41 stolen bases. BA’s scouting report lauds his “outstanding” hand-eye coordination, advanced pitch recognition skills and plus-plus speed. Players of his size and stature will always have their share of skeptics, but the Jays probably feel better about paying Grichuk to play elsewhere if they’re viewing part of the transaction as an effective purchase of Pinto from the Rockies.
Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports the specific financial breakdown (on Twitter). McMahon will make $5MM this year, $9MM in 2023, successive $12MM salaries in 2024-25 and $16MM in each of 2026 and 2027. Should he finish in the top five in MVP voting in any of the next three years, he’d earn the right to opt out of the contract after the 2025 campaign. If he finishes in the top five in MVP voting in 2025, he’d have an opt-out possibility after 2026.
Prior to hammering out this new six-year pact, McMahon was arbitration-eligible for the second time in his career and projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $5.5MM this coming season. The contract buys out his final two arbitration seasons and four would-be free-agent seasons. There’s no way of knowing exactly what McMahon would’ve earned in 2022-23 via arbitration, but using that projection and a rough estimate for the 2023 season, the contract is paying McMahon around $13-14MM per free-agent season. The terms fall roughly in line with some older deals we’ve seen for infielders with four-plus years of service time, including Brandon Belt (six years, $79MM) and Brandon Crawford (six years, $75MM — also negotiated by Wasserman).
McMahon, 27, had a the best season of his career both at the plate and with the glove in 2021. The former second-round pick batted .254/.331/.449 with 23 home runs, 32 doubles, a triple and six stolen bases (in eight attempts). Park-adjusted metrics like wRC+ (95) and OPS+ (98) both felt McMahon’s overall contributions with the bat were a bit south of league-average, but given the strength of his glovework, he still proved plenty valuable.
McMahon not only provided the Rockies with versatility, logging 368 innings at second base and 842 innings at third base — he did so while playing both positions at award-worthy levels. McMahon logged a whopping nine Defensive Runs Saved in just that tiny 368-inning sample at second base, and he racked up 13 DRS at the hot corner despite not playing a full slate of games there. Virtually any metric one might prefer agreed that McMahon was outstanding with the leather; he registered Ultimate Zone Ratings of 6.1 and 2.9 at third base and second base, respectively, while Statcast credited him for 10 outs above average at third base and another two at second.
It’s easy to imagine that with a full season of games at the hot corner in 2021 — Brendan Rodgers is expected to man second base, with free-agent signee Jose Iglesias taking the reins at shortstop and Kris Bryant playing primarily left field — McMahon might find himself taking home some hardware for that defensive excellence. He was a Gold Glove finalist in 2021 as it is, although the man standing in his way is a very familiar face: longtime teammate and five-time Platinum Glover Nolan Arenado, now with the Cardinals.
Like any long-term deal, the signing isn’t without its risks for the Rockies. While McMahon’s strong defense and solid walk rate (9.9% in 2021; 10% in his career) give him a high floor, the offensive gains made in 2021 will need to be sustained for the deal to pan out in Colorado’s favor.
McMahon buoyed his production by finally curtailing some pronounced strikeout issues that had dogged him throughout his MLB tenure. From 2017-20, McMahon whiffed in 30.8% of his plate appearances — including a career-worst 34.2% in 2020’s shortened slate of games. That rate fell to a much more manageable 24.7% in 2021. McMahon has always had power and a knack for making hard contact, so as long as he can keep the punchouts down, there’s good reason to believe he can continue to be a reasonably productive bat — at least against right-handed pitching. The lefty-swinging McMahon slashed just .229/.312/.353 against southpaws in 2021 (173 plate appearances) and is a career .239/.310/.433) hitter against same-handed opponents.
The Rockies underwent a front office shuffle early in the 2021 season, dismissing longtime general manager Jeff Bridich and elevating scouting director Bill Schmidt to the GM post on an interim basis. Rather than perform a search and look for external candidates, owner Dick Monfort instead dropped the “interim” tag from Schmidt’s title before the season even ended.
