The Colorado Rockies have three veteran outfielders. They have signed these players over the course of the last three offseasons: Gerardo Parra in 2016, Ian Desmond in 2017, and Carlos González in 2018. And yes, Desmond also might be a first baseman, which is relevant to this conversation.
In the meantime, the Rockies have been looking forward to the arrival of three of their top prospects, two outfielders and one developing as a first baseman: David Dahl, Raimel Tapia and Ryan McMahon. Each veteran was signed in a distinct context when it came to the progress of those prospects.
Parra was a solid all-around outfielder who the team could use different ways depending on Dahl’s progress. He could start or he could serve as a functional fourth outfielder. Desmond was theoretically separate from the outfield conversation because the team signed him to play first base while it wasn’t obvious where McMahon was in his progress after some ups and downs. The path would still be open for Dahl and eventually Tapia.
González was a beloved franchise favorite who faced the prospect of not finding a team before the 2018 season began. As we understood it on the outside, the team brought CarGo back for his locker room presence and not because he filled a need on the roster; the young guys were probably ready to take over at that point. There wouldn’t be the pressure to start him like there was as he wrapped up his big contract in 2017, or at least we didn’t think there would be.
That brings us to the question of how manager Bud Black will deploy these three veterans. Parra seems to be the least controversial. While he has shown the ability to handle everyday work and did so in some important spots for the Rockies last season, he seems like a logical fit as the fourth outfielder. He can play both corners and even center field in a pinch and therefore offers the most flexibility off the bench.
Desmond presents the trickiest situation, in no small part because he is due a team-high $22 million in 2018. Even if you insist that a playoff contending team should be a meritocracy and the best players will play, that financial investment hangs over those decisions. At the very least, Desmond might get first crack at regular playing time, especially with the options to have the young guys start the year in the minor leagues.
The question pertinent to this conversation is where Desmond will take that playing time. As the offseason meandered along and we daydreamed about a slugging first baseman to bolster the Rockies’ mediocre offense, it seemed a given that Desmond would return to the outfield. Now, with CarGo’s return, we are back to Ian Desmond, first baseman. That might be more palatable if he was on the short side of a platoon with McMahon, but from a recent report from Patrick Saunders it sounds like Desmond might get the job with McMahon starting in Triple-A.
This has all been made even more complicated by the re-signing of CarGo. You would never know that the Rockies ever considered not bringing him back based on his usage in Spring Training (appropriate caveats acknowledged) and the conversations about the lineup since his return. Charlie Blackmon in the middle of the order might as well be a figment of our imagination now that González is back in the fold.
Was it so obvious that if González returned it would be to the starting lineup in the three-hole of the batting order, just like before? Wasn’t the context different enough that all parties could have understood this is different, and that he would at the very least be rotating with other players?
Whatever the answers to those questions, CarGo appears locked into the lineup. We will all hope for a continuation of the vintage CarGo that we saw at the end of 2017 while we help each other find remedies to our stomach aches at the thought of a healthy David Dahl starting this season in the minor leagues.
And that brings us back to the question of how the team plans to use these three veterans. With the young guys seemingly ready to rock at the big league level, especially Dahl and McMahon, it seems reasonable to think that only one of the three veterans should be starting on most days.
In reality it seems that only Parra is looking at a role as a reserve, and even that is not obvious. Pointing to that report in the Denver Post again, the team is laying the groundwork for an opening day roster that has Mike Tauchman on the bench with all three of Dahl, McMahon, and Tapia serving as overqualified minor leaguers on the Albuquerque Isotopes. I think either Dahl or McMahon will start on opening day with Parra on the bench, but we should be prepared for a scenario where all the veterans start.
At the very least, let’s discuss a scenario where Desmond and CarGo will both regularly start somewhere. If McMahon starts, it comes at Dahl’s expense, and vice versa. Tapia might have become the odd man out for now, but the same goes for him with either Dahl or McMahon. Two of the veterans would have to really struggle for the young guys to take over on a regular basis, but what would that mean for the Rockies’ results early in the season in an ultra-competitive National League West?
The question of how these veterans will be used will be key for the Rockies. If early indications are to be believed, it looks like they will be getting the first shots at the starting lineup. In that case, we will need to hope for bounceback seasons from two of them and more consistent results from all of them while waiting to see how the long season opens up opportunities for the young guys.