Ian Desmond, primary first baseman.
It looks like that’s the 2017 reality. Now that Mark Trumbo is off the market after signing a three year contract worth $37 million with the Orioles, there are no more sure-fire starting first baseman left on the free agent market. Unless a trade takes place, it will be Desmond at first base to begin the season. While Ian Desmond, primary first baseman, still might not make a lot of sense, that is no longer the major question. Now, it’s necessary to ask what the Rockies can do to further improve the team as currently constructed.
In the aforelinked article about how Desmond’s bat looks compared to other potential first base options, I showed that Desmond has demonstrated pretty significant splits over the past three seasons. He hits lefties much better than righties. Would a platoon make sense for first base, what would it look like, and who are some potential partners?
There are a few left-handed first basemen left on the market who could fit. A few players who are not good fits but are available are Ryan Howard, who is old and also no longer the mediocre hitter he used to be; Justin Morneau, who does not look like his body can withstand any substantial playing time any more; and Pedro Álvarez, who has just too poor of a glove to handle even first base. Two other left-handed free agent first baseman, however, are intriguing: Brandon Moss and Adam Lind.
Let’s start with Lind, and let’s start with the bad. Lind made himself an attractive first-baseman as a righty smasher in Toronto and then in Milwaukee. Last offseason, the Brewers traded him to Seattle, where he posted one of his worst seasons at the plate. He hit just .239 with an awful .286 on-base percentage, but he did exhibit power in a rough environment, knocking 20 home runs and posting a .439 slugging percentage. He didn’t walk much, though he never has, but he struck out just 20 percent of the time, which isn’t so bad these days.
But Lind is just one year removed from a season in which he was 19 percent better than league average at the plate, and that was preceded by seasons in which he posted 42 and 32 percent better. He’s 33, and if he’s hidden from lefties, Lind could be ripe for a bounceback season in a platoon role.
Moss, also 33, brings less power and more strikeouts, but he also has a batted ball profile that might be attractive to the Rockies. He’s a notable fly ball hitter. Among batters with at least 450 plate appearances in 2016, Moss had the highest fly ball rate in baseball by four percentage points, 52.6 percent to second place’s 48.7. While he hasn’t always led the league in that category, he’s regularly among the leaders in fly ball rate. The profile should lead to a lot of home runs at Coors Field. And while Moss could be deployed as the left side of a platoon, he, unlike Lind, is playable against lefties. He’s more versatile.
It shouldn’t require much years or money to convince Lind or Moss to play in Denver in a limited role. When Desmond starts at first, they could provide depth and be legitimate bats off the bench late in games. They could also get more playing time at first if Desmond needs to fill an outfield or middle infield spot, whether to spell someone or as an injury replacement. It could make sense—at the very least, it could make the Desmond signing make more sense.
While it seems reasonable to pursue either Lind or Moss in the role described, the Rockies might already have that role filled. Jordan Patterson is a left-handed first baseman who is already on the roster and needs major-league at bats. But it’s not clear how well Patterson will be able to handle major-league pitching. Right now, it’s a matter of how much the Rockies trust Patterson to be able to handle the limited role and, more significantly, how much they trust him to handle a larger role if the need arises.
Desmond is great to have around because he should keep Cristhian Adames, Alexi Amarista, and Gerardo Parra in strict bench roles if someone gets injured. But if Desmond is the primary first baseman, doing so will leave first base empty. Patterson might be able to take on the job full time, but he also might be the left-handed version of Kyle Parker. There are other options available. The Rockies’ action or inaction in the coming weeks should tell us a bit more about their confidence in Patterson, as well as the extent of their commitment to Desmond as a first baseman in 2017.