Contending teams need depth that will keep them competitive after plans A and B inevitably derail. We know this. Hayden Kane wrote about that very topic last week. But with the recent announcement that left fielder David Dahl will miss “a few weeks” with a back ailment, which could keep him out at the beginning of the season, we’ve moved from the hypothetical to the realistic. Bryan Kilpatrick wrote that the Rockies are better situated than in the past to absorb missed time from Dahl, and it’s worth spending time thinking about how the Rockies might go about that. Here are three specific paths the Rockies could take, with varying degrees of likelihood and dependent on how long Dahl ends up being out.
Put Tapia in left
This has more to do with Raimel Tapia than anything else, and it also depends on how long Dahl is out of action. Assuming Dahl is out for more than two weeks, Tapia could be a good option to replace him. But that’s the case only if Tapia has the type of spring training that says “I’m ready for regular major-league at bats.” Based on Tapia’s cup of coffee in 2016 and a solely statistical view of his spring training thus far, he doesn’t seem ready.
Tapia received 41 major-league plate appearances in 2016, and he hit a punchless .263. All of his hits were singles. That trend has held this spring: in his 16 plate appearances, Tapia has four singles and no extra base hits. He’s proven to be adaptable throughout his minor-league career, and I’m still confident that once Tapia figures out major-league pitching, he’ll be a solid regular. But he’s not there yet.
Even if Dahl is only set to miss a little bit of time—a 10-day disabled list stint—Tapia could be a good option, as long as he demonstrates that he’s ready for it. But that might mean a quick demotion when a healthy Dahl returns. Tapia won’t develop without regular playing time, and there wouldn’t be anywhere else for him to play. If Tapia continues to look like he needs more refinement in Triple-A throughout spring training, then the Rockies can move on to other options.
Put Desmond in left
If the Rockies put Ian Desmond in left field, it would be an example of maximizing his utility; it would also be a deviation from the commitment to him at first base. Desmond’s played 27 innings in the field so far this spring, all of them have come at first base. That makes sense. He needs to learn the position with actual in-game experience.
Moving Desmond to left field in place of Dahl would leave first base open, but the Rockies have good options there. Jordan Patterson seems about as ready as he’ll ever be to get major-league at bats. Unlike Tapia, Patterson is unlikely to be ever be a regular (unless he’s an injury replacement), so it’s less critical to get him as many plate appearances as possible. Mark Reynolds is on a minor-league contract, and it sounds like he’s playing well enough to earn a spot on the 25-man roster out of spring training. (The Rockies would need to make room for him on the 40-man roster, and they’d probably do so by moving the rehabbing Jairo Díaz to the 60-day DL.) Patterson and Reynolds could turn into a decent first base platoon if Desmond covers for Dahl in left field.
This set-up makes a lot of sense. Desmond has already proven he can play the outfield, so he wouldn’t need to learn the position; however, moving to left field would take away regular season experience at first base, the position he does need to learn. My hunch is that the Rockies would only go this route if Dahl is out longer than a couple of weeks. In other words, I think they’ll only pull Desmond off first to ensure that they can offer up the best lineup possible for what could be a significant chunk of the season—something like 30 games.
Put Parra there and cross all fingers
This option falls under the “we’ll suffer through it category.” The Rockies’ lineup with a healthy Dahl doesn’t have any real weaknesses. Lineups constructed with a ready-to-go Tapia or a Patterson/Reynolds platoon at first are less solid, but still strong. But putting Gerardo Parra in left field will likely result in a clear lineup weakness.
Parra was one of the worst hitters in baseball in 2016, before and after his injury, and he was one of the least valuable overall. Because he was so bad, he should bounceback a bit; however, expectations should be tempered. It’s not just that Parra put up poor stats, but it’s how he did it. He didn’t suffer from bad luck—his BABIP was a pretty standard .297. Instead, he showed signs of a player genuinely getting worse. His walk rate, never his strong suit, fell to 2.4 percent, and his strikeout rate went up to 19 percent. Parra also made contact at a career worst as well. He hit like Wilin Rosario without the power.
Another option would be to platoon Parra in left field, but there simply aren’t good options for doing so. The most obvious partner is 36-year-old Chris Denorfia, whom the Rockies signed to a minor-league deal this offseason. Denorfia earned a reputation as a lefty masher, but he hasn’t posted a season where he lived up to that reputation since 2013. In 2016, he only logged Triple-A plate appearances. Like Reynolds, Denorfia would also require a 40-man roster spot. If they’re both on the 25-man, it would also lead to additional roster crunching with the bench.
The Rockies’ minor-league options are all left-handed, like Parra. Excluding Tapia here, players like Patterson and Mike Tauchman could be reasonable role players in the outfield, but because of their left-handedness, they wouldn’t make sense to pair with Parra in place of Dahl.
If Dahl is only out for a couple of weeks, I’d expect the Rockies to just roll with Parra in left field. Unfortunately, I’d expect them to do the same if he’s out for an extended period of time as well. Both will make for lineups weaker than they need to be.
The best use of the roster and the best possible lineup would be to shift Desmond to left and platoon Patterson and Reynolds at first. That’s how I see it at least. If the Rockies see it differently, or if they make decisions using factors other than “what looks like the best possible lineup,” it wouldn’t be the first time.