UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Bryant or Wilson? Choose your poison

Kris Bryant returned to the Rockies lineup last week (and went 0-for-4 to drop his season’s batting average to .137). 

The same day, Russell Wilson practiced with the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

Which one rates as the bigger bust in Denver?

Here are some facts to weigh in reaching your decision:

Bryant signed with the Rockies as a free agent in March 2022, landing a seven-year, $182 million contract with a full no-trade clause.

Wilson was acquired—same month, same year—in a blockbuster trade with Seattle that cost the Broncos three veteran players and five draft choices. He then signed a five-year, $245 million extension ($161 million guaranteed) before ever playing a down for Denver.

Initial reactions?

“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 off-seasons,” wrote Major League Baseball, calling it a “major splash” by the Rockies.

“The Broncos have found their answer at the quarterback position,” began the team’s press release announcing the trade.

Bryant had won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 and the NL Most Valuable Player Award the next year, when he led the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series championship in more than a hundred years. 

Wilson had led the Seahawks to two Super Bowls and should have won both but got only one of them, and was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection. 

But neither was coming off a marquee season. Bryant had been traded to the Giants as a stretch-run rental, and the Seahawks, concerned with how Wilson’s game was aging, had lost faith in him.

Forty-seven games into this year, Bryant had played in only 36.7% of Colorado’s games in two-and-a-half seasons.

When the Broncos cut him loose earlier this year, Wilson had started 30 of Denver’s 34 games in his two years in orange and blue.

Bryant’s composite stats through 136 of a possible 371 games were a .247 batting average with 16 home runs and 51 runs batted in. All pedestrian.

Wilson’s stats across two NFL seasons as the Broncos’ starting quarterback: 589 completions for 6,594 yards and 42 touchdowns, with 19 interceptions and a passer rating of 90.8—more than 10 points below the 101.8 he averaged in Seattle.

The Rockies won 127 and lost 197 the first two seasons after Bryant donned purple pinstripes (and all the other uniform combinations the modern Major League Baseball team must now wear through a season). They’ve lost more than two-thirds of their games so far this season, most of them without Bryant.

The Broncos’ record with Wilson under center was 11-19.

The Rockies are still on the hook for $108 million to Bryant after he collects his $28 million this season.

The Broncos currently will have to pay Wilson $39 million for the upcoming season to end their financial obligation to him.

Moving Bryant to a team with a shot at making the playoffs seems unlikely for several reasons: injury history and resulting limited availability, recent lackluster performance, remaining salary obligation. (The latter is unless the Rockies are willing to pay the bulk of the remainder in his contract, as they did when they shipped Nolan Arenado to St. Louis.)

Unable to find a trade partner, the Broncos had to release Wilson and eat almost all the money still guaranteed to him.

So again, I ask: Which one was the bigger bust?

Or maybe the question should be: Which one was the costlier mistake?

Costlier, by the way, means more than just the relative cost-effectiveness of the two huge cash outlays.

The Rockies are trying to move forward with prospects, young players who need to play in order to gain experience and learn what it takes to succeed in the Major Leagues.

When a team has so much money tied up in someone such as Bryant, who turned 32 in January and will be 36 in the last year of his contract, it’s almost impossible to turn him into bench depth.

In the Broncos’ case, they gave up EIGHT players/draft choices. Most of those players are contributing in Seattle.

And last month, Denver had to invest in another “answer at quarterback” who may or may not be the long-term answer.

So?

The answer probably depends on your level of passion for each team.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 16 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at denny
dressman@comcast.net.