Opinion: Ian Desmond’s move to center field is setting the Rockies up for failure

Ian Desmond celebrates a score. Credit: Joe Camporeale, USA TODAY Sports.
Ian Desmond celebrates a score. Credit: Joe Camporeale, USA TODAY Sports.

There are many moves the Colorado Rockies have made or failed to make over the past three years. Signing Ian Desmond has proved to be a lackluster move, with a new position serving to compound the mistake in 2019.

According to Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post, manager Bud Black has the Rockies new outfield alignment set in his mind

Shifting Desmond to center field, in hopes of mitigating the lack of defense provided by Charlie Blackmon, is using a bandaid to cover a baseball-sized hole in the team’s ship.

Last season, Blackmon accounted for the worst mark in defensive runs saved above average (-28) among all Major League outfielders. That hole was compounded by the rangy outfield of Coors Field, notorious for allowing more hits than other parks, as shown by their league-leading park factor by hits (1.233).

Much of the defensive inefficiency was due to a lack of overall speed from Blackmon, with his jumps and recognition still providing some value.

“What Charlie has done, being able to play center field in Colorado and being able to play as many games as he does, is something that’s not an easy task,” Desmond said in an interview with Tom Harding. “I know I’ve got a handful in front of me.”

Without context, the move makes sense.

Desmond is faster than Blackmon and played center field in 130 respective contests for the Texas Rangers prior to signing with the Rockies. The impact of benching Desmond, who is only entering the third year of a five-year, $70 million contract, a pill that would be hard for Jeff Bridich and company to swallow, is also avoided.

An offseason addition of Daniel Murphy to take over at first adds even more ammunition to the proposed switch.

The problem is Desmond’s bat has proved to be mediocre in his stint with the club and he too has a negative DRS mark (-4) in his limited time in center (-4 in 133 games). Though his mark is a slight upgrade, the Rockies are still facing a hole in their most vital outfield spot.

His defense notwithstanding, Desmond also slashed a mere .236/.307/.422 in 619 plate appearances last year. The lone benefit he brought to the lineup was 20 stolen bases, a mark that was second on the club behind only Trevor Story (27). The mark likely would’ve been higher if Desmond didn’t register the team’s worst on-base percentage among their consistent starters.

Relegating Desmond to a utility infielder, albeit one of the highest-priced ones in history, is a better course of action.

Shifting Blackmon to right field as proposed, along with David Dahl manning left field would increase the team’s success. Raimel Tapia taking over instead of Desmond would further their profits.

Tapia, formerly a signee as an amateur out of the Dominican Republic is deserving of a shot at joining the everyday lineup of Black.

In his 239 appearances with the Rockies, Tapia has flashed brilliance, slashing .274/.315/.480, while swiping eight bags and sending three balls into the bleachers. The young outfielder has even shown the “clutch gene,” whether it’s a fallacy or not:

While his major league experience has been good, not great, Tapia has been a very good minor league player, with his slugging reaching a .495 mark last year despite a lengthy slump.

Tapia offers similar, if not better, speed than Desmond, a bat that reigns supreme over the veteran and the upside to breach his past production.

The other problem with bypassing Tapia for an opportunity is the continuation of a troubling trend with the club. After developing Story, Nolan Arenado and Dahl among others in their farm system, the production for the club’s youngsters has stalled.

Ryan McMahon, Tapia and Jordan Patterson, among others, have all had their production and development stunted with their limited big league time. Despite gaping holes in the outfield and first base in recent years, the Rockies have failed to develop their prospects, instead giving extended opportunities to players like Mark Reynolds and Gerardo Parra.

Though the aforementioned pair found success in stretches, the Rockies have limited their prospects abilities to take over and give long-term solutions to their problems. The franchise has furthered the problem with their of ability to flip those same prospects for established talents.

Instead of acquiring stars like Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer or even Jose Abreu, the club has harbored youngsters, without allowing them to grow. Even deals for Kevin Gausman or Zack Britton failed to come to fruition with the club’s focus on keeping their farm system strong.

Scouring the free agent market would have made sense as well, with impact players like Adam Jones and A.J. Pollock available. Instead, the Rockies chose to do nothing, relying on a sunken cost to carry the load.

Given their reluctance to spend, developing their youth and allowing them a long-term shot at success should be the route. Even if the youngsters make mistakes common with novice major league players, it can’t be worse than Desmond’s ground ball obsession with men on base.

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