Like nearly everything else in the Colorado Rockies 2019 season, first base was a story of disappointment, frustration and haplessness.
The Rockies have a fWAR of -1.1 at the position, 29th in baseball. Meanwhile, Rockies first basemen are slashing .248/.317/.422. That OPS of .739 is 26th in baseball.
This is a minor disaster given the signing of hitting machine Daniel Murphy as the team’s only major offseason acquisition. But Murphy was out for nearly a month after fracturing his left index finger in the second game of season, forcing Colorado to start four players at first base in 2019 – Murphy, Mark Reynolds, Josh Fuentes and Yonder Alonso.
Reynolds could easily be a scapegoat for the Rockies pitiful offensive production at first. He looked finished as a Major Leaguer, hitting for an OPS of .601 with a naseua-inducing .170 batting average in 162 plate appearances, accumulating -0.8 fWAR. The Rockies mercifully released him on July 28.
But Murphy has fallen far short of expectations. I thought he would contend for his third Silver Slugger award (the first two in 2016-17 as a second baseman), but his .278 batting average would be his worst since 2009. The power he showed with the Nationals in 2016-2017 only comes in occasional flashes, and he’s managed 0.0 fWAR (yes, the Rockies are paying