Schmidt, who’s been running the Rockies’ scouting department since 1999, quickly went to work ensuring that several members of the Colorado roster would remain in place. Trevor Story had seemingly made up his mind to move on before the year ended, and the Rox were unable to sway righty Jon Gray in extension talks. However, they’ve also succeeded in brokering long-term deals for Antonio Senzatela (five years, $55MM), catcher Elias Diaz (three years, $14MM) and now McMahon — in addition to re-signing first baseman C.J. Cron before he even reached the market (two years, $14.5MM). That group now joins the team’s marquee addition, Bryant, among a restructured Rockies core.
A longtime member of the Red Sox farm system, Aybar spent his first four pro seasons as an outfielder before converting to pitching in 2018. He has a 5.06 ERA over 131 2/3 innings of minor league mound work, including a 6.22 ERA over 46 1/3 innings with the Rockies’ Double-A affiliate in 2021. As one might expect for a player relatively new to pitching, control has been a particular issue for Aybar, as he has a 14.62% walk rate during his 131 2/3 IP.
Aybar does bring plenty of velocity, however, and the Yankees will now get a closer look at the 24-year-old to see if his stuff can be harnessed. Double-A Somerset seems the likeliest destination for Aybar to begin the season, though the southpaw could potentially be headed back to DFA limbo if the Yankees make another roster move and need to make room on their own 40-man.
The Rockies made one last call to Story before inking Kris Bryant, per The Athletic’s Nick Groke, but that door appears to be closed. From the same division, the Giants are the other team that have been mentioned as a potential suitor for Story. The Giants have Brandon Crawford at short, Evan Longoria at third, and Tommy La Stella at second, a trio that would certainly make room for Story, should that be his ultimate landing spot.
The Rockies have designated left-hander Yoan Aybar for assignment, per a team announcement. His spot on the 40-man roster will go to outfielder/third baseman Kris Bryant, whose seven-year contract with the Rox has now been officially announced.
Aybar got his start in the Red Sox system as an outfielder but didn’t hit much. That led Boston to try him out on the mound, beginning in 2018. After a decent showing that year, he had an impressive season in 2019. Over 56 2/3 innings at A-ball and High-A, his 4.61 ERA wasn’t great, nor was his 16.2% walk rate. However, he racked up strikeouts at a 27.7% rate, showing enough promise for the Red Sox to add him to their 40-man roster after that season.
After the minor leagues were canceled due to the pandemic in 2020, he was sent to Colorado in a minor trade. In Double-A last year, he still got decent strikeout numbers at a 23.7% rate, but the walks were still high at 14.7% and his ERA shot up to 6.22.
Despite that rough season, there are reasons he could draw interest from other clubs. He’s still just 24 and has one option year remaining. Given that he’s only really been committed to pitching for four years, with one of those being wiped out by the pandemic, it’s possible a team could believe that there’s still a quality pitcher there, after smoothing out some of the rough edges.
The Rockies have made the free agent splash they’d been seeking, announcing on Friday that they’ve signed Kris Bryant to a seven-year contract. Bryant, a client of the Boras Corporation, is guaranteed $182MM on the contract and receives a full no-trade clause as part of the deal. He’ll reportedly receive a $7MM signing bonus and will be paid a $17MM salary this coming season. He’ll then earn $27MM in 2023-24 before earning at a $26MM annual rate from 2025-28.
Bryant will step in as the new face of a franchise that has traded away Nolan Arenado and seen Trevor Story hit free agency over the past two offseasons. It’s the largest free agent investment in franchise history, one that’ll tie the four-time All-Star to Denver through his age-36 season.
