DENVER – When the Colorado Rockies inked Ian Desmond to a $70 million deal over five years — I think it’s fair to say — they were expecting something more than whatever it is that they’ve been trotting out every day for the past two seasons.
So what is “it” that they’ve been running out there exactly? A replacement-level player. But what does that mean? Fangraphs defines replacement level as a “the level of production you could get from a player that would cost you nothing but the league minimum salary to acquire.”
Okay cool, his .247/.310/.400 slash line over 183 games has been worth roughly 1.5 wins below replacement. Which again, this is all fancy and sounds smart on paper but what does this mean in human terms? What does it mean to have a $70 million investment that is theoretically replaceable in the most crude sense?
I see it like this: Ian is the man your mom dates after she broke up with her husband of 17 years. He’s the guy that takes your kid to the bouncy castle, bowling, and does a bunch of completely unoriginal and uninteresting things that most people with a warm body would do in that situation whilst step-fathering children.
Sure, sometimes he brings home a chicken dinner and the family is happy, but that’s like once a month. His “world famous” cheeseburgers are extremely passable and nobody told that to him while he bolstered for years about them until snot-nosed little Hayden told him that their neighbor Paul does much better with a spatula. Of course, Ian has friends, and they’re nostalgic for a time when Paul’s recipe would be overlooked.
Ian’s the regular at the local bar that’s missing when you’re there and you can’t remember his name or face or which seat he occupies but you know something is amiss. Any one person or sometimes a compilation of them could distract from this “necessary” occupancy of space that this regular offers.
Yet, for some reason, Mom saw something in his mediocrity. Jordan, Ryan or (insert some other generic guy name) wasn’t to be trusted. Not after how hot and bothered Todd made your mom feel. She needed to feel like she were coming home with a real winner, a sushi-on-a-Tuesday-kinda-guy. She and you celebrated the coronation even though nobody really understood why it was Ian because it was nice to just see your mom with somebody again.
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I’ve often said that there’s nothing worse than being average. Being unremarkable in every way is worse than sucking at everything. There’s something romantic and a takeaway or even a punchline when somebody is just bad. There’s value in bad — bad is beautiful. Yet being “average” in baseball is actually pretty good. Going 81-81 is a pretty solid year for a club, batting .250 or having a 4.10 ERA is all solid. Rather, replacement level is baseball’s purgatory. It’s the most indifferent thing possible.
Desmond is still a few ticks of production below this mind you but he’s not notably atrocious anymore, just kinda lackluster. It’s in line with a lot of Colorado’s free agent signings under Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich. Why do they like replacement level so much? I don’t know. I don’t know why that cute girl named Samantha friend-zoned you (you gem) for some regular dudes. Some people aren’t good at evaluating certain situations.
Unlike Samantha, your mom or whatever other metaphor I threw out, there should be rational thought into investment, particularly of large variety. Love, baseball, talent evaluation, investing, scouting and drinking: they’re all different things.
I can’t really explain to you why or how Bridich’s signings have failed. I can’t really explain to you what the Ian Desmond situation is. It’s layered. The sum of both, however, is far from remarkable. Tens of millions should probably buy somebody more than “meh.”
Ian Desmond has been a conundrum wrapped an enigma since day one. Maybe that’s because nobody has just said it: Desmond is extraordinarily pedestrian.