Bryant acquisition affirms Rockies' faith in themselves

March 18th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Full disclosure: Rockies pitcher Germán Márquez unabashedly said the other day, “We’re going to the playoffs.” A somewhat doubting Thomas didn’t quote him.

But Thursday, the day after news broke of Kris Bryant’s reported $182 million, seven-year move to the Rockies, Márquez smiled but made it clear he wasn’t ashamed and should not be muted. Narrative outside the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick clubhouse ranged from head-scratching to outright criticism, so there had better be confidence inside.

“Now I feel more that way, that we’re going to the playoffs,” Márquez said. “We’re a better team. We have more confidence.”

Márquez’s confidence mirrored that of teammates, especially those who experienced postseason berths in 2017 and 2018. Bryant, a four-time All-Star who fits into the middle of the lineup and in left field, is the talisman the club waited for throughout the winter -- the guy to turn a team ready to win into a winner.

But the deal is panned in many circles, and not just because the Rockies are coming off three straight fourth-place finishes in the National League West. Bryant’s deal comes two years after the Rockies traded star third baseman Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals and contributed $51 million in cash considerations, months after starting pitcher Jon Gray signed with the Rangers and days after popular shortstop Trevor Story spurned the team’s courting to stay on the free-agent market.

Is this a team on a winning trajectory -- one that Bryant can help pull upward? Or is Bryant merely the next star to learn that money in the bank account doesn’t bring consistent winning or happiness in Colorado?

The latter was a narrative that Márquez, who spent the offseason in Denver for the first time, says he didn’t hear personally but saw so much on social media that he disengaged.

Manager Bud Black suggested the claim the Rockies jettisoned good players to add one expensive one to a flawed scene ignores a full story he chose to keep “behind the scenes.” And Black, adding that Bryant “wanted to be here,” trusts the fans to stay with the team.

“Just like [the Broncos] got Russell Wilson – super excited,” Black said. “Fans like good players, and we just got one.”

The addition of Bryant doesn’t push the Rockies into being anywhere near the people’s choice in the NL West. Partly a function of the shadow cast over them by the tradition and money of the Dodgers and Giants, partly because the Padres’ flashes of cash in recent years, the Rockies are never a favorite.

And, they’re hard to predict. In 2017 and 2018, their last two postseason years, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projected win totals were 74 and 78, respectively. In 2019, PECOTA forecast 85 wins, and the Rockies crashed to 71-91.

For those keeping score, PECOTA, released Tuesday (the day before Bryant’s signing), had the Rockies at 67 wins.

Outfielder Charlie Blackmon has little interest in disputing any projection. But he will, emphatically, if asked.

Last year’s Rockies offered two stories. A rotten beginning, which included a road futility that was on pace for the history books, made a lasting impression. But the team finished 43-40, with some solid rotation work. By the end, there were enough good deeds from third baseman Ryan McMahon, second baseman Brendan Rodgers and catcher Elias Díaz to have the Rockies believing an accomplished star could take pressure off them as they take the next step.

“If you add a really good player, commit to him like that, that’s not something you do on a loser, right?” said Blackmon, who rebounded from his own poor start and hopes to build on his encouraging finish. “Like, why would you do that? It looks like more or less a move that you would make to get you over the hump, to get you into being competitive.”

The ’17 and ’18 postseasons marked the first time in Rockies history they had qualified in consecutive years. The succeeding three years, though, wiped away any clinging to that success, even though many of the current starting pitchers helped make that happen.

“Those two years are in the rearview mirror of the fan base, and we also need to see it in the rearview mirror,” lefty starting pitcher Kyle Freeland said. “Obviously, there was a lot of stuff that went on in between -- trades, free agency, COVID.”

Bryant, to Freeland and new teammates, represents an exit from difficult years.

“He was on the radar of the front office,” Freeland said. “And he was on my radar as a guy that can help this lineup overall because of the caliber player he is and the winner he has proven to be.”