Coming into the offseason, few would’ve expected Colorado to make this kind of major splash. The Rockies have finished fourth in the NL West in each of the past three seasons, and they’re coming off a 74-87 showing. Some outsiders have called for Colorado to tear things down and commit to a full rebuild, but ownership and the front office have maintained they don’t view the team as being all that far from contention.
From the outset of the offseason, Colorado has reportedly been targeting a major offensive upgrade to their outfield mix. The Rockies reportedly checked in with players like Kyle Schwarber and Michael Conforto as well, but it became clear in recent days that Bryant was their desired target. Whether they’d spend at the level it took to land him was in question, but owner Dick Monfort has signed off on a seven-year deal with a $26MM average annual value to bring in one of the game’s most recognizable stars.
Bryant, of course, earned that acclaim during his days with the Cubs. The second overall pick in the 2013 draft, he immediately entered pro ball as one of the top prospects in the game. Bryant lived up to those expectations, tearing through the minors for a season and a half. The Cubs delayed his big league debut a few weeks into the 2015 season to push back his path to free agency, but he debuted in mid-April and hit the ground running as a star.
The University of San Diego product hit .275/.369/.488 with 26 homers in his first season, claiming the National League’s Rookie of the Year award. Bryant did strike out at a slightly alarming clip that year, but he significantly improved his contact rate during his second season. The star third baseman hit .292/.385/.554 in 2016, winning the NL MVP and helping the Cubs to a 103-win season and their first World Series title in 108 years.
Chicago never became the multi-year dynasty some fans had expected, but Bryant continued to excel on generally good teams for the next few seasons. He combined for a .284/.390/.511 mark between 2017-19, ranking 17th among position players in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement over that stretch. Bryant seemed on the path towards a free agent megadeal, but his production plummeted in 2020. During that year’s shortened season, he posted a lowly .206/.293/.351 line over 34 games. What kind of production the Cubs could expect from him — as well as how his free agent market might ultimately shake out — seemed very much up in the air going into 2021.
Bryant didn’t regain his MVP form last season, but he did bounce back from his 2020 downturn. He hit .267/.358/.503 over 374 plate appearances on the North Side. That wasn’t enough to keep the Cubs from a June-July skid that took them out of postseason contention, and it became clear they were likely to move the impending free agent by July 30. Minutes before the trade deadline, the Cubs shipped Bryant to the Giants for prospects Alexander Canario and Caleb Kilian. That deal made Bryant ineligible to be tagged with a qualifying offer, so the Rockies won’t forfeit a draft pick to add him.
His production dipped a little bit in the Bay Area. Bryant hit .262/.344/.444 in 212 plate appearances in black and orange. Nevertheless, he hit the market coming off a productive .265/.353/.481 season line. Heading into his age-30 campaign with an MVP pedigree, he looked to have reemerged as one of the top prizes of this year’s class. MLBTR ranked Bryant as the winter’s #4 free agent in November, projecting him to receive a six-year, $160MM guarantee.
Bryant’s actual deal comes in above that mark, as he lands a seventh year and $22MM more, as well as the no-trade protection. Only Corey Seager, who got $325MM over ten years, has received a larger guarantee among free agents this winter. (Carlos Correa and Freddie Freeman still have an opportunity to surpass that mark). The loftiness of the investment perhaps suggests the Rox had to pay a premium to convince Bryant to join a club that’s not a clear immediate contender. For all of ownership’s and the front office’s confidence, Colorado still looks to have a weaker roster than those of the Dodgers, Giants and Padres in a loaded NL West.
There’s also the fact that Colorado’s last two position player superstars haven’t departed the organization on the best of terms. Arenado and the Rockies had a messy fall-out before they traded him to the Cardinals, with Arenado famously saying he’d felt “disrespected” by then-general manager Jeff Bridich. Story, meanwhile, said he was perplexed by the organization’s decision not to trade him at last summer’s deadline; there’s been no indication he’s considered re-signing since hitting the open market.
