The Rockies’ Future at First Base

Aug 23, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies first baseman Ben Paulsen (10) catches a ball at first base during the seventh inning against the New York Mets at Coors Field. The Mets won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 23, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies first baseman Ben Paulsen (10) catches a ball at first base during the seventh inning against the New York Mets at Coors Field. The Mets won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /

A few weeks ago, Rox Pile’s own Isaac Marks weighed the idea of moving slugger Corey Dickerson into our hole at first base.  Our left fielder is now our former left fielder, so we are back to the drawing board.

Now that C-Dick is gone, the focus seems to have switched to a different Rockie to move into that spot.  Various reports are surfacing that trusty veteran Carlos Gonzalez is going to be introduced to first base, at least to try it out for size.

The discussion about moving an outfielder to first base is worth having.  Even after trading Dickerson, the outfield still seems a little crowded with both Raimel Tapia and David Dahl knocking on Denver’s door.  We don’t need to make space right this moment, but we need to have spots open in the near future if we plan to build around these young’uns.  Moving CarGo out of right field would open one of these spots.

That being said, I still don’t think this is the right move.  Little Pony grades out as a solid defensive outfielder.  He’s not performing at a Gold Glove-level like he was when he won the award in 2013, but he is still serviceable.  DRS grades him as above average, while UZR ranks him as slightly below average.  It is not the same as Dickerson, whose lingering injury issues and squirt-gun arm seemed to warrant a positional move anyway.

My concern with Gonzalez doesn’t necessarily come from the spot he’s leaving as much as the spot he is moving to.  As Fictional Ron Washington famously told Star Lord in 2001, playing first base is, “incredibly hard.”  Baseball has moved past the idea that any fat, ‘roided up old slugger can man the cornerstone.  It takes some skill.  It’s an awkward position that doesn’t have a lot of overlap with other spots around the diamond.  The footwork is unique and scoops aren’t something that other guys, especially outfielders, get a bunch of practice doing.  First base is a dance, and many guys have two left feet.

moneyball copy
moneyball copy /

Fielding a brick wall at first helps to win games.  Considering that it took us a bonus game to get into the 2007 playoffs, I shouldn’t have to remind anyone reading this article that the little things matter.  If we didn’t have the sure-handed Toddfather manning first, who knows if we get to see Game 163 in the first place.  I also don’t need to remind you about Jordan Pacheco’s mediocre performance and Wilin Rosario’s nightmare during their recent attempted conversions.

Pacheco and Rosario hows a lack in the Rockies’ ability to teach guys how to play first base.  Especially one who has the same amount of experience as a professional infielder as you or I.  CarGo is a great athlete but given that he has excelled as a defender in the outfield over the last decade, I think he is best served staying there.  On top of that, Gonzalez has only two years left on his deal.  If the organization follows the plan that everyone outside the front office believes in, he shouldn’t be wearing purple by the time we start contending anyway.

At press time, all reports indicate that this writer is always a pessimist.  Anyone who listens to the podcasts on this site know that about me.  It is easy for a guy like me to point out what can go wrong.  I don’t want to always be that guy.  I want to propose a few solutions.

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The first, which Isaac also discussed in his article, is to move Ryan McMahon to first base.  Given the obvious blockage at his current position by a guy named Nolan Arenado, it is logical that we would want to find a different route to get him on the field.  It could work given that he is only 20 years old and he would have a year or two to develop before anything is expected of him at a big league level.  This could give him a chance to succeed.

However where Isaac sees a move to first base as a logical step, I see it as a compromise to his biggest strengths. sees McMahon as more of a second baseman or an outfielder and I tend to agree.  A man with good athleticism, range, and footwork could end up moving around the infield.  It also would make a lot of sense to move him to the outfield.  He seems like a logical third piece next to Dahl and Tapia in 2018.  It’s not a bad thing to have a guy like that at first, but his skillset could be better utilized elsewhere.

If McMahon is not the future at first base, with little else brewing in the farm, my proposal is to look outside the organization.  We still have a few pieces left to sell to start a full rebuild, and they could certainly be useful to replenish our depth at first.  My prime target for a trade is the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pirates are in the middle of a hyper-competitive race for the playoffs this year.  The three best records in 2015 all could be found within their own division.  Along with the Cardinals and Cubs, the Pirates are flanked by the Nationals and Mets in the East, along with the Dodgers, even-year Giants, and the Diamondbacks in the West.  The playoff picture come September is going to be reminiscent of the Verizon commercial about bandwidth:

The Pirates have lost the Wild Card game each of the last two years.  That may convince them to make an extra push, especially when you look at the aces they could be facing in said wild card game.  When you could see the likes of Bumgarner, Greinke, Arrieta, or any of the Mets guys in a do-or-die game, winning the division seems even more crucial.  Winning the division makes the door into the World Series seem a hell of a lot bigger.

Now on to what appeals me about the Pirates.  The apple of my eye is first base prospect Josh Bell.  He is the 2nd best first base prospect in baseball, and was ranked #49 in the recently-released top 100 prospect rankings on  In exchange, I think the Pirates may have an interest in DJ LeMahieu and the recently-acquired Jake McGee.

I know I just wrote an article knocking LeMahieu’s value, but he still would be a big upgrade to replace new Met Neil Walker.  Aside from filling the Walker-sized hole, LeMahieu would help out in a number of different holes in the Pittsburgh infield.  Jung Ho Kang is still on the mend from a brutal take-out slideJordy Mercer was one of the worst shortstops in baseball last year.  Josh Harrison is a utility man.  Having LeMahieu opens up options.  Once he returns, they could plug Kang in at short and bench Mercer.  Or they could put him at 3rd and move Harrison into a super-utility role.  Having LeMahieu at second base allows for better use of their other infielders.

McGee would also seem to be a better fit on a team looking to be a contender.  The Pirates success in 2015 was in large part due to a dominant bullpen.  The loss of lefty Antonio Bastardo leaves a hole in the late innings that a lefty like McGee would fit into perfectly.  In an age of super bullpens, I imagine a team looking to plunder a ‘ship would be enamored with a guy like McGee.

The biggest problem is that the Pirates have never been a team to compromise the future.  I expect it would take a lot to pry away a guy like Bell.  But Huntington seems sold on free agent signing John Jaso (a first base convert himself) over the next few years enough to make Bell dispensable.  Meanwhile, I think the Rockies need to take advantage of the sellers’ market for bullpen guys and trade McGee.  The Purple Dinosaur Podcast nailed it on the head in their latest episode.  Teams are collecting relievers like Beanie Babies and the market has never been hotter.

There are a lot of moving pieces.  But if the Rockies could land a first base prospect like Bell with some of their current major leaguers, it would be successful move towards our full rebuild.  There would need to be additional pieces to balance out talent and money, but a package surrounding a Bell for McGee/LeMahieu swap makes all too much sense.

Next: Rockies Not Pursuing Gallardo

Finally some Colorado Rockies news on the day after the Super Bowl (Congratulations to the Denver Broncos by the way). According to Chris Cotillo of SB Nation, the Rockies are reportedly not one of the few teams inquiring about free agent pitcher Yovani Gallardo.