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Reflecting on the Ian Desmond experience

Colorado Rockies news and links for Sunday, November 7, 2021

Following the conclusion of the 2021 World Series, the Rockies made an expected move when they declined the $15 million option for Ian Desmond, instead opting for the $2 million buyout. The move marks the end of one of the most baffling contracts in team history and could signal the end of Desmond’s career in the big leagues. So, now feels as good a time as any to reflect on the Rockies career of Ian Desmond and his legacy in Colorado.

The initial signing

During the Winter Meetings of 2016, former general manager Jeff Bridich stunned the baseball world when he signed Desmond to a five-year deal worth $70 million. The move was perplexing because the Rockies already had a shortstop, a full outfield, and Desmond only had experience at those positions. Like some kind of bad joke, it was announced that Desmond would become the Rockies' new first baseman, which is something he had never done before.

Initially, I was willing to give Desmond the benefit of the doubt because of his athleticism and the fact that he did have a strong 2016 season with the Texas Rangers in which he slashed .285/.335/.446 along with 22 homers while posting a 2.2 bWAR, all while playing a brand new position in center field. So, Desmond had a single-season track record of being able to be a solid contributor while learning a brand new position. Unfortunately, my initial optimism was misplaced as his time in Colorado was less than ideal.

Ian Desmond the ball player

Desmond’s career with the Rockies did not get off to a great start after he was injured during Spring Training in 2017. The injury opened the door for Mark Reynolds to take over first base and produce a solid season offensively, which forced the Rockies to readjust their plans once Desmond returned from the injured list. He played 27 games at first base but ended up spending the majority of the season in the outfield.

The following season saw Desmond take over at the position he was signed to play, and it was a fairly disappointing season. In 160 games, Desmond batted .236/.307/.422 and did manage to hit 22 homers and steal 20 bases, but outside of that, he didn’t contribute much offensively. The biggest culprit for Desmond’s woes came from his inability to make quality contact and keep the ball off the ground. He hit a ground ball 61.4% of the time and hit into 17 double-plays, which led the team. Add in the fact that he struck out in over 23% of his at-bats and you have a struggling veteran player that blocked young players like Ryan McMahon from getting more playing time.

He moved to the outfield for good in 2019 where he saw some of his stats improve, but Desmond still dealt with the same problems of too many strikeouts and an inability to hit the ball. As a defender, he never looked comfortable at first and the vast size of the Coors Field outfield proved troublesome for the aging veteran.

Desmond ended up playing three seasons for Colorado, compiling an 82 OPS+ and a -0.3 bWAR. He slashed .252/.313./429 during that time with 49 home runs, 193 RBI, and 38 stolen bases over 395 games and overall was not a great pickup for the Rockies. But, there was still more to Desmond that deserves more recognition.

Ian Desmond the human being

The Rockies always seemed to value Desmond’s intangibles as a human being much more than the field performance. Regardless of his struggles on the field, a veteran presence goes a long way for a young team like the Rockies. For all five years on his contract, the Rockies nominated Desmond for the Roberto Clemente Award for his humanitarian, and many of the youngsters credit him with strong guidance that helped them.

Prior to the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Desmond announced that he would be opting out of the seasons due to concerns about COVID-19, racial unrest in the country, and a desire to improve youth baseball in his hometown of Sarasota, Florida. He also chose to spend more time with his family and enjoy the birth of his new baby. In choosing to not play, Desmond forfeited $13,555,556 million, which ended up being a benefit financially to the Rockies.

He continued his humanitarian efforts with the Children’s Tumor Foundation and also established the Newtown Connection nonprofit in his hometown which aims to “allow youth to participate in modified, inclusive, and fast-paced baseball activities, drills, and games to develop their skills” and “uses competitive baseball and softball experiences to promote character development and an active lifestyle, instilling the values of leadership, accountability, teamwork, and the pursuit of excellence.”

Despite everything that could be said about his performance on the field the past couple of years, I have nothing but respect and admiration for what Ian Desmond chose to do. He is a man of conviction and values and he felt that there were things bigger than baseball that he needed to attend to, and that is something of value that we should remember about him.

Ian Desmond the ballplayer was not the move the Rockies should have made as a team on the rise in 2017. They overpaid for a player they didn’t need and who underperformed. They did achieve their goal of signing a person of honorable nature that did bring quality influence to the clubhouse and community.

His baseball legacy will be judged by stats, while his life will be measured by the good deeds he commits.

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