If you’ve seen Moneyball (yes, I know I site that movie often…have you watched it yet?) you know that a key theme in the A’s transition in 2002 was putting a former catcher at first base. It was a huge disagreement between the manager and the GM. Recently the Colorado Rockies decided to try out a new player at first base who had never played that position before:
“We thought about, ‘baseball player,’ ” Black said. “Let’s get as many good baseball players as we can. We didn’t think, ‘We need a right fielder. We need a center fielder. We need a second baseman.’ We said, ‘Let’s go get a baseball player who is good.’ ”
It’s not an easy shift, but they’re working it out:
Field R8 actually is a half-field, designed for infield practice. Ian Desmond is at first base. DJ LeMahieu is at second, joining his new infield partner for early work for the first time.
LeMahieu, a Gold Glove winner in 2014, does not need extra reps. But he needs to get in sync with Desmond, who in 7,938 defensive innings in the majors has, ahem, never played first base.
Why would they do this? There were other first basemen on the market this year. Chris Carter didn’t get signed until February. Why take a 31 year old shortstop turned outfielder and turn him into a corner infielder?
The Rockies targeted Desmond as a first baseman from the start of free agency. That is where they had an opening, and general manager Jeff Bridich said he viewed the potential addition of Desmond as enhancing a strength — the athleticism of the Rockies’ defenders, which is especially critical at the offensive incubator known as Coors Field.
Most of the available first basemen were below-average defenders. None was as capable as Desmond of playing other positions, either in an emergency or in the future. And Rockies manager Bud Black says that when critics of the signing focus solely on position, they miss the point.
Brooklyn did this with Jackie Robinson many years ago. With him, they did in the minors of course, knowing that the hole they wanted him to fill was at first. It’s not a new thing in baseball. You’re looking for the right guy to fill a starting position and you need to consider more than where he’s played recently. In this case they’re looking for a presence in the dugout of maturity and a player who works hard to win. As you can read in the cited article, he’s already taken the research of learning the new position very seriously and came to Spring Training ready to work.
I think the Rockies will find this to be a successful move. I hope that Ian Desmond is successful there (except when they play the Cubs, of course!) and that he’s an asset to the team and baseball in general. Given that my favorite Cubbie made his bones as a super-utility guy it’ll be fun to see how it works out with Desmond this year at first base and then maybe next year someplace else on the field, and of course Ben gets a mention in the article for this reason:
It’s conceivable that Desmond could become the Rockies’ version of Ben Zobrist, shifting between multiple positions in one season. But he is less enthusiastic about that possibility, saying it takes a “special skill-set” to bounce around like the Cubs’ Zobrist, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, and that he prefers to play one position at a time.
Otherwise, he’s eager to explore.
Good luck, Desmond! Here’s hoping you’re the second best first basement in the NL next year.
Here’s an interview from MLB with Ian on the transition: