In the wake of a potentially season-ending shoulder injury to second baseman Brendan Rodgers, Rockies general manager Bill Schmidt tells Joel Sherman of the New York Post that his team’s likeliest course of action will be to slide third baseman Ryan McMahon over to second base (Twitter link). The current plan would be to leave Kris Bryant in left field and evaluate both Elehuris Montero and Nolan Jones at third base over the course of spring training, though Sherman notes that Schmidt did not entirely rule out a trade of some degree.
The 28-year-old McMahon is no stranger to second base, having logged more than 1600 big league innings at the position. As recently as 2021, McMahon logged 368 innings there and, despite that small sample, piled up impressive totals in Defensive Runs Saved (9), Ultimate Zone Rating (2.9) and Defensive Runs Saved (2). There’s little doubt that McMahon can handle the position from a defensive standpoint, but he also grades out as one of the sport’s top defenders at third base; moving him off that position comes with a price.
It’s a sub-optimal arrangement all around for the Rox, as is always the case in the wake of a major injury. Rodgers won a Gold Glove for his work at second base in 2022, and McMahon might well have done the same were it not for the perennial excellence of his former teammate, Nolan Arenado. McMahon has been a Gold Glove finalist in each of the past two seasons, logging a hefty 23 DRS and 20 OAA in that time (despite some occasional work at second base along the way). Whatever shape the infield takes, the overall defense is going to be weaker without McMahon at the hot corner and Rodgers at second base.
Montero, 24, got his first big league audition with the Rockies in 2022. The former top prospect — acquired in the trade that sent Arenado to St. Louis — struggled to a .233/.270/.432 slash with a huge 32.4% strikeout rate against a 4.3% walk rate in 185 plate appearances, however. Scouting reports have generally pegged him as a below-average defender at third base with enough power to potentially still carve out a regular role as a corner infielder.
His shaky big league debut notwithstanding, Montero tattooed Triple-A pitching, raking at a .310/.392/.541 clip with vastly superior walk and strikeout rates of 9.1% and 21.2%, respectively. He connected on 21 homers in just 482 plate appearances between Triple-A and the big leagues, demonstrating his power potential.
Jones is also 24 and also a former top-100 prospect. The Rockies acquired him from the Guardians over the winter, likely with the initial expectation that the infielder-turned-outfielder could factor into the corner mix to some extent at Coors Field. The injury to Rodgers and subsequent opening at third base gives Jones a chance to get a look at his natural and most oft-played position, however. He’s logged 3261 professional innings at third base.
Like Montero, Jones made his MLB debut in 2022 but turned in below-average offense: a .244/.309/.372 slash in 94 plate appearances with the Guardians. He didn’t post quite as gaudy numbers as Montero in Triple-A, but Jones’ .276/.368/.463 slash with Cleveland’s top affiliate was impressive nevertheless.
Between the two former top prospects, Montero could have the leg up when it comes to making the Opening Day roster, if only because he cannot be freely sent to Triple-A. Montero is out of minor league options, whereas Jones still has one option year remaining. The two do form a natural platoon. Montero is a right-handed bat, while Jones bats left-handed. As such, there’s potentially room for both on the Opening Day roster if they turn heads in camp — and, crucially, if the Rockies don’t pursue a trade to address either second base or third base.
As far as the potential trade market is concerned, there are any number of speculative alleys the Rockies could explore. Each of the Orioles (Jorge Mateo, Ramon Urias), A’s (Tony Kemp), Red Sox (Bobby Dalbec), Yankees (Isiah Kiner-Falefa) and Royals (Nicky Lopez, Hunter Dozier) have infielders who’ve at least been loosely mentioned on the rumor circuit this offseason.
Of course, it’s not clear that all of those names are definitive upgrades over Colorado’s in-house options, and the stronger likelihood is that the Rox just fill the need from within. Both Montero and Jones are controllable for six more seasons, after all, and while these surely aren’t the circumstances under which the team hoped to be able to evaluate the pair at the MLB level, the newfound opportunity to do so at least offers some potential good to come from an otherwise unfortunate injury to Rodgers.