When new Rockies manager Bud Black was introduced to new Rockies first baseman Ian Desmond, Desmond told him, “I am a baseball player.”
Seems pretty simple, right? But Desmond is just the sort of veteran the perennially underachieving Rockies needed – an intense, no-nonsense guy who’s willing to do what it takes to win.
The point is, he is playing first base now (the Rockies weren’t kidding about that) but could move to play shortstop, third base, center field, or anywhere else should the need arise. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s right-handed; previously, the Rockies were a bit lefty heavy for a division with Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Rich Hill, Julio Urias and other southpaws.
With Desmond, the Rockies’ lineup is just about as good as any in baseball. Plus, they have an emerging young pitching staff that brings real hope for the first time (that’s always the question with the Rockies; when Black was asked how they’ll do, he flashed an abbreviated pitching motion, as if to say, they can do it if they pitch), and a suddenly stacked pen.
“I like our chances,” says Rockies veteran star Carlos Gonzalez.
If he’s said it before, there’s reason to mean it this time. The Rockies are one of seven teams that are cited here who could surprise this year. (The other six are below.)
Of course, as always for the Rockies, it will probably come down to the health (their’s has been notoriously iffy over the years) and the pitching. So it doesn’t hurt that veteran pitching expert Black is here to coax the most out of a very young staff.
Jon Gray looks like a potential star, Tyler Anderson, Chad Bettis and Tyler Chatwood seem pretty solid (and good enough to win with their stacked lineup), and there are a lot of real possibilities for the No. 5 job, and not just the usual fifth-spot flyers.
There’s Jeff Hoffman, the 99-mph-throwing right-hander who should be a star eventually, plus German Marquez, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela, a guy Black likes a lot.
The pen looks a lot better, too, with lefty Mike Dunn and ex-Royals closer Greg Holland signed to beef up the back end that already had Adam Ottavino and Jake McGee. Gonzalez suggests that should take pressure off all the guys. “That’ll make their jobs less stressful,” CarGo says. “The only stress they have now is fighting to see who closes.” (If healthy and at full strength, it’s probably Holland.)
Indeed, the whole team looks a lot better. The only quibble here is that by mapping out the plan early, and diving in early, they didn’t exactly get big bargains. Dunn was paid handsomely, at $19 million for three years. And Desmond was, too, at $70 million for five, although it did cost a draft pick. But that isn’t necessarily the way to look at it.
Desmond was a major bargain last year, signing a well-below-market $8 million, with the Rangers. But he doesn’t view it like that at all.
No regrets, Desmond says. “I enjoyed last year,” he said. “I got to play for a 95-win team.”
That’s the kind of attitude they need with the Rockies, and now have more of it.
By Jon Heyman