Seven days ago, the Colorado Rockies fired Scott Van Lenten, who was hired months before as the director of research and development. Essentially, he was running the analytics faction of the front office, which only has five employees apparently. Yesterday, the Rockies signed former Cub Kris Bryant to a 7 year, $182 million deal. It barely feels like an assumption to think those two developments are related. I’m going to guess Dick Monfort really, really, really wanted Bryant and when Monfort wants someone, they will sign that player.
You may be asking “Why are you talking about this?” This is a Cardinals site. Well, you see, a year ago, the Rockies traded a third baseman to the Cardinals. They not only traded him to the Cardinals, they gave us money to take him. And a year later, they sign a deal that makes the former trade.... nonsensical. This is entirely too fascinating. Monfort is like a little kid who must have his toys, logic be damned.
First, let’s compare the contracts. Before the 2019 season, 28-year-old Nolan Arenado signed an 8 year, $260 million contract. It had an opt-out after the 2021 season, which Arenado obviously leveraged to get traded to the Cardinals. In his first two seasons, Arenado got paid $61 million. Arenado made it clear he would opt-out if he didn’t get traded.
They should have called his bluff quite honestly. Maybe it wasn’t a bluff. But with the signing of Bryant, it’s clear the money wasn’t why he was traded. I kind of assumed money was the reason, but instead of a potential 5 year, $164 million Arenado on the books, they are on the hook for 7 years, $182 million of Kris Bryant. Plus, according to this Denver Post article, Colorado is paying $36.57 million of Arenado’s contract, plus the $14 million they already paid in 2021. 7 years, $233 million and Bryant or 5 years, $164 million for Arenado?
And you may be saying Arenado was definitely opting out. And you might be right. I think he’d be foolish to personally - he wasn’t getting a better deal than the one he has now. But it is entirely possible Arenado is one of the few players who cares more about winning than money. It’s one of those things that easy to say and easy to believe until you’re actually faced with the literal option. But then... they could still sign Kris Bryant and not be on the hook for the $36 million they are!
The Rockies obviously got players back, but both Austin Gomber and Elehuris Montero are the kind of players who seem like they’ll be valuable insofar as they’re cheap. When you are paying $51 million for them, kind of ruins the point of them. Gomber was worth 1.3 fWAR in Year One, has one more year of league minimum and then gets arbitration money. Montero has his entire six years ahead of him, but also the Rockies are intent on blocking every single prospect they have so good luck to him cracking that starting lineup. Bryant is currently projected as the LF, but the Rockies #1 and #3 prospects are both outfielders, one of which is in AAA. And they’ll sign another stupid veteran contract in the meantime, because that’s what they do.
So that Kris Bryant deal: let’s talk about that. It’s not only that the juxtaposition of trading away Arenado so they don’t have to pay him and then subsequently ultimately paying a similar price for an inferior player is bizarre. The actual deal itself is ill-advised. Dan Symborzki, who would be Rockies fans’ #1 enemy if it wasn’t for the fact that they agreed with him, said that ZiPS liked the Eric Hosmer deal better. The Eric Hosmer deal better, I italicize to emphasis.
Which is not an argument that it will work better by the way. It just means that at the time of the signing, Hosmer was more liked by ZiPS. We only have three of the seven years of the deal available to us until Jay Jaffe writes his piece on the trade and reveals more. Bryant is projected for 3.1, 2.8, and 2.3 WAR in those three years. I’ll use a similar downward trajectory for the next four years: 2 WAR, 1.5 WAR, 1.2 WAR, 0.7 WAR. Not sure if that’s accurate, we’ll find out I suppose, but I doubt it’s too badly off. That’s 13.6 WAR for 7 years, or what should be a 7 year, $122 million contract. I won’t make you scroll up: he’s getting $182 million.
Let’s compare and contrast. Arenado had a 4 WAR season last year, and is projected for 4.1 WAR, 3.3 WAR, and 2.7 WAR. I’m going to possibly be unfair and stick to the standard 0.5 decline at this point, just because it feels like Arenado has farther to fall and that’s why he falls 0.8 and 0.6 instead of Bryant’s 0.3 and 0.5. Once he’s at 2.7 WAR, I suspect his 2025 won’t actually be 1.9 WAR. I mean Dan has this data right now, but obviously we don’t. We are NOT counting the last year of his restructured St. Louis deal at $15 million because it wouldn’t have been done without the trade. We are comparing Arenado not being traded and opting into his deal with the actions the Rockies have taken instead.
So in 2021, they would have received 4 WAR from Arenado while paying him $35 million. Instead they received 1.3 WAR from Austin Gomber while paying $14 million of Arenado’s salary. That is an expensive 1.3 WAR. And from 2022 to the end of his deal - which does not include the $15 million added year because that year would not be added if he were never traded - Arenado is projected for 14 WAR while being paid $164 million. 14 WAR is worth $126 million, but keep in mind that Arenado is three years deep into an 8-year contract. Of course it’s in the negative. They already received 11.1 fWAR for $74 million (with 2020 being only $13 million, the 60 game pro-rated version of his original contract) with $99 million in production in this hypothetical. Still technically projected as a negative contract overall but he had a really bad 2020 so that still makes sense.
So your options are daring Arenado to test free agency with a contract worth a surplus of $-38 million or spending $51 million to get rid of that contract, then signing Bryant to a contract worth a surplus of $-60 million. So in pure value terms here, the Rockies could have escaped Arenado’s contract with a surplus and... paid for Bryant I guess. If Arenado opts into the rest of his deal with the Rockies, they have cost themselves $73 million in value (Bryant’s surplus + money going to Cardinals minus Arenado’s alternate history surplus). If Arenado woud have opted out, they have cost themselves $136 million in surplus value.
Granted, maybe the Bryant deal looks better than $-60 million, though with Dan’s comments saying it’s worse than Hosmer’s, I can’t imagine it’s a whole lot better than that! Instead the Cardinals traded for him and are paying $163 million for 7 years - and yes the Cardinals are paying Arenado less over the next 7 years than the Rockies are paying Bryant with the Rockies’ contributions added - and Arenado, with his 4 WAR 2021 factored in, is projected to be worth $162 million. That $51 million number appears to have been a wildly accurate number to get Arenado to a market value contract. I’m aware we threw in players but still.
So, the Rockies remain the most poorly run franchise in baseball and maybe in sports, and the Cards were in the right place at the right time to reap the benefits. But woof, sorry Rockies fans, you really don’t deserve this.