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Rockies fans didn’t get to say goodbye to Chris Iannetta

Iannetta was DFA’d in mid-August

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Welcome to the 2019 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2019. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 39, Chris Iannetta (-0.5 rWAR)

On Friday, August 23, the first night of Players Weekend with the miserable monochrome black-and-white uniforms, the Rockies lost a slog of a game in St. Louis, 8-3.

Meanwhile, Chris Iannetta was Instagramming himself setting up a booth for Jack Winery at the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival.

Everything about August was weird. The Rockies were in free fall, ending the month at 9-19, tying 2003 for the worst August in franchise history. They designated Iannetta for assignment on August 12, and thereafter his ghost floated around the edges. As I write this, he is smiling from the calendar on my wall, Mr. August in the “Rockies with Pets Calendar.”

Before he was a 36-year-old vet, Iannetta was a mathematics major and a baseball star at the University of North Carolina. (You can read about his 2002 season in the Cape Cod League in Jim Collins’ wonderful The Last Best League: One Summer, One Season, One Dream.) Iannetta was the Rockies fourth-round draft pick in 2004.

He came up through the farm system and spent eight years with the team, broken up by stints with the California Angels, the Seattle Mariners, and the Arizona Diamondbacks. He caught more games, 571, for the Rockies, than any other Rockies catcher. In the winter of 2017 when Iannetta signed a two-year contract with the Rockies for $8.5 million, he returned, according to Nick Groke, “in part out of loyalty to his original club and in part because he saw a club with playoff potential.”

2019 was not Iannetta’s best year. He slashed .222/.311/.417 with six home runs and 21 RBI in 164 plate appearances. His pop time was slow, his defense lagged, and prior to being DFA’d, his bWAR was -0.4. That said, his career numbers establish him as the Rockies’ best-hitting catcher with a bWAR of 15.5. On August 12, it ended abruptly. As Groke put it: “[T]he Rockies dumped veteran catcher Chris Iannetta without ceremony in one quick move behind a closed door.”

Fans and teammates were stunned. Tony Wolters told The Club immediately after Iannetta was designated:

He was just selfless. He wanted to be there for the younger guys, making them feel like this was their home, making them feel like they belonged. That’s what he did for me. He was constantly just trying to be a positive light, always being in my corner and zero ego, a big teddy bear, just a guy that loves baseball and has been playing this game for a long time with a lot of information. I miss him already. I’m going to be talking to him a lot. He’s my brother.

But life goes on. Iannetta had been working for years with former teammate Vernon Wells to create Jack Winery. Iannetta must have known this would be his last season, but he probably expected to be able to finish it. This was, after all, the team he returned to out of loyalty. The Rockies front office had a different plan. The night that Iannetta was setting up for that food festival, his replacement, Dom Nuñez, earned a golden sombrero against a tough Cardinals pitching staff led by Jack Flaherty. I suspect Iannetta would tell him “that’s baseball” and give him some advice for his next at bat. He’d been there.

I tend to be pragmatic in these situations — this was likely Iannetta’s last year. But I also appreciate what he brought the Rockies, and he deserved better than a DFA announced as a Rockies PR tweet in the middle of a home series with the team two and a half weeks away from calling up Drew Butera. Yes, he got paid. But more than anything, I wish he’d had a moment to take it all in, to stand on home plate wearing his black catcher’s gear and wave farewell to Coors while reflecting on what he had accomplished in his career. And I wish Rockies fans and Iannetta’s teammates had been able to give him one last standing ovation. He earned that moment. The Rockies have existed for 27 years and have reached the playoffs only five times. Iannetta played on three of those teams. That’s something to celebrate.

So, here’s the best I can do. We’re all standing and applauding on a warm summer day at Coors, and the fountains are fired up, and there’s so much purple, and it’s loud, and it’s happy, and it’s sad, and you’re waving to the crowd one last time before walking to the dugout and then into the next part of your life.

Take a minute — there’s no hurry — and just soak it all in.

Thanks, Chris.