Early on the third day of the 2016 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings in Washington, D.C., Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweeted that it appeared free agent SS/OF Ian Desmond would be headed to the Colorado Rockies.
Rosenthal, along with the New York Post’s Joel Sherman and FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, eventually uncovered that the terms of the deal would be five years and $70 million, with an option for a sixth year at $13 million, and that the Rockies would be looking for Desmond to play both outfield — a position he transitioned to last season with Texas — as well as first base, a position he’s never played before at the professional level.
Desmond, 31, was drafted by the Montreal Expos organization in 2004 and remained with the franchise throughout their transition to Washington, making his major-league debut for the Nationals in 2009. Desmond took control of Washington’s shortstop position to start the 2010 season and made a name for himself at the position over the next 6 seasons, appearing in over 900 games and stringing together a trio of 4.0+ fWAR seasons from 2012 to 2014.
After a lackluster season in 2015, Desmond declined the Nationals’ qualifying offer and decided to test the free agent market. With the loss of a first-round draft pick attached to his name, teams were hesitant to court Desmond in free agency, and he ended up settling for a one-year, $8 million deal with the Texas Rangers. The caveat of the deal was that Desmond would need to transition to the outfield, a position he had played only sparingly early in his professional career.
Desmond thrived with the Rangers, bouncing back from his mediocre 2015 campaign to post a 3.3-fWAR season in which he batted .285/.335/.446 with 22 home runs, 29 doubles, 86 runs batted in, and a 106 wRC+. Defensively, Desmond received praise for his handling of the transition, but he posted a -4 DRS and -1.5 UZR in the outfield according to FanGraphs’ metrics. Despite the negative ratings, many view Desmond as an average or slightly better than average outfielder.
After finally receiving the payday he was expecting last offseason, Desmond — a two-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger award winner for National League shortstops — is faced with another daunting positional transition. If the Rockies eventually elect to move Desmond to first base instead of someone like Carlos Gonzalez — who many believe would be a good fit at the position — he will be tasked with learning his second “new” position in as many years. However, as evidenced by Hanley Ramirez‘s near-miraculous defensive bounce-back in 2016, even the least capable of outfielders can learn to play first base serviceably with enough work over the offseason.