TUESDAY, December 13, 2016

Ian Desmond officially joins Rockies, says he can thrive as a first baseman

Source: Denver Post published by Patrick Saunders


COLORADO - When asked for his firsthand assessment, Jeff Banister didn’t hesitate. The Ian Desmond project began in earnest for the Rockies on Tuesday afternoon.


With an emphasis on Desmond’s athletic ability, versatility and all-around baseball skills, general manager Jeff Bridich introduced Desmond as the Rockies’ new first baseman after Desmond officially signed a five-year, $70 million contract — the biggest free-agent contract ever for a Rockies position player.


Also, because Desmond declined a qualifying offer from the Texas Rangers after the 2016 season, the Rockies must forfeit their 11th overall pick in next June’s draft. That’s a lot to give up for someone who has never played first base at any level, let alone in the majors.


Still, Bridich is confident in his plan and believes Desmond is a perfect fit for a team seen by many as one on the rise.


“We are extremely excited about adding another member to the Rockies family,” Bridich said. “A couple of years ago, we started talking about versatility and athleticism becoming a priority for this organization … along with getting veterans of character. Ian represents all of that, and that is the exciting thing.”


Desmond, 31, is a strong, athletic 6-foot-3, 215-pounder who is known as an excellent baserunner,  Desmond has primarily played shortstop in his eight-year major-league career, but played left field and center field last season for the Rangers. He hit .285 with 22 home runs and 86 RBIs in 156 games.


The Rockies began discussions with Desmond’s agents at November’s general manager meetings with the idea of bringing Desmond to Colorado and converting him into a first baseman. The more the two sides talked, the more excited they became about making the switch a reality.


Now the Rockies are counting on Desmond to fill out an already star-filled infield, and also give the team a reassuring and productive presence at first base that reminds fans of former Colorado all-stars Andres Galarraga and Todd Helton.


Desmond — who has 132 career home runs with a career-best 25 in 2012 — adamantly deflected the idea that he might have trouble transitioning to a new position.


“Last year, I think, was enough proof, to me, to be able to do this,” Desmond said. “Not only did I transition to left field on short (notice), but then I transitioned to center field with no practice.


“I feel like I had a pretty successful time last year, with a ton of help. And I believe through conversations with the Rockies that they are going to give me all the help I need to succeed there. I understand how important it is to a team to have a good first baseman.”


News broke at last week’s winter meetings that the Rockies were going to sign Desmond, but rumors continued to swirl that the Rockies were planning more major moves, including possibly signing free-agent, first-base sluggers Mark Trumbo or Edwin Encarnacion. Such a move would necessitate playing Desmond in the outfield instead of first base, and could possibly open the door for the Rockies to trade outfielder Charlie Blackmon, or Carlos Gonzalez, for pitching.


Bridich, however, watered down those rumors, at least to some extent, on Tuesday. He has talked with Blackmon to reassure him about his place in Colorado, and Bridich also insists that Desmond is indeed the Rockies’ first baseman going forward.


“Until those guys (Trumbo and Encarnacion) are fully signed, we will certainly keep abreast of the market, just like we always do, but we signed Ian to be our first baseman,” Bridich said. “Who knows what could change that? But we signed Ian to be our first baseman.”


Bridich touted Desmond as an unselfish ballplayer who’ll be an excellent fit in the Colorado clubhouse. Desmond certainly sounded like he’s ready to play that part.


“Over pretty much my whole career, I didn’t label myself as a shortstop, and last year I didn’t label myself as an outfielder,” Desmond said. “I want to be a ballplayer and someone who can help the team. I’m willing to do that. I think that’s obvious over the last couple of years.


“I want to be an asset. I want to be somebody the manager can look to and say, ‘Hey, this provides me with the best opportunity to have the best lineup I can have today.’ So I am going to be the best first baseman I can be, but keep the other tools fresh.”


Desmond has a .267 career batting average, along with a .316 on-base percentage and .427 slugging percentage, and earned three consecutive National League Silver Slugger awards at shortstop from 2012-2014.


Desmond said the Rockies were a team he has targeted ever since he left the Washington Nationals as a free agent after the 2015 season. He ended up signing a one-year deal with Texas for $8 million.


“From the outside looking in, this is an unbelievable group of guys with a ton of talent, and I wanted to be part of the opportunity to do something special here in Denver,” he said. “We understand it is not going to be easy, but we’re excited for the challenge.”




Ian Desmond officially signed with the Rockies on Tuesday. Here’s how he made his way to Colorado:


Drafted by the Montreal Expos in the third round of the 2004 major-league draft out of Sarasota High School (Fla.).


Made major-league debut Sept. 10, 2009, at age 23,  for the Washington Nationals (formerly the Expos).


Played parts of seven seasons for the Nationals, primarily as a shortstop.


Signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Texas Rangers for the 2016  season, and was converted from shortstop to outfielder.


Signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Rockies on Tuesday, the largest free-agent contract for a position player in franchise history.