The Colorado Rockies made waves this offseason when they decided to make shortstop-turned-outfielder Ian Desmond their new first baseman. Ian Desmond had never played a professional inning at first base prior to this Spring Training with the Rockies, where he broke his hand. Let’s set the hand injury aside for now and analyze the Desmond signing itself.
Many baseball analysts are close to scratching a hole through their heads due to this signing. Most entered the offseason picturing the Rockies signing a couple relievers and a power-hitting first baseman. Then, at the Winter Meetings, the Rockies surprised everyone by signing veteran Ian Desmond.
At the time, many (including myself), thought this move was a setup move. The Rockies would surely trade an outfielder such as Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez, put Desmond in the outfield, and then sign the likes of Mark Trumbo or Chris Carter. We waited for this to play out. Trade talks for Blackmon were rumored to break down due to the Rockies’ asking price. We waited some more. Trumbo and Carter were signed. Desmond was introduced as the Rockies’ new first baseman. Mark Reynolds was resigned to backup Desmond. Despite all this, we were still left waiting. I think it took the sight of Desmond in purple, on the right side of the infield, and wielding a first-baseman’s glove before it started to sink in: the Rockies are serious!
I have heard it argued that the Rockies are making a big mistake with Desmond. Desmond just learned how to play the outfield, and now the Rockies are putting him at another position he has never played before. Further, as a former shortstop, Ian Desmond is athletic. First base isn’t a position that is known for its raw athleticism. The Rockies are surely wasting Desmond’s athleticism, right?
There are two key parts to this signing. First of all, realize that the Rockies mean it when they say “versatility is the future.” Right now, the Colorado Rockies want guys who can swing the bat and play good defense. Not only that, they want players that can swing the bat and play good defense anywhere on the field. The last head-scratching signings the Rockies made (Gerardo Parra and Daniel Descalso) hinted at that.
Desmond can play arguably the most challenging infield position, outfield, and now, first base. He swings the bat better than Parra, Descalso, and Reynolds. With Desmond, the Rockies get an offensive upgrade and even more defensive versatility. Further, Desmond has been heralded as a major leader in the locker room. By having Desmond at first base, the Rockies are keeping a player on their everyday roster with the ability to hit and at times fill in for others in the lineup.
The second key to understanding the Ian Desmond signing is the new first baseman’s age. Desmond is 31 years old. While that isn’t ancient in baseball terms, it isn’t young either. Thanks to Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story, and David Dahl, Rockies fans will be the first to tell you that outfield and shortstop are positions of wear and tear. While first basemen still get injured, the position is certainly more forgiving for players. By signing a five-year deal to play first base at Coors Field, Desmond has shown that he is willing to age in a manner that could extend his talents past potential injuries. A hitter’s park and a position that is easier on the body will only help Ian Desmond.
If you think Desmond’s recent injury has already shown the flaws in this thinking, you might be forgetting how Desmond’s hand was broken. Desmond broke his hand while he was batting, not while he was playing defense. No matter where Desmond was playing, he would have received that injury. The Rockies are hoping that first base will cut down on the other injuries Desmond could receive. First base is a position the Rockies can use to exploit Desmond’s offensive talents and use his versatility when necessary, all while keeping him healthy as long as possible.
The initial thinking behind the Ian Desmond signing is sound. Of course, only time will tell if the signing was a stroke of pure genius or just another mistake by Rockies management. This time around, I think it is safe to give the Rockies the benefit of the doubt and trust this signing. Even if it is odd, it shows some growth in the club’s thinking. The Rockies seem to have shifted to a “Win Now” mentality. If they can stop getting bitten by the injury bug, the wins they desire may start to fall into place.