The Rockies are shuffling their outfield alignment for the upcoming season, writes Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. They’ll utilize Ian Desmond as their primary center fielder, with Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl lining up in corners. (Saunders further tweets that Blackmon will play right field, with Dahl playing left.) It’ll be the third position for Desmond with the Rockies in the third season of his five-year, $70MM contract. Desmond was primarily a left fielder with the Rox in 2017 and was the team’s regular first baseman last year, though offseason signee Daniel Murphy will handle first base moving forward.
Desmond, 33, does have some experience in center field, which was his primary position with the Rangers back in 2016. However, he drew mixed reviews there at the time (-6 Defensive Runs Saved, -0.5 Ultimate Zone Rating and +3 Outs Above Average) and will be tasked with a challenging draw in covering Coors Field’s spacious center field.
The shift will move Blackmon, who hasn’t played any corner outfield since 2015 (when he played fewer than 100 innings, combined, in right and left field), in an effort to gain more favorable results. Blackmon’s defensive ratings plummeted in 2018, and his bat, while still well above average, took a step back as well. That, and perhaps a desire to keep Blackmon’s legs a bit fresher, quite likely played a role in the new alignment, though manager Bud Black also called center field Desmond’s “best position” at this point. For a 33-year-old that has logged just 27 innings at the position over the past two seasons, that seems like a stretch, but Desmond will once again be tasked with tackling an unfamiliar position as the Rox look to extract some value from a signing that has yet to pay dividends.
The first two seasons of Desmond’s five-year contract have gone about as poorly as the Rockies could have plausibly envisioned at the time they signed him. The two-time All-Star (2012 with the Nats and 2016 with the Rangers) has managed just a .251/.314/.404 batting line (78 OPS+) while struggling through a broken hand and a calf strain in an injury-shortened 2017 season. While his bat trended up a bit this past season, he was still a far cry from his offensive peak. Paired with some rough glovework at first base, those struggles prompted both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference to tab Desmond’s value south of replacement level. Desmond is slated to earn $15MM in each of the next two seasons and will be paid $8MM in 2021 (plus a $2MM buyout on a $10MM option for the 2022 season).