New Rockie Des­mond says he can thrive as 1st base­man

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Pa­trick Saun­ders

The Ian Des­mond project be­gan in earnest for the Rock­ies on Tues­day af­ter­noon.

With an em­pha­sis on Des­mond’s ath­letic abil­ity, ver­sa­til­ity and al­laround base­ball skills, gen­eral man­ager Jeff Bridich in­tro­duced him as the Rock­ies’ new first base­man af­ter Des­mond of­fi­cially signed a five-year, $70 mil­lion con­tract — the big­gest freeagent con­tract ever for a Rock­ies po­si­tion player.

Also, be­cause Des­mond de­clined a qual­i­fy­ing of­fer from the Texas Rangers af­ter the 2016 sea­son, the Rock­ies must for­feit their 11th over­all pick in next June’s draft. That’s a lot to give up for some­one who has never played first base at any level, let alone in the ma­jors.

Still, Bridich is con­fi­dent in his plan and be­lieves Des­mond is a per­fect fit for a team seen by many as one on the rise.

“We are ex­tremely ex­cited about ad­ding an­other mem­ber to the Rock­ies fam­ily,” Bridich said. “A cou­ple of years ago, we started talk­ing about ver­sa­til­ity and ath­leti­cism be­com­ing a pri­or­ity for this or­ga­ni­za­tion, … along with get­ting veter­ans of char­ac­ter. Ian rep­re­sents all of that, and that is the ex­cit­ing thing.”

Des­mond, 31, is a strong, ath­letic 6foot-3, 215-pounder who is known as an ex­cel­lent baserun­ner, Des­mond has pri­mar­ily played short­stop in his eight-year ma­jor-league ca­reer, but played left field and cen­ter field last sea­son for the Rangers. He hit .285 with 22 home runs and 86 RBIs in 156 games.

The Rock­ies be­gan dis­cus­sions with Des­mond’s agents at Novem­ber’s gen­eral man­ager meet­ings with the idea of bring­ing Des­mond to Colorado and con­vert­ing him into a first base­man. The more the two sides talked, the more ex­cited they be­came about mak­ing the switch a re­al­ity.

Now the Rock­ies are count­ing on Des­mond to fill out an al­ready starfilled in­field, and also give the team a

re­as­sur­ing and pro­duc­tive pres­ence at first base that re­minds fans of for­mer Colorado all-stars An­dres Galar­raga and Todd Hel­ton.

Des­mond — who has 132 ca­reer home runs with a ca­reer-best 25 in 2012 — adamantly de­flected the idea that he might have trou­ble tran­si­tion­ing to a new po­si­tion.

“Last year, I think, was enough proof, to me, to be able to do this,” Des­mond said. “Not only did I tran­si­tion to left field on short (no­tice), but then I tran­si­tioned to cen­ter field with no prac­tice.

“I feel like I had a pretty suc­cess­ful time last year, with a ton of help. And I be­lieve through con­ver­sa­tions with the Rock­ies that they are go­ing to give me all the help I need to suc­ceed there. I un­der­stand how im­por­tant it is to a team to have a good first base­man.”

News broke at last week’s win­ter meet­ings that the Rock­ies were go­ing to sign Des­mond, but ru­mors con­tin­ued to swirl that the Rock­ies were plan­ning more ma­jor moves, in­clud­ing pos­si­bly sign­ing freeagent, first-base slug­gers Mark Trumbo or Ed­win En­car­na­cion. Such a move would ne­ces­si­tate play­ing Des­mond in the out­field in­stead of first base, and could pos­si­bly open the door for the Rock­ies to trade out­fielder Char­lie Black­mon, or Car­los Gon­za­lez, for pitch­ing.

Bridich, how­ever, wa­tered down those ru­mors, at least to some ex­tent, on Tues­day. He has talked with Black­mon to re­as­sure him about his place in Colorado, and Bridich also in­sists that Des­mond is in­deed the Rock­ies’ first base­man go­ing for­ward.

“Un­til those guys (Trumbo and En­car­na­cion) are fully signed, we will cer­tainly keep abreast of the mar­ket, just like we al­ways do, but we signed Ian to be our first base­man,” Bridich said. “Who knows what could change that? But we signed Ian to be our first base­man.”

Bridich touted Des­mond as an un­selfish ballplayer who’ll be an ex­cel­lent fit in the Colorado club­house.

“Over pretty much my whole ca­reer, I didn’t la­bel my­self as a short­stop, and last year I didn’t la­bel my­self as an out­fielder,” Des­mond said. “I want to be a ballplayer and some­one who can help the team. I’m willing to do that. I think that’s ob­vi­ous over the last cou­ple of years.

“I want to be an as­set. I want to be some­body the man­ager can look to and Ian Des­mond – joined by his wife, Chelsey, and their three sons, Grayson, Cruz and Ash­ton – ar­rives at his news con­fer­ence Tues­day. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Road to the Rock­ies

Ian Des­mond of­fi­cially signed with the Rock­ies on Tues­day. Here’s a look at where’s he has been and what he has done: •Drafted by the Mon­treal Ex­pos in the third round of the 2004 ma­jor-league draft out of Sara­sota High School (Fla.). •Made ma­jor-league de­but Sept. 10, 2009, at age 23, for the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als (for­merly the Ex­pos). •Played parts of seven sea­sons for the Na­tion­als, pri­mar­ily as a short­stop. •Signed a one-year, $8 mil­lion deal with the Texas Rangers for the 2016 sea­son, and was con­verted from short­stop to out­fielder. •Signed a five-year, $70 mil­lion con­tract with the Rock­ies on Tues­day, the largest free-agent con­tract for a po­si­tion player in fran­chise his­tory. Pa­trick Saun­ders, The Den­ver Post say, ‘Hey, this pro­vides me with the best op­por­tu­nity to have the best lineup I can have to­day.’ ”

Des­mond has a .267 ca­reer bat­ting av­er­age, along with a .316 on-base per­cent­age and .427 slug­ging per­cent­age, and earned three con­sec­u­tive Na­tional League Sil­ver Slug­ger awards at short­stop from 2012-2014.

Des­mond said the Rock­ies were a team he has tar­geted ever since he left the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als as a free agent af­ter the 2015 sea­son. He ended up sign­ing a one-year deal with Texas for $8 mil­lion.

“From the out­side look­ing in, this is an un­be­liev­able group of guys with a ton of tal­ent, and I wanted to be part of the op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing spe­cial here in Den­ver,” he said. “We un­der­stand it is not go­ing to be easy, but we’re ex­cited for the chal­lenge.”

John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

New Rock­ies first base­man Ian Des­mond flashes a smile while putting on his jersey at a news con­fer­ence at Coors Field in Den­ver on Tues­day. Rock­ies Gen­eral man­ager Jeff Bridich in­tro­duced him.

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