The Rockies contention window is open. Whether it’s ahead of schedule or not is irrelevant, because it means Jeff Bridich and the Colorado Rockies are faced with the same challenge as all but a few Major League teams: balancing the opportunity to win now with the need to continue to build for the future.
The Rockies should be pursuing opportunities to make the team more competitive in 2018. That means looking to the free agent market to fills holes in the roster. One obvious hole is in the middle of their lineup and at first base. They should seriously consider filling it by signing switch-hitting first baseman Carlos Santana.
What about Ian Desmond, you say? That is the question that will hang over this and other roster decisions for the next (gulp) four years. In this case, we’ll stick to business and call this what it is: the Rockies did in fact sign Desmond to be their first baseman last winter. One year later, they have an obvious hole in the middle of their lineup and at first base.
Thomas Harding recently wrote that the Rockies are “kicking around options at first base.” If true, that means the club is willing to adapt as plans change. They showed signs of doing that in 2017 when Mark Reynolds proved he was a better option and got playing time over Desmond.
The Rockies should follow that same mentality this winter. As currently constructed, the team will be relying on underwhelming options in the middle of the lineup: Trevor Story, Desmond, Gerardo Parra, and some younger guys such as Ryan McMahon. The Rockies might get by if Desmond bounces back or if younger players develop. They might get a breakout year from McMahon. But as a team that can win now, they should not enter the season just hoping that one of these options will work out.
Desmond might rebound next year because it will be hard for him to be worse. Does a reasonable bounceback from him offer enough for the middle of an elite lineup? It probably does not. As for McMahon, that’s a lot of pressure on him to deliver right away. The Rockies would potentially put themselves in a hard spot by counting on him too much right away and not feeling like they can back off him a little bit for his long-term development.
That’s where Santana comes in. The switch-hitting slugger is coming off a 2017 season in which he slashed .259/.363/.455 with 23 home runs and 79 RBI. He posted a 117 wRC+ and was a Gold Glove finalist on the defensive side of things. For a Colorado lineup that sometimes acts allergic to drawing walks, Santana would bring a welcome approach at the plate. His solid 13.2% BB rate was actually a step back from even better showings in that area in previous seasons.
Santana’s batted ball profile also makes him a good fit. He consistently puts the ball in play, as evidenced by his 14.1% K rate last season. It seems obvious to say so, but Coors Field rewards guys who put the ball in play. And as we’ve learned recently, it matters how a hitter puts it in play. Santana is a fit in that regard as well.
Nobody is arguing that Santana is as good as Nolan Arenado, but he actually has a similar batted ball profile. He doesn’t hit a lot of groundballs and he does hit a decent number of line drives and a high percentage of balls in the air. Santana had a 20% line drive percentage and a 39.3% flyball percentage in 2017. His 40.8% groundball percentage was 15 percentage points lower than fellow free agent Eric Hosmer (55.6%) and a staggering 22 percentage points behind Desmond’s 62.7% mark.
The Rockies need another thumper in their lineup who actually consistently drives the ball, and Santana does just that.
We know what a headache the lineup was this past season. The Rockies need more options and better options to build a lineup to match their pitching and hopefully to carry them at times. Slotting Santana in behind Nolan Arenado would significantly bolster the middle of the lineup, and it would still give the other guys plenty of room to break out, bounce back, or build on their results in 2016. And maybe Desmond will eventually settle in at first base. But for now the Rockies should acknowledge how poorly that went in 2017 and make this move to improve their roster while that contention window is open.
Santana would be a good fit on the defensive side of things as well. Reynolds consistently helped the stellar work of his infield colleagues by making scoops and playing a solid first base. To be fair to Desmond, he was mostly fine on defense. But it is hard to forget the frustrating quote from him in September when he said he was still developing the instincts for the position. The Rockies have two Gold Glove winners in Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu and arguably a Gold Glove-worthy shortstop in Trevor Story. Reynolds showed us again how important a consistently good glove is over at first, and Santana would bring that, too.
What will it take to sign Santana? MLB Trade Rumors projects a three-year, $45 million contract for the 31-year-old. Because Santana rejected a qualifying offer, signing him would also cost the Rockies their third highest draft pick, according to the new CBA rules. Depending on what happens with Greg Holland, that would either be the Rockies second round pick or their Competitive Balance Round A pick. The $22 million that Desmond will be making in 2018 is a complicating factor, but with all of the other money coming off the books, a similar contract is doable for the Rockies and would still leave plenty of room to address the holes in the bullpen and add quality depth throughout the roster.
What do you think the Rockies should do with their first base situation? Does Santana seem like a fit? Should they look to different external options? If so, which players would you like to see on the Rockies? Or do you think they should stick with their internal options and use money elsewhere in free agency?
What should the Rockies do at first base?
This poll is closed
Try to sign Carlos Santana
Pursue other external options in free agency or trade (show your work)
Stick with internal options—Ian Desmond, Ryan McMahon, etc.