MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Desmond at 1st could work for Rockies

Versatile player has successfully changed positions before

Desmond at 1st could work for Rockies

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Rockies have agreed to terms with Ian Desmond.

Message delivered. The Rockies are not looking at the future. The focus is on here and now.

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If the decision to hire Bud Black, with a big league managerial resume, wasn't statement enough, the fact that the Rockies agreed to sign free agent Desmond to a what is reportedly a five-year, $70 million deal, pending a physical, on Wednesday should provide the exclamation point.

It's the second-biggest free-agent contract in franchise history -- the biggest ever given a position player. Left-hander Mike Hampton was given an eight-year, $121 million deal before the 2001 season.

Most importantly, though, it's a five-year deal that fills an immediate need -- the vacancy at first base -- while also providing long-term flexibility.

First base? Yes. OK, so Desmond has never played first in his professional career. But he is athletic, and as he showed last year with the Rangers, he is versatile.

After playing shortstop for the bulk of his seven seasons with the Nationals, Desmond made a seamless transition to the outfield with the Rangers last year; after opening the season in left field, he became so entrenched in center that when Delino DeShields returned from a Minor League refresher course, Desmond remained in center field for the eventual American League West champions.

Yes, Desmond had been an All-Star shortstop in Washington. But after entering the free-agent market, the Rangers were interested in him, so Desmond didn't just agree to move to the outfield, he embraced the move and adapted so well that he wound up earning a spot on the AL All-Star team.

The Rockies have every reason to believe Desmond will be every bit as committed and successful to the move to first base.

Will Desmond spend all five years there? Maybe. Maybe not. Ryan McMahon, Colorado's No. 6 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, was drafted as a third baseman, and he has played there primarily, but he began getting action at first base last year to create an option for him in light of Nolan Arenado's presence at third base in the big leagues.

Desmond provides middle-infield insurance in case of an injury, like a year ago, when rookie shortstop Trevor Story, a viable Rookie of the Year Award candidate at midseason, missed the final two months of the season with due to left thumb surgery. He also is protection for a year from now, when Carlos Gonzalez is set to become a free agent, as he could provide a veteran presence in the outfield.

Desmond has enjoyed the 23 games he has played in his career at Coors Field, hitting .379 with an OPS of 1.016 and a slugging percentage of .611, the highest of his career in an NL park.

Just as important, the Rockies are confident that in a year or two or three, if they feel they have someone else who can play first but are in need of someone to fill a void in the outfield or somewhere else in the infield, Desmond can answer the call.

Even though Desmond didn't join the Rangers until exhibition games were scheduled to begin, and even though he was being asked to play a new position, it was a matter of days, not months or weeks, before he became a clubhouse factor, helping provide a winning focus.

That is something the Rockies franchise hasn't really had from an everyday player.

Colorado didn't need it in the early years because original manager Don Baylor was such a strong clubhouse presence. When the Rockies made their run to the World Series in 2007, it was again the manager, Clint Hurdle, who had the personality to handle the role and the organizational history, having worked his way up from the Minor League hitting coach to the big league hitting coach to manager.

They don't need it now, either, not with Desmond ready to join the team.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.