The Colorado Rockies’ signing of Kris Bryant was one of the biggest surprises among the flurry of player transactions in Major League Baseball following the end of the 99-day lockout in March.
The Rockies’ days of being major players in free agency appeared over. They had traded third baseman Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals prior to last season then did not make a serious attempt to re-sign shortstop Trevor Story when he became a free agent last winter.
Yet the Rockies dropped a bombshell by signing Bryant, who was the 2016 National League MVP when he led the Chicago Cubs to a World Series title, to a seven-year, $182-million contract.
Obviously, the Rockies believe he can be a difference maker for a franchise that hasn’t been to the postseason or had a winning record since 2018. Colorado is last in the National League West this season with a 20-23 record in a division where the other four teams are all over .500.
“Once he gets back to being Kris Bryant, he’s a presence in the middle of the order, a producer,” Rockies manager Bud Black said earlier this week. “On-base percentage is a big component of his game. There’s RBI potential, clutch hitting, he hits good pitching. Good at-bats, takes a walk, there are things that other guys notice. He rubs off on other players by how he takes his at-bats, how he plays his offensive game.”
The key, as Black said, is for the 30-year-old to get back to being Kris Bryant.
The signing of Bryant has paid few dividends so far while being limited to 17 games because of soreness in his back. He is hitting .270/.342/.333 with no home runs while playing exclusively in left field. He has a bWAR of minus-0.2.
Bryant went back on the injured list Wednesday after sitting all three games of a series against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.
He was originally placed on the IL on April 26 and reinstated last Saturday following two rehab game at Triple-A Albuquerque. Bryant played in two games against the New York Mets last weekend in Denver before again feeling pain.
That has Bryant wondering if he had tried to come back to the active roster too soon.
“I don’t know if I want to say it’s a flareup,” Bryant said. “Sometimes it’s hard to replicate a big league game, as much as you want to. When you’re rehabbing and you go down there, it’s more like you go through the motions, touch and feel. We weren’t where we wanted to be yet. And that’s OK. Sometimes it happens. It’s frustrating but better to speak up and say something.”
The Rockies paid all that money to Bryant with the hope he would anchor their revamped lineup following the departure of Story.
Colorado is ninth in the major leagues in scoring with 4.60 runs a game. However, the same bugaboo that has plagued the Rockies since they came into existence in 1993 continues as they are averaging 5.96 runs a game at the mile-high altitude of Coors Field but 2.72 on the road.
The Rockies believe Bryant can help level those splits to an extent, though in a very small sample size he is hitting .310 in 11 home games and .191 in six games on the road.
Of course, Bryant must be able to consistently get into the batter’s box before he can help remedy that longstanding home/road divide and help a franchise that has been stuck in neutral for four seasons.
“Hopefully through the next week to 10 days, he’ll be able to recover and feel great about getting back on the field again,” Black said. “These are hard to gauge. We’ll go day to day, and hopefully there’s marked improvement as we go. Kris will obviously be honest with us about how he feels, because he wants to be out there. He wants to play. He’s frustrated.”