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Colorado Rockies general manager Bill Schmidt ...
Andy Cross, The Denver Post
Colorado Rockies general manager Bill Schmidt at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick March 20, 2022.
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It was a free-agent signing that launched a million eye rolls.

The Rockies, a team on a three-year streak of losing seasons, a team FanGraphs gives a 0.04% chance of making the playoffs in 2022, went all in. Owner Dick Monfort and first-year general manager Bill Schmidt convinced all-star outfielder Kris Bryant to sign a seven-year, $182 million contract.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, the industry shock over the Rockies’ deal with Kris Bryant has been turned up to 11,” opined ESPN senior baseball writer Buster Olney.

First-year general manager Bill Schmidt’s plan is indeed bold. While the Rockies obviously must rebuild, they also have committed huge resources to core players while clinging to the belief that they can be competitive now.

Tanking is not part of Schmidt’s blueprint.

He bristles when critics say the Rockies should have scrapped everything and built from the ground floor after they traded star third baseman Nolan Arenado to St. Louis last February, and subsequently lost star shortstop Trevor Story and homegrown starting pitcher Jon Gray to free agency after last season.

“I’ve heard that (criticism), but is that fair to the other guys here?” he said. “Is it fair to Charlie (Blackmon)? Is it fair to (German) Marquez, guys who’ve committed to us? Do you just go, ‘Hey, forget about you guys?’ No.

“Is it fair to the fans that come to the ballpark? No. What kind of attitude is it that says, ‘Oh, we’re not going to try to win?’ So that’s the way I look at it. We are trying to win games. Dick feels the same way.”

Schmidt said that Monfort has been on board every step of the way.

“Dick will do what needs to be done,” said Schmidt, who began his career in Colorado in October 1999 as the club’s scouting director. “Dick has shown that in the past with his financial commitments. He’s not afraid to do that. He sees the vision of what we are trying to do.”

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Bryant, 30, is well aware of the head-scratching reaction to his long-term commitment to Colorado. He’s not fazed.

“Did I take a hard look at the direction of the team? Of course, I did,” Bryant said. “I like the fact that there are multiple young players here, guys who have a chance to be great and will be here long-term.

Colorado Rockies outfielder Kris Bryant (23) ...
Andy Cross, The Denver Post
Colorado Rockies outfielder Kris Bryant (23) grounds out to shortstop in the 4th inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick March 24, 2022.

“And I like the fact the Rockies are willing to spend that money. You could easily see where a team could, like a lot of teams do in a tough division like the NL West, just roll over year after year, really not try to do much. There are franchises like that and we know who they are. But it says a lot to me that Dick and the front office are willing to do this. To me, that’s admirable.”

The Rockies’ payroll is $128.7 million, ranking 16th in the majors (per Spotrac.com). That’s down significantly from the team’s record 2019 payroll of $157.2 million (11th), but an increase from 2021 ($116.4 million, 18th).

Schmidt, who replaced embattled GM Jeff Bridich last April, has ridden the Rockies’ occasional highs and frequent lows. He believes he has the experience to put a plan in place to make the Rockies competitive now, and down the road.

“I said it last year. I thought we had a lot of good young players, we just didn’t have enough of them,” he said. “I thought we needed to bridge the gap. I wanted to add some pieces to what I think is coming soon.”

The Rockies’ philosophy contrasts sharply with teams such as the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds sent two-time all-star pitcher Sonny Gray to Minnesota for a teenage prospect. They traded outfielder Jesse Winker and infielder Eugenio Suárez — who combined to hit 55 home runs in 2021 — to Seattle.

The Reds threw up their hands even though they were close to contending. They finished with a winning record during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and went 83-79 last season. If this season’s 12-team playoff format had been in existence in 2021, the Reds would have made the postseason.

Schmidt, by contrast, has been extremely proactive, especially by Rockies standards. In addition to landing Bryant, Colorado signed third baseman Ryan McMahon to a six-year, $70 million contract extension, and gave right-hander Antonio Senzatela a five-year, $50.5 million extension. Those are long-term investments.

Andy Cross, The Denver Post
Colorado Rockies infielder Ryan McMahon (24) at the ready during the game against the Chicago White Sox at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick March 20, 2022.

Schmidt’s win-now and in the future model includes signing slugging first baseman C.J. Cron (two years, $14.25 million), catcher Elias Diaz (three years, $14.5 million), and likely closer Alex Colme (one year, $4.1 million). He also traded outfielder Raimel Tapia, a fan favorite, to Toronto for power-hitting outfielder Randal Grichuk.

McMahon, a Gold Glove finalist last season whom the Rockies believe has the potential to hit 30-plus home runs, could have become a free agent after the 2023 season. And while financial security is important to McMahon, he said his belief in the organization was a huge factor in his decision to commit the prime of his career to Colorado.

“The talent here was one of the things I looked hard at,” he said. “Kris will be here for the next seven years. (No. 1 starter German) Marquez and ‘Senza’ are going to be here. We have some really good young players, like B-Rod (Brendan Rodgers) that we can build around.”

Bryant believes so, too.

He was selected by the Cubs with the second overall pick of the 2013 draft. Chicago went 66-96 that season, finishing last in the National League Central. Two years later, the Cubs went 97-65, made the playoffs as a wild-card team and advanced to the NL championship series before being swept by the Mets. Bryant, the NL rookie of the year, was on his way to becoming Chicago’s favorite son.

In 2016, Bryant won the NL MVP and the Cubs won their first World Series since 1908.

Now, Bryant wants to be part of a similar revival in Colorado.

“It’s great to come into camp with an attitude of, ‘Why not us?’,” he said. “That’s why Colorado was so appealing to me. In Chicago, I got a taste of being a huge part of a team that won big for the first time in a long time. To be able to do that twice in a career? Not many people will ever do that.”

And yet, for all of the Rockies’ optimism and spending, there are potholes in the road back to contention.

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To win under Schmidt’s plan, the farm system needs to turn out starting players to fill in the gaps. By most estimates, however, it continues to rank near the bottom.

According to MLB Pipeline, the Rockies currently have the 24th-rated system in baseball.

The good news? Thirteen of Colorado’s top-30 prospects were selected in the 2019, ’20 and ’21 drafts. The cast includes outfielders Zac Veen and Benny Montgomery, catcher Drew Romo and first baseman Michael Toglia.

Andy Cross, The Denver Post
Colorado Rockies first baseman Michael Toglia (64) heads to fist base on a line out to second against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third inning at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick March 24, 2022.

Plus, 20-year-old Ezequiel Tovar has a chance to be Colorado’s next all-star shortstop, following in the footsteps of Troy Tulowitzki and Story. Signed as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic, Tovar was outstanding in spring training and is on the fast track to the majors, perhaps late this season.

“I feel good about our young players; we have talent coming up,” Schmidt said, pointing to Tovar, as well as slugging corner infielder Elehuris Montero, who was part of the Arenado trade and will likely make his big-league debut in 2022.

Schmidt is especially bullish on the Latin-American players signed under the direction of Rolando Fernandez, the Rockies’ longtime vice president of international scouting and development.

“Rolando has done a fabulous job,” Schmidt said. “This is the best group of Latin-American players that we’ve had in the history of this organization. We have some good athletes with great tools and our fans will get to see that over the next few years.”