What are the Rockies planning to do with Ian Desmond?
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Ian Desmond demonstrated last season that he is a great athlete and willing pupil, excelling in the outfield — first in left, then in center — after spending his entire career at shortstop.
But first base? Why would any team want to waste Desmond’s athleticism at first base?
The Rockies evidently are planning to do just that after reaching agreement Wednesday with Desmond on a five-year, $70 million free-agent contract.
But plans — particularly offseason plans — are subject to change.
The Rockies, even after securing Desmond, are not ruling out signing free agent Mark Trumbo, according to major-league sources. If that happened, Trumbo would play first and the Rockies could trade Carlos Gonzalez or Charlie Blackmon for pitching, clearing the way for Desmond to return to the outfield.
Too much to ask? Perhaps. Desmond’s contract is the largest the Rockies have ever awarded a free-agent position player, and Trumbo — who led the majors with 47 homers last season — is believed to be seeking a deal in the same range.
Still, the Rox would save by moving Gonzalez ($20 million) or Blackmon (projected $9 million in arbitration, according to MLBTradeRumors.com), even if they had to include cash in a Gonzalez deal. And if they could get, say, righty Luke Weaver from the Cardinals for Blackmon, they would be in a better place overall.
Desmond undoubtedly could handle first, but the position is more difficult to master than most fans think. What’s more, the Rockies hold a competitive advantage when it comes to Trumbo; they already have lost the No. 11 pick overall for Desmond, and would forfeit only a second-rounder if they signed another qualifying-offer free agent.
Likely? Probably not. Intriguing? Absolutely.
EASY ON THE NATIONALS!
Here are some questions for all those who immediately condemned the Nationals for trading three highly regarded prospects to the White Sox for five years of outfielder Adam Eaton at an average of $7.7 million per season.
What if right-hander Lucas Giolito is everything some Nats officials feared, short on athleticism and unable to repeat his delivery? What if righty Reynaldo Lopez is only a reliever, Dane Dunning only a back-end starter?
Those, admittedly, are worst-case scenarios; White Sox general manager Rick Hahn was correct in saying that each could become a top-of-the-rotation starter — assuming that each stays healthy. Still, the record of Nats general manager Mike Rizzo in trades is near-impeccable. And Eaton is a player who can help the Nats win immediately and in the future.
Don’t underestimate the value of Eaton’s contract to the Nats; ownership occasionally splurges on big-ticket items such as Jayson Werth, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, but otherwise requires Rizzo to operate under fairly tight constraints.
One concern with Eaton is that he plays so hard, he might wear down. Still, he’s only 28, and he missed 14 games combined the past two seasons. No, he will not be as good in center as he will be in right. But Eaton and Trea Turner at the top of the lineup — either in that order or reversed — should be fun to watch.
Yes, the Nats still need a closer — might Rizzo call one of his favorite trading partners, the Athletics’ Billy Beane, on lefty Sean Doolittle? They also need more rotation depth after trading Giolito and Lopez; righty Erick Fedde will require more minor-league time.
The Nats, though, have pieces to move — infielder Danny Espinosa, displaced by Turner at shortstop, is expendable as a $5 million-plus utility man. The team had talked about trading Gio Gonzalez, a $12 million lefty, if they had acquired Chris Sale, but might be reluctant to make such a move now.
AND THE WHITE SOX?
Between the Sale and Eaton trades, Hahn acquired two of the top three prospects in the game, according to MLBpipeline.com — infielder Yoan Moncada, who ranks No. 1, and Giolito, who is No. 3.
The GM also injected six new players into the White Sox’s top 10 prospect list — Moncada, Giolito, right-hander Michael Kopech and Lopez are the new top 4, while outfielder Luis Besabe is No. 9 and Dunning No. 10.
The industry rightly is praising Hahn for his twin coups, but GMs know better than to gloat at such moments. Almost all find it painful to trade fixtures such as Sale and Eaton for players who at the moment are all-promise, no-production.
Hahn, without question, is doing the right thing, and he isn’t finished yet. In fact, the concern now for teams that want Sox lefty Jose Quintana is that the acquisition cost will be exorbitant, given what Hahn pulled off the past two days.
Beyond Quintana, the White Sox can still move first baseman Jose Abreu, second baseman Brett Lawrie and third baseman Todd Frazier, not to mention outfielder Melky Cabrera and closer David Robertson.
The team might lose 100 games next season if most of those players go, but what choice did the White Sox have? You’re either in you’re out, and for too long the Sox were in-between.
THE INDIANS’ HIDDEN FINANCIAL MUSCLE
The Indians, as a low-revenue team, rarely will be the high bidder for any free agent. But thanks to two recent developments, they are in stronger financial position than in years past.
The first development, of course, was playing eight postseason games at home, including four in the World Series. The exact financial impact is difficult to calculate, but executives estimate it to be in the tens of millions.
The second development received less attention, but was perhaps no less significant — John Sherman, a Kansas City entrepreneur, joined the Indians Aug. 19 as a vice chairman and minority ownership partner, almost certainly giving the Indians better financial footing.
This isn’t to suggest that the Indians should sign free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a five-year, $100 million deal; that would be irresponsible. But could the Indians give Encarnacion a contract similar to the one the Mets awarded Yoenis Cespedes last off-season — three years, $75 million with a one-year opt-out?
It might not be as unthinkable as before.