Welcome to the 2017 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the in-season contributions of every player to don the purple this past season. The goal wasn’t and isn’t to quibble with order. Instead, it’s to get a snapshot of a player along with a look forward. For that reason, we simply sorted by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (rWAR) and will start at the bottom and end up at the top.
No. 41, Alexi Amarista (-1.4 rWAR)
Nicknamed the Little Ninja, presumably because of his diminutive height and for the elusiveness of his offensive weapons, Alexi Amarista is a favorite of new manager Bud Black from his days managing the Padres. He seemed to be Bud Black’s choice as a veteran clubhouse presence that could double as a defensive Swiss Army butterknife, dulled by a sub-.600 career OPS. In 2017, he clocked in at -1.4 rWAR over 96 games and 176 plate appearances split between pinch hitting and each defensive position except for first base and catcher. For that performance, he was paid $1.1 million in 2017. WAR, defined as value above or below freely available talent, means that Amarista was paid twice the major league minimum for a season that was worse than what could’ve been possible from a minimally paid Albuquerque Isotope.
His 2017 slash stats, .238/.269/.351 and a .620 OPS, tracked along with his career rates and were actually his second best seasonal total. Coors, right? Actually, he hit better away from Coors (724 OPS) than at it (.568 OPS). He also had a .890 OPS in games the Rockies won and a .371 OPS in games the Rockies lost, if you like your weird splits smaller. Amarista also wasn’t that hot of a pinch hitter, contributing a .538 OPS over 51 plate appearances.
Defensively, according to DRS, he was average at second base but below average at shortstop (-9 DRS/150) and atrocious (-48 DRS/150) in the outfield. He saw one game at third base on one of Nolan Arenado’s days off and was removed for Pat Valaika for defensive reasons, having committed an error.
With Trevor Story’s offensive struggles and a brief midseason injury, it’s possible Amarista could have seen more time in the field and at the plate. Thankfully, the emergence of Pat Valaika, who contributed power off the bench and graded out better defensively in the infield, helped minimize Amarista’s plate appearances.
On the bright side, Amarista reportedly had a good clubhouse presence. This makes sense, because it is hard to be signed to a releasable contract, contributing little with the glove nor bat, and still have a job as a Major League Baseball player without being a nice guy and having all those lovely intangibles that come along with that reputation.
Here’s another bright side, this one having more to do with the big picture. It is somewhat promising for the Rockies that their worst performer in 2017 in terms of rWAR was a utility infielder who had limited playing time. Charlie Culberson, one of the Drag Factor’s worst offenders in 2014 at 2.68, had 233 plate appearances, compared to Amarista’s 1.65 Drag Factor over 176 plate appearances in 2017.
One might (and probably has) quibbled that his time in the outfield could’ve gone to Raimel Tapia, or his infield appearances gone to Ryan McMahon, or his pinch hitting appearances split between the two. To me, it makes a lot of sense to play younger players to see what they are capable of because they could provide similar value at less of a cost. I would think that even Cristhian Adames or Rafael Ynoa could’ve done as much with the bat and in the field as Amarista did at half the price. For whatever reason, the Rockies did not go that route.
But Amarista basically did his job in terms of being able to fill multiple positions in a year that started with multiple injuries, including to Ian Desmond, on a roster that typically carried only four position players—more so if the team saw intangibles as contributions. The Rockies knew what they were getting into with Amarista, and he basically did what they were expecting from him. They were probably satisfied.
Amarista has a team option for 2018 for $2.5 million with a $150k buyout. I’d like to think some combination of Valaika and McMahon along with a return to health and positional flexibility for Desmond would make Amarista superfluous. I also think that, though the Rockies are fine with Amarista’s 2017 performance, they will realize it is better to spend that money on other, more tangible, needs.