keyboard_arrow_uptop

Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich recently appeared on MLB Network Radio, and said of recent big-money signee Ian Desmond:

Bryan Grosnick did a great job of putting the signing into context (as much was possible at the time), as the Rockies were toeing the line that Desmond would be playing first base. Reading the tea leaves related to the above quote suggests that Desmond won’t be limited to first base, but rather will be playing where he’s most functional―and, for now, that’s first base.

This is well and good, but it still raises the question: Just what in the hell is Colorado doing over there?

Ian Desmond is a pretty good player. It’s arguable as to whether he’s worth $70 million, in addition to the 11th overall pick (valued at around $3.3 million in 2016), but by and large he’s been good enough to rack up 12.4 WARP over the last four years. If you’re a $/WAR(P) type of reader, then you should be able to justify Desmond’s cost without hesitation.

The confusion sets in only when putting Desmond in context with the rest of the Rockies' roster. For starters, it’s going to be harder for him to be worth his contract at first base (though if you wanted to assign value for the presence of his versatility and less how it’s employed, I’d be amenable). He was once a tolerable shortstop, but that position is manned now by Trevor Story, who may or may not be the real deal, but whom the Rockies should continue to play in search of the answer. Desmond was passable as an outfielder in Texas, yet putting him in the cavernous confines of Coors could return a failing grade.

Besides, the Rockies are stacked at those positions: David Dahl just impressed (.289 TAv) in under half a season; Carlos Gonzalez just roped 67 extra base hits; and Charlie Blackmon just posted a five-win season; and that’s not all! We’ll double your order if you call in the next 10 minu– They also have Gerardo Parra, who they gave $27.5 million to LITERALLY A YEAR AGO, and Raimel Tapia, who reached the majors last year and shouldn’t be more than a year or so away from contributing.

“Okay, stop yelling, they’ll trade a guy” you tell me, reasonably, except for wait, what is this?

[Extremely George Costanza voice] AaaaaaahHAAAA!

Look, GM Speak is a real thing and Bridich saying that there’s no desire to trade these guys doesn’t mean they won’t get dealt. That’s the most logical end point for all of this, and acquiring a versatile guy like Desmond to fill in the gaps when that happens is a completely reasonable approach to take. It would a make a lot more sense, however, if the sequencing were different.

We saw the value versatility can bring in this year’s playoffs, and earlier this week Rob Mains noted its growing presence in recent years. The Cubs could play many of their guys in different spots, and the Dodgers roster benefited from its versatility throughout the regular season. Even Carlos Santana’s (limited) athleticism allowed him to be a viable option in left field, making room for his bat in a National League park.

But none of this makes the Rockies’ logic any easier to grasp. Colorado has entrenched gloves at second and third base, a player it needs to get a handle on at shortstop, and more outfielders than it (perhaps literally) knows what to do with. So yeah, a trade of an outfield bat for controllable pitching to pair with Jon Gray, Jeff Hoffman, Tyler Anderson, and others makes plenty of sense on paper, but it all made sense on paper before signing Desmond, too.

Maybe we’re approaching this wrong. Maybe Story’s volatility is the cause for the Desmond signing: If he fails at shortstop, Desmond returns to his native position (but one he hasn’t played in a year), and the Rockies offense (hopefully) doesn’t see a dropoff in anticipated production. That does leave first base as a gaping hole for offense, while it’s ostensibly easier to fill in with at least league-average production there than at short, yet a) it’s harder to do in-season and b) one might wonder why the Rockies didn’t just fill that spot for a cheaper value in the offseason in the first place.

The answer to all of this might be that Desmond’s flexibility allows him to backfill two crucial positions (shortstop and center field) at a moment’s notice. But taking a league-average bat that cratered in the second half and squeezing him in at the bottom of the defensive spectrum in the meantime isn’t exactly acquiring versatility. It’s mismanaging your assets, which might just be what Colorado has been doing all these years anyway.

Update: Bridich's complete interview on MLB Network Radio's Inside Pitch with Casey Stern & Brad Lidge​ fleshes out his plan with Desmond, including his value to a National Club in situations like double-switches, as well as Desmond's ability to be a one-man contingency plan at multiple positions. He did reiterate his desire to have Desmond play a lot of first base but also indicated how important his character is, which is something not addressed above, but is worth noting as part of the value he brings. This doesn't change the thrust of the article above, but is worth noting in the context of why the club had as much interest as they did. Listening to the full interview is very much worthwhile.

You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
davinhbrown
12/22
maybe Desmond is meant to be their super-utility type who plays almost daily in a host of positons? None of their other projected regulars play any other spots. [not counting moving Parra to 1b] depth is not a bad thing.
TheArtfulDodger
12/22
No one is implying depth is bad. $70M contracts aren't handed out for depth, though, and leaves the only path for justifying it through starting somewhere (or multiple somewheres) other than first. Which is why it doesn't make sense.
MikePemulis
12/22
It seems to me the Rockies are probably sitting on the biggest goldmine of trade chips right now. And with their OF (and now SS) depth they could get a haul of pitching and not miss a beat. Any takers on LeMehieu and CarGo for Urias? I know it's a steep price but it might be a trade that actually makes both teams better. Dodgers get a 2B under 50 yrs old plus the power corner OF they need. All of a sudden that lineup is one of the best in the NL. Between Kazmir, De Leon, McCarthy, Ryu and De Jong they should be able to fill out the back of their rotation (right...?). Flip Puig for a Marlins set up stud by August and this looks like a team that can give the Cubs a run. Rockies have a very solid and very young 1-4 starters locked in as well as clearing room for their young OF talent. Desmond slots in at 2B and Bob's your uncle. Maybe they meet in the playoffs in 2018.
TheArtfulDodger
12/22
Agreed that they have a surplus they can trade from (which is why their refusal to admit they might trade some of these guys is odd). I highly doubt an in-division deal of that magnitude happens, though Grandal/Kemp isn't that far in the rear view mirror.
tosaboy
12/22
Boy, I didn't think I was watching trendsetting stuff when the 2013 Brewers played Yuni B and Alex Gonzalez at 1B, but the secret appears to be out!
TheArtfulDodger
12/22
Now *that* is something I should have investigated for this. Good call!
Oleoay
12/22
Desmond made more sense in 2015 because Dahl and Story were unknowns and he could've ben picked up for cheaper. At least the contract's not backloaded with the fifth year as an option year.
Oleoay
12/22
In other words, I think Desmond could've had Parra's contract last year and it would've made a lot of sense. Instead, we have both... one a year too late, and the other we already want gone ;)