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MLB free agency: Rockies’ signing of Ian Desmond a poor use of resources

There are pros and cons to the Desmond signing. Most fall under the latter characterization.

MLB: ALDS-Toronto Blue Jays at Texas Rangers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rockies shocked everyone at the winter meetings on Wednesday, signing free agent Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million deal.

Desmond is about two years removed from turning down a nine-figure extension with the Washington Nationals in a decision that backfired when he hit .233/.290/.384 in a walk year. Desmond bounced back to hit .285/.335/.446 for the Texas Rangers last year and parlayed a one-year deal into his new contract with the Rockies — and netted the Rangers a compensatory draft pick as a result.

In Desmond, the Rockies receive a versatile player who should hit at a league-average clip. That’s not necessarily a bad thing on its own; however, the club plans to play Desmond at first base, essentially replacing Mark Reynolds’ average bat with another one, all the while plugging in a player whose defensive ability at the position is completely unknown.

Of course, the Rockies saying they want to put Desmond at first could be a leverage play; Charlie Blackmon is a desirable trade target for a lot of teams and the market price for free-agent sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo — both of whom make more sense than Desmond at first base — continues to trend downward. Unfortunately, that line of thinking might be giving the Rockies too much credit in this case.

It should be noted that regardless of how Desmond’s contract turns out, it’s a great thing that Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich coerced Dick Monfort into opening his wallet. The contract is the largest the Rockies have ever shelled out for a free-agent position player, and the richest overall since the dreaded Mike Hampton deal. But the resources — as far as we can tell right now, at least — could’ve been better spent elsewhere.

Trumbo, whom we wrote about yesterday, might not end up much more valuable than Desmond in terms of WAR, but at least he packs enough power in his bat to warrant playing first base. Encarnacion, meanwhile, is older than both players but is a more proven, well-rounded offensive commodity who strikes out a lot less and walks a lot more than either of the other players.

On the other hand, this move might not just be about first base. That’s where the leverage thing comes into play. There’s a sense that other moves could be on the way. If that’s the case, only a few things make sense, and all of them involve trading away an outfielder.

Whether it’s Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, or — in a surprising scenario — David Dahl, the Rockies can and should part with an outfielder in an effort to fill other holes, specifically within the pitching staff. Colorado could use a mid-rotation starter and a couple of bullpen arms, and one of those players as part of a package would go a long way toward addressing those needs. However, in that instance, the Rockies would still need to spend — either in money or prospects — to get a true first baseman. That seems like a lot of extra work.

It’s tough to judge this move in isolation, because any sort of logical thinking would lead one to believe that there’s more on the way. But without knowing what those moves are, the years, money and draft pick surrendered by the Rockies for a player whose value has been largely tied up in positions he might not even play anytime soon makes this a poor use of resources — even if the club might be, for good reason (remember all the injuries to Troy Tulowitzki over the years and the time missed last by Trevor Story last season?), placing extra value on versatility.

The good news is that there are resources available that none of us knew the Rockies had. That, combined with the fact that Desmond will earn only $8 million in 2017, should give us something else to look forward to before the Rockies ultimately report to spring training in February. It just could’ve gotten off to a much better start.