Getting some first aid
Rockies fill their corner pocket with versatile free agent Ian Desmond
national harbor, md.» The Rockies, usually quiet at baseball’s winter meetings, came out of hibernation Wednesday to pull off a major surprise by reaching a contract agreement with freeagent outfielder/infielder Ian Desmond, according to majorleague sources.
The Rockies intend to convert Desmond into a first baseman to fill one of the team’s biggest voids, but he has the versatility to play both the infield and outfield.
Desmond, 31, agreed to a fiveyear, $70 million contract, pending a physical. Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said Wednesday night that he could not officially confirm the signing because there were pending final details to be worked out. Because Desmond declined the Texas Rangers’ qualifying offer, the Rockies must forfeit their firstround (No. 11 overall) pick in the 2017 draft.
Rockies all-star third baseman Nolan Arenado was surprised — but pleased — by the news.
“I was shocked when I first heard, because I didn’t think he was in our plan because there weren’t any rumors about him, of stuff like that,” Arenado said. “But I’m excited to play with him. I’ve heard he’s cool and a great teammate.
“I think some people had doubts about him, but he proved them wrong last year and had a good season. I really respect that.”
Desmond hit .285 with 22 home runs and 86 RBIs in 156 games for the Rangers last season. An athletic, 6-foot-3, 215-pounder, Desmond throws and hits from the right side. He has primarily played shortstop in his eight-year major-league career, but played in the outfield last season with the Rangers.
He has never played first base in a major-league game. However, Jayce Tingler, a former Rangers outfield coach who has since moved into the front office, said Desmond can make the transition.
“The Rockies are getting a really good all-around baseball player. I mean really good,” said Tingler, who helped Desmond transition
from shortstop to outfield during spring training last season. “I was impressed with how smooth he moved from short to left field and center field. I think it’s a credit to his understanding of the game.”
Tingler said he thinks Desmond has “terrific strength, speed and hand-eye coordination,” and then added: “In my 11 years of coaching baseball, I would have to say Ian is one of my all-time favorite people. He’s a great clubhouse guy. I want to stress those things.”
As a shortstop, Desmond represented the Washington Nationals in the All-Star Game in 2012, a season in which he batted .292 with 25 home runs and 73 RBIs. He hit .280 with 20 home runs and 80 RBIs the next season.
The Nationals hoped to retain Desmond with a long-term deal, but he rejected a sevenyear, $107 million contract-extension offer that would have bought out the final two years of arbitration eligibility. He eventually signed a one-year, $8 million deal with Texas.
Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich had targeted first base as a position he wanted to upgrade this offseason, saying he was “keeping all avenues wide open” in his search. Bridich previously confirmed that the Rockies had checked in on a number of costly, high-profile first basemen, including free agents Mark Trumbo, Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Carter and Mike Napoli.
Also, Bridich confirmed that the Rockies had preliminary trade talks with the Chicago White Sox regarding slugging first baseman Jose Abreu.
In the end, the Rockies went with Desmond, a versatile athlete who could play multiple positions for Colorado, even though his main spot will be first base.
Bridich and Rockies owner Dick Monfort have said the Rockies would increase their payroll this season. Colorado finished the 2016 season with a club-record $120.58 million payroll, but that still ranked 19th in baseball.
Bridich also has repeatedly said he wants to upgrade the Rockies’ bullpen.
Ian Desmond hit .285 with 22 home runs and 86 RBIs in 156 games for the Texas Rangers last season.
Ian Desmond, who throws and hits from the right side, has primarily played shortstop in his eight-year majorleague career, but he played in the outfield last season with the Texas Rangers.