Rockies Sign Ian Desmond, But Is He Actually Good?

Colorado has landed the center fielder and shortstop to play first base -- for now. The Rockies may have other moves on the horizon.

So Ian Desmond finally got his contract.

Just two years after eschewing a $100 million extension offer from the Washington Nationals before being forced to take a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers late last offseason, the Colorado Rockies have signed the center fielder/shortstop to a five year, $70 million deal that contains an option for a sixth year. It is the largest free agent position player contract ever given to a player by the Rockies, with only Mike Hampton's 8-year, $121 million contract in 2000 beating it.

The Good

Last year, Desmond was selected to his second All-Star Game and batted .285/.335/.446 with 22 home runs, 29 doubles and 21 stolen bases.

Those are pretty decent numbers on the surface, and playing at Coors Field will certainly help Desmond's overall totals. The Rockies, who already have Charlie Blackmon in center and Trevor Story at shortstop, say they plan to play Desmond at first base, at least for now. Desmond has never played first before, so the move is a bit baffling, but most expect Colorado to trade one of their outfielders (Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez could both be on the block) in order to put Desmond in center. The Rockies would then need to sign another first baseman.

If Desmond plays first, his offensive numbers -- which are good for a centerfielder -- look at lot less impressive coming from a first baseman.

Desmond had a nice bounce-back season for the Rangers last year, good enough to earn him the big payday he missed out on before the 2015 season. Two years ago, he hit .233/.290/.384 with 19 homers in 641 plate appearances for the Nationals, and he posted a wRC+ of 83 (league average is 100) and an fWAR of 1.7. Last year, his wRC+ improved to 106 and his fWAR jumped to 3.3.

The Bad

Still, there are alarm bells ringing.

Desmond will be 31 years old next year, and he is signed through his age-35 season. While his overall numbers last year look pretty good, they get a bit less impressive when you break it down.

Split Average On-Base Slugging OPS wRC+ Homers BB% K%
1st Half .322 .375 .524 .899 138 15 7.3% 24.5%
2nd Half .237 .283 .347 .630 65 7 5.5% 22.5%

As you can see, his numbers cratered across the board in the second half, mirroring the stats he put up over a full season in 2015. In three of the last four half-seasons of baseball, Desmond has been a below-average offensive player.

Again, playing in the thin air of Denver could go a long way in alleviating some of these concerns. Like many players, Desmond has good numbers in Colorado, with a slash line of .379/.406/.611 with 3 homers, 18 RBI's, 11 doubles and 14 runs scored in 23 games there. But it's still a risky contract for the Rocks, who could be on the hook for a lot of money and some pretty lean years if Desmond doesn't play like his 2016 first-half self.

And one last note -- the Rockies were forced to give up their first-round pick in the draft, No. 11 overall, to sign Desmond, a free agent who had declined a qualifying offer.

Going Forward

The Rockies clearly aren't done. It's likely they'll unload either Blackmon or Gonzalez and get at least a couple top prospects back, adding to an already flourishing farm system. And Colorado will still have the capital to sign one of the many first basemen still on the market after Desmond is moved to center.

Colorado hasn't yet figured out how to win consistently in their incredibly huge and homer-happy ballpark, but it appears once again they're trying to do it with offense. Signing Desmond was the first domino in what will likely be more moves over the coming days and weeks. If this move doesn't result in other moves, then it's a head-scratching signing for Colorado.