It’s Thursday and the Rockies will play a getaway-day game against the Kansas City Royals. That means we’re likely to see an—ahem—interesting lineup for the Rockies. It may even include Alexi Amarista somewhere in there. This should not be so.
Two weeks ago I was justifiably roasted when Amarista, who was in the lineup in part because of an injury to Mark Reynolds, hit a home run in a game the Rockies won by one run. I’ll eat the crow for that situation, not just for the results, but because of the extenuating circumstances around the injury. But it doesn’t change the fact that Amarista has been one of the biggest drains on the offense this season.
Clearly Amarista isn’t a particularly good major league hitter, and it doesn’t seem that he ever has been. And yet he’s earned 155 plate appearances from manager Bud Black, 41 of those as a pinch hitter, often times in late-and-close situations (his OPS as a pinch hitter is .522, which is bad even for pinch hitters). Granted, the Rockies have shown a preference for riding a short bench in order to maximize the number of arms available in the bullpen, which means the Amaristas of the world end up with more plate appearances as a result.
That’s why he shouldn’t be on the roster.
“But wait a second,” you, intrepid reader, might say. “We didn’t sign him to be a big bat! We signed him to be a utility guy.” Unfortunately his glove hasn’t really done him much good in Denver. According to FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF), Amarista’s defense overall has been well below average. He’s played six positions this season: second base, shortstop, third base, left field, center field, and right field. He has produced negative Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) at each spot. Even as a utility guy, he can’t seem to utility.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. When the Rockies signed Amarista to a $1.1 million contract this offseason, it left many people scratching their heads. Why would the Rockies, ostensibly trying to open their contention window heading into 2017, sign a player whose best season came in 2014 when he produced 0.9 fWAR (all completely thanks to his glove, by the way)? Why sign a guy who was worth -0.7 fWAR as recently as last season, especially when a younger, cheaper, and potentially equal option exists in Cristhian Adames?
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It may seem overly harsh to spend 500 words breaking down why Amarista is not a quality major league ballplayer (file next to “water is wet.”). He is, after all, a backup option who carries few expectations. But the problem that Amarista’s presence on the roster presents is emblematic of larger trends.
The fact that Amarista has experience at six positions on the diamond is helpful, sure. But having versatility doesn’t necessarily mean he’s adding value. On the contrary: his versatility seems to create a bit of a blind spot with Black. Amarista first played for Black when he was managing the San Diego Padres from 2012-2015 and served as Black’s utility knife of sorts, appearing in 80 percent of games all over the diamond. Of course, the Padres offense was bad at this time so Amarista was (regrettably) one of their best options.
Now that they’re both in purple, Black has kept using him as though he’s one of the team’s best options (Black may very well be the reason the Rockies picked him up in the first place). No matter what the actual results, Black seems to be more interested in the process; he sees something he likes, or remembers seeing something he likes from all those games in San Diego, and wants to recapture it, numbers be damned.
Which means Amarista’s giving back all his value when he steps on the field. And it’s not just him, either. Veterans like him (Carlos Gonzalez and Ian Desmond come to mind) seem to get playing time no matter how they’re hitting, despite other viable options (Raimel Tapia comes to mind) being readily available.
On one hand, Amarista’s on a one-year deal with a club option, which the team will almost certainly decline (Right? RIGHT!?). Before the Rockies actually signed him, however, I would’ve said with almost certainty that Amarista wasn’t coming to the Rockies. Now, they just have to find a way to take Black’s favorite toy away from him until that time comes.