Did the Rockies make the worst transaction in the 2017 offseason? Dave Cameron at FanGraphs believes so, and it shouldn’t take more than one guess to determine just which transaction that was.
The opinion that the worst move of the offseason was the five-year $70 million contract the Rockies gave Ian Desmond to play first base does come with a couple qualifications. First, Cameron notes that this was a pretty mild offseason in terms of headscratcher deals. There was no Shelby Miller-esque trade, and there was no Zack Greinke-like huge contract to a pitcher in his 30s. So, in a sense, Desmond’s contract is declared worst here almost by default.
And yet, Cameron suggests that the move was unlike any other this offseason in that it was the only one that seems like an overpay while also not making a lot of sense in terms of roster construction. Context is important here, too. Not only is it necessary to acknowledge the context that this offseason didn’t have a lot of regrettable transactions, but it’s also necessary to note that the first base market turned out to favor buyers. Desmond got more years than Edwin Encarnación and more money than Mark Trumbo to play first base. Cameron writes:
You could probably argue that Desmond is worth $70 million as an outfielder, since he made a pretty decent conversion from shortstop last year, and was a good player for the Texas Rangers at his new spot. You could even argue that he’s worth $70 million back in the infield, where his athleticism would probably let him play a good enough second or third base, even without any experience there. But it’s really hard to see how Desmond is worth $70 million as a first baseman, where his physical abilities are least valuable, especially given what teams were paying players with actual experience at first base this year.
That’s not to say Desmond will be a failure at first base or that the transaction will hamper future competitiveness—it’s unlikely to ever be an albatross contract. Rather, it’s an evaluation of resource distribution and filling a need in this moment. Cameron is probably right that it’s the worst transaction of the offseason, but that doesn’t mean Desmond can’t help the Rockies contend in 2017. It just means he’d do so while being miscast and making more than one would expect to pay him to play first base.