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Ian Desmond opted out of MLB in 2020

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But his future plans will have an impact on the Rockies’ options

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Welcome to the 2020 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2020. 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. —, Ian Desmond: — rWAR

Although Ian Desmond opted to sit out the 2020 season, it’s worth asking what the Rockies lost in his absence and questioning what the future holds.

In July, Desmond notified the world of his decision through a thoughtful Instagram post that addressed racial justice issues in the United States as well as his own experience with racism. Here is a key passage:

His decision (deservedly) received considerable media attention. (See here, here, here, here, and here.)

The Rockies’ organization, as well as Desmond’s teammates, were vocal in their support. As Nolan Arenado put it: “Our team is very supportive of him, always have been. . . . This won’t change a thing. I think Ian is doing what he believes. I respect Ian and I always have, always will. We can all learn from him. I know I have.”

Since announcing his decision, Desmond’s Instagram has addressed issues of social justice, baseball access, and family. In addition, the Desmonds welcomed their fifth child. So even though he wasn’t hanging out at Coors Field, he had a very busy summer.

In addition, Desmond was the Rockies’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which goes to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Even though he wasn’t in the clubhouse, the Rockies showed in their nomination that they see Ian Desmond is an important part of their team.

No one can say how Desmond would have played in 2020, but if 2019 is any indication, he ranked 50th with a -1.5 rWAR in Purple Row’s “Ranking the Rockies” series.

For years, Rockies fans have ridiculed the “good clubhouse guy,” with Desmond often used as the example. (Conversely, Desmond is routinely cited by teammates as an important clubhouse leader, and they are not being sarcastic. Desmond’s presence on this team has mattered.) With this in mind, it’s worth asking if his clubhouse presence was missed by a 2020 Rockies team that seemed adrift as its season imploded. There is no sense that the Rockies have replaced key leaders such as DJ LeMahieu, Carlos González, and Gerardo Parra. Desmond’s absence may have exacerbated that issue for the Rockies.

As the Rockies began recalibrating their balance sheet, Desmond’s wages were (presumably) part of the accounting. He was not paid his pro-rated $15 million 2020 salary.

The other question is whether Ian Desmond will return to baseball. He remains under contract with the Rockies through 2021 when he will earn $8 million; the club also has a 2022 club option. Desmond has not indicated his plans.

If he does return to baseball, presumably, he will become a DH given his ability to hit left-handed pitchers (.297/.350/.626 in 2019). He can also play in the outfield or infield (or pitch in a pinch), so he would probably take on Matt Kemp’s duties. All of this assumes that baseball adopts a universal DH in 2021. If it does not, the Ian Desmond conundrum will continue.