After a 2019 season that saw things go entirely sideways in Denver, changes figure to be afoot for the Rockies this offseason. Despite returning most of a roster that managed a postseason berth in 2018, Bud Black’s club whimpered to a 71-91 record this past season and likely would have ended up in the NL West cellar had it not been for a circumspective second-half collapse on the part of the rival Padres.
Nick Groke of The Athletic, for one, is already musing on potential changes that GM Jeff Bridich could make in an effort to get the club back in contention for 2020 (link). Specifically, Groke points out several players who could be on the “hot seat” this winter, given the club’s current 40-man roster squeeze. Five players currently on the club’s 60-day injured list–Brendan Rodgers, Scott Oberg, Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis–will need to be moved off the IL this offseason, necessitating at least five impending roster decisions for Bridich. Groke identifies pitcher Jeff Hoffman as the man that should fall firmly into his club’s roster trimming crosshairs, as his age (26) and near-complete lack of production (6.11 ERA in 209.1 career innings) render his former top-50 prospect status little more than a wistful memory. Groke names ten other players as possible roster casualties, although Bridich signee Ian Desmond–who has produced a cumulative -1.7 fWAR in three Colorado seasons after agreeing to a 5-year/$70MM deal in 2016–is conspicuously absent from his list.
Desmond has two years and $25MM in guarantees remaining on his deal (the pact includes a $15MM option for 2022 which is attached to a $2MM buyout), but it may be time to wonder if the club should swallow bravely and push the ’eject’ button on the ill-fated Desmond deal. While it would be enticing to believe that the former shortstop could be on the brink of a turnaround, there would be little hard evidence to support such a case: his .304 BABIP in three Colorado seasons is only marginally below his .321 career marker, and his 2019 XWOBA of .309 was right in line with his WOBA of .317; moreover, Desmond is 34 years old, and his troubles at the plate are really only the beginning of his performance problems.
When Desmond came to the Rockies in 2017, he was a distinct shortstop/centerfielder hybrid who, despite something of an inconsistent offensive track record, offered somewhat stable value on the bases and in the field. As you might expect for a player reaching his mid-thirties, much of that athletically dependent ability has appeared to abandon Desmond. 2019 marked the first time since 2012 that the native Floridian recorded a negative baserunning metric (-1.7 BSR), while his work in the Rockies outfield was generally a horrorshow. A move back to centerfield produced a -19 DRS mark in 2019 for Desmond, with UZR also generally thumbing its nose at his up-the-middle efforts (-7.2 UZR in 2019 at CF).
Admittedly, metrics indicated a roughly average performance for Desmond in 300-plus innings in left field, but can the club continue to justify running out an average-fielding corner outfielder with negative basepath value and a bat that has been markedly below-average in his three years in Colorado? After all, Desmond’s combined 80 wRC+ during his three years in purple and black is, in itself, indicative of a player who probably should not be long for a major league roster. Add in the other limitations to Desmond’s current game, and the patina of “veteran leadership” falls short of explaining his prospective inclusion on Colorado’s 2020 roster.
It is exceedingly rare to see club’s simply cut bait on $25MM in financial commitment. Still, when winning takes precedent, there is a recent parallel for weighting on-field results over balance sheet concerns. The Red Sox–though operating in an entirely different financial habitat than the Rockies–have continued to pay handsomely for the services of outfielder Rusney Castillo; all they’ve asked of Castillo in return is that he kindly provide those services to the Red Sox of Pawtucket, rather than Boston. Point being: when a pennant-seeking organization recognizes a player can’t play up to his contract, they do whatever it takes to sidestep a sunk cost fallacy. If the Rockies plan on contending in the next two seasons, they might be well served to begin their offseason roster trimming with a rather painful decision, rather than paring away mid-20’s players who may yet have their best baseball ahead of them.