In a low-key manner, Thomas Harding dropped a few interesting nuggets of information early on Thursday.
First, he noted that the Rockies plan to move Ian Desmond off of first base and to the outfield. So that may be that for the Ian Desmond, first baseman, experiment. Desmond would actually fit pretty well in a platoon role with Raimel Tapia in left field.
Second, Harding suggests that it’s more likely that the Rockies will look to play Ryan McMahon at second base. McMahon may end up at first base eventually, but he’s athletic enough right now to handle second.
Finally, and maybe most notably, Harding states that the Rockies search for a first baseman has come down to two guys: Daniel Murphy and Justin Smoak. It sure sounds like the Rockies are going to acquire either Murphy or Smoak.
What are the pros and cons of each, and who do you got?
Murphy was one of the 10 best hitters in baseball from 2016-2017. While a member of the Nationals, the left-hander hit .334/.387/.569 and knocked 48 home runs over those two seasons. He missed a chunk of time at the beginning of 2018 after recovering from knee surgery. He didn’t hit quite as well as he did the previous two seasons, but he still finished with a 106 OPS+. In Murphy, the Rockies would get someone who should at least be an average hitter, but who is capable of being well above average.
Murphy should be pretty inexpensive to sign. MLB Trade Rumors ranked Murphy as the 31st best free agent on the market, and they predicted he’d sign for two years and $20 million. He wouldn’t cost much in dollars or years, and he wouldn’t cost anything in prospect capital.
He’s a young man, but he’s not a young baseball player. Murphy will be 34-years-old on April 1. His peak 2016-2017 seasons may not be within his reach anymore, even as time passes since he had knee surgery. Murphy’s age may be one reason why he’d be cheap to sign, but that also may be a warning sign that he wouldn’t be the offensive upgrade the Rockies really need.
Here’s another con: Murphy’s not a first baseman! Murphy, a second baseman, has played 225 games at first base in his career (198 as a starter), but 101 of those came in 2009. He’s not a great defender at second base, and Rockies fans have some idea that even middle infielders can’t just play first and be good at it. Let’s not do this again, Rockies.
The switch-hitting Smoak has been quietly very good over the past two seasons. He’s hit .256/.353/.495 for the Blue Jays, which rounds out to a 127 OPS+. He’s also displayed a lot of power. Smoak hit 38 home runs in 2017, though he hit just 25 last season. Another tool in Smoak’s offensive toolbox is the ability to take a walk. Over the past three seasons Smoak has walked at least 11.5% of the time, with his best season coming in 2018 with a 14% walk rate. Over the past five seasons, the highest walk rate among Rockies players (500 PA min.) was 11.6%, which Mark Reynolds had in 2017.
Here’s another pro: He’s a first baseman! As a major-leaguer, Smoak hasn’t taken a rep at any other position on the field. He’s either been at the cold corner or in the lineup as a designated hitter. Some might call that a lack of versatility, but I call it not having to hope he can field his position. He’s not going to win a Gold Glove at first, but he’ll play it competently.
Smoak turned 32-years-old earlier this month, and he just had the two best seasons of his career. He might be a late bloomer, but he also might be a late bloomer that also withers away quickly. If his career ended before his 30s, he would have finished with a .223/.308/.392 line and a below average OPS+. It’s not that we can’t trust what he’s done the past two seasons, but it should still give some pause.
The Rockies would also need to use some prospect capital to acquire Smoak, who’s under contract with the Blue Jays for the 2019 season. Fortunately, because he’s ready to hit free agency after the 2019 season, the Rockies wouldn’t need to trade one of their top prospects. In Harding’s article, he writes: “Would the Blue Jays — not believed to be seeking Major Leaguers, and especially not those in their arbitration years — eat some of Smoak’s salary for the right prospects?”
Smoak is only set to make $8 million in 2019, so why try to negotiate that part in an effort to give up a better prospect? If the Rockies take on the whole contract, they can probably get the deal done with a mid-level prospect and a lottery ticket.
Who do you got?
To me, Smoak is clearly the better choice. He seems to have found his hitting groove, he can be had without giving up too much, and he’s an actual real life first baseman. That he’s only under contract for one season may be seen as a bug, but the Rockies would have an exclusive negotiation window if they like him. Murphy may be the player more likely to break out for a monster season, but Smoak is more likely to be a reliable contributor on both offense and defense — a significant contributor for a competitive team.
Who do you got?
This poll is closed