Bryant and the Rockies no doubt hope their long-term relationship will end more happily. It’s the biggest move yet made by first-year GM Bill Schmidt, who took over baseball operations when Bridich stepped down last April. There’s obviously plenty of risk in any kind of investment of this magnitude, and Bryant’s profile isn’t without some areas for concern.
As mentioned, his 2021 campaign — while a marked improvement over his 2020 numbers — wasn’t a return to peak level. Bryant’s 123 wRC+ was a personal low in any of his six career non-truncated seasons. By definition, that’s still strong work (23 percentage points above the league average offensive output) but it’s not the kind of production that’ll garner MVP support. And Bryant has never had the eye-popping batted ball metrics one might expect from a player who has had so much success.
His 88.2 MPH average exit velocity last season was right in line with the league mark. His average exit speed on balls hit in the air (91.4 MPH) was only a hair above average (90.9 MPH). Bryant fares better in metrics like hard contact rate (40% vs. 35.4% league mark) and barrel percentage (10.3% against a 6.6% league average), but both marks are more good than elite. He’s always drawn a fair share of walks and hasn’t been especially prone to strikeouts since his rookie year, but his peripherals have more closely aligned with a player who ranked 44th in wRC+ last season (out of 135 hitters with 500+ plate appearances) than with a superstar performer.
There’s no question manager Bud Black will pencil Bryant into the lineup on an everyday basis, although precisely where on the diamond remains to be seen. He has primarily played third base in his career, but Colorado has a Gold Glove caliber defender at the hot corner in Ryan McMahon. It seems likely that Bryant will spend the bulk of his time in the corner outfield, at least next season. He has generally rated as a competent defender in the corners, although he didn’t seem comfortable manning Oracle Park’s tricky right field during his couple months in San Francisco. Bryant has a little bit of experience in center field, but he’s never been a regular option there and would be miscast at that position in spacious Coors Field.
However the Rox plan to use him, they’ve made a hefty financial commitment to add some star power to the lineup. The specific financial breakdown has yet to be reported, but Jason Martinez of Roster Resource estimates that adding a $26MM salary to the books in 2022 would bring the Rox’s player commitments to around $141MM. That’s only a touch below 2019’s franchise-record $145MM Opening Day mark, leaving little room for further additions unless Monfort signs off on an uncharacteristic level of spending.
There’s enough uncertainty on the roster the Rockies would be ill-advised to rest on their laurels now. They’re clearly aiming to return to legitimate postseason contention, and areas like center field and the bullpen remain question marks. Colorado will have to continue to push forward — by expanding payroll beyond Monfort’s previous comfort level and/or dealing from a thin farm system for immediate help — if they’re to seriously make a run at hanging tough in the division. At the very least, though, the Rockies have signaled definitively as ever they view themselves as capable of taking on that kind of challenge — pulling off an agreement few would’ve seen coming sixth months ago.
Jon Heyman of the MLB Network first reported Bryant was signing with the Rockies and the financial terms. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported the no-trade protection. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale first reported the contract breakdown (Twitter link).
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.
The Rockies are known to be looking for outfield help, and Jorge Soler and Corey Dickerson are among the names under consideration, according to MLB.com’s Thomas Harding (Twitter links). Nearer the top of the free market, Harding notes that Colorado continues to be interested in Kris Bryant, though Joc Pederson is apparently behind “other targets” on the team’s list. Harding reported yesterday that the Rox were looking at Pederson.
Multiple teams were known to be looking into Soler, who is fresh off winning World Series MVP honors after a remarkable turn-around. Soler was hitting only .192/.288/.370 over 360 plate appearances with the Royals when he was traded to the Braves at the deadline, and Soler was then sparked to a .269/.358/.524 slash in his 242 PA for Atlanta during the regular season. Though a positive COVID-19 test kept him from most of the NLCS, Soler made up for it by posting a 1.191 OPS over 23 PA in the World Series, helping lead the Braves to the championship.
