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The Rockies are fortunate to have Mark Reynolds

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The offseason’s flush first base market doesn’t look so great right now

A baseball season can’t be spoiled because nobody knows what’s going to happen.

Sure, there are skeletal versions we can be decently sure of. Mike Trout will be great. Nolan Arenado will cause heads to shake in awe. Francisco Lindor’s smile will cause somebody, somewhere, to melt. For those things, the questions are really the when and the how. But most developments are mysterious. That sure doesn’t stop us from talking about what we think is going to happen though! There’s no harm in that. It’s part of the fun of being a fan. Pointing out what has happened that nobody knew would happen is fun too.

The most gauzy-eyed opining during this past Rockies offseason had to do with first base. It was the team’s clearest need heading into the season, and the market was flush with available bats. But then the Rockies did something that nobody even considered: They signed Ian Desmond, who had never played first base in the majors, to play first base. Even while the Rockies insisted that he was signed to play first base, doofy bloggers kept talking about other could have beens and real possibilities to play first base. Among these players were (deep breath) Mark Trumbo, Edwin Encarnación, Chris Carter, José Abreu, José Bautista, Steve Pearce, and Matt Holliday. It’s perhaps time to check in and see how these players have been doing.

Some are doing pretty well. Through Saturday, Holliday is probably off to the best start of the bunch, with an OPS over .900. But he is also striking out at a career-high rate. Abreu was always the least likely get for the Rockies because he wasn’t on the open market. He’s also off to a fine start. Abreu’s batting line along with his walk and strikeout rates resemble his 2016 season, even if they’re below the high bar he set in his first two seasons. Encarnación is contributing by getting on base, but he’s slugging just .364. He’s also been shaky at first base when Cleveland allows him to play there.

The remaining four players, however, have been flat out bad so far this season. Carter, whose entire value at the plate comes from hitting home runs, has hit only one home run. Bautista and Pearce are hitting below the Mendoza line for the Blue Jays, and Trumbo has been a below-average hitter with an on-base percentage south of .300.

Some first basemen

Player AVG/OBP/SLG BB% K% OPS+
Player AVG/OBP/SLG BB% K% OPS+
Matt Holliday (NYY) .284/.395/526 15.8 26.3 149
José Abreu (CWS) .268/.326/.457 6.0 17.9 120
Edwin Encarnación (CLE) .213/.358/.352 16.9 28.4 91
Chris Carter (NYY) .200/.279/.300 8.8 35.3 58
Mark Trumbo (BAL) .234/.285/.348 6.8 21.1 74
José Bautista (TOR) .185/.309/.333 14.6 29.7 78
Steve Pearce (TOR) .195/.247/.354 5.6 27.0 64

In hindsight, only a couple of these look like they would have been good decisions for the Rockies—Holliday in particular because he was available and inexpensive. Carter, the player I pushed most because he was similarly available and inexpensive, looks like he would have been a poor choice.

Passing on all of these players, the Rockies held fast and went forward with Desmond at first base. Except, then Desmond got hurt. And in his place the Rockies went to a player who did not receive nearly as much attention from analysts or teams: Mark Reynolds. Reynolds wasn’t totally absent from the list of first base possibilities above, but he wasn’t prominent either. And while the six free agents from that list all secured major-league contracts, the Rockies signed Reynolds to a minor-league deal because nobody on this continent was offering him a contract to play at the highest level. And then something happened even more unexpected. He’s been great, and Reynolds seems to have won himself the job. So the guy the Rockies signed to play first base, Desmond, has played 12 percent of his innings there.

Oh, and also, the Rockies really should have signed Eric Thames., who is hitting better than everyone mentioned in this article in a way that looks sustainable, and he’s doing so on a cheap contract for the Brewers. We were wrong and nobody was right, not even the Rockies.

But it’s still May and everything is just preamble for what will happen next. As for what that will be, well, let me tell you...