The idea of Soler’s power bat in Coors Field is surely tempting to a Rockies team that has been surprisingly lacking in consistent hitting over the last few years. As last season and even his 2020 campaign with the Royals would indicate, Soler is not exactly the picture of consistency himself, yet he isn’t far removed from a 2019 season that saw him lead the AL with 48 home runs.
Adding Soler to the outfield may also not be Colorado’s chief goal, as Soler has never been a defensive plus in right field. Theoretically, the Rockies could install Soler mostly at the new DH spot and only sparingly use him on the grass, while then acquiring another player as more of a regular outfield option.
Dickerson could potentially be a fit for such a role, even if the Rockies already have Charlie Blackmon and Raimel Tapia as left-handed hitting outfielders. While Dickerson is no longer the standout defender he was during his Gold Glove-winning 2018 season, he can at least play some center field and right field in a pinch, as well as his customary left field role.
The Rockies are very familiar with Dickerson, as he was an eighth-round pick for the team in 2010 and he spent his first three big league seasons in the purple pinstripes. Colorado dealt Dickerson to the Rays in January 2016 as part of what became a key trade in recent Rockies history, as German Marquez came to Denver as part of the return.
After posting a 118 wRC+/121 OPS+ and hitting .288/.329/.508 over 2701 PA from 2014-19, Dickerson’s production has been closer to league average over the last two seasons, though his bat did perk up after being dealt to the Blue Jays in June. Between a broken foot and some off-the-field personal tragedy, “the last two years really, really weighed on me,” Dickerson recently told Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, though his brief stint with the Jays “lit my fire again.” Dickerson has also been employing a new training approach in the offseason to improve both his fielding and his hitting.
- Thomas Harding of MLB.com tweets that the Rockies have also shown some interest in Joc Pederson. Colorado has been linked to bigger-ticket outfielders in their search for offensive help, although it seems Pederson’s at least on the radar as a possible fallback option. The past two seasons have been fairly disappointing for Pederson, who looked like a middle-of-the-order caliber bat (at least against right-handed pitching) during his early days with the Dodgers. Since the start of 2020, he’s a .227/.304/.416 hitter over 619 plate appearances.
March 15: Colome is guaranteed $4.1MM on the contract, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.
March 12: The Rockies have agreed to a one-year deal with Alex Colome, ESPN’s Enrique Rojas reports (via Twitter). The contract will become official when Colome passes a physical. Colome is represented by the Wasserman Agency.
Daniel Bard and Carlos Estevez combined for 31 of the Rockies’ 33 total saves in 2021, though Colome’s more established track record as a closer could make him the top ninth-inning choice for the Rox next year. Bard and Estevez could be moved back into set-up roles, or manager Bud Black could simply take a committee approach with his closer’s role.
Colome is coming off something of an unusual season that saw him post a respectable 4.15 ERA over 65 innings with the Twins, despite a swath of unfavorable Statcast metrics. While Colome’s bottom-line numbers have generally been much better than his advanced metrics over his career, Minnesota still declined its end of a $5.5MM mutual option on Colome’s services for 2022, instead buying the reliever out for $1.25MM.
Apart from the 22 1/3-inning outlier of the shortened 2020 season, Colome has always posted below-average hard-hit ball rates over his career. While his whiff rate has remained above average, Colome’s strikeout rates have been mediocre since the start of the 2019 season, while his walk rates have hovered around the league average mark. A .211 BABIP was of great help to Colome during his 2019-20 seasons with the White Sox, as his 2.27 ERA was far below his 4.52 xFIP and 4.42 SIERA over those two years.
Generating grounders has become an increasingly large part of Colome’s gameplan as his strikeouts have been on the wane, and the 53.4% grounder rate he has posted over the last two seasons will be of great help at Coors Field. After spending all nine of his MLB seasons in the American League, the 33-year-old has only a single appearance at Coors Field over his 393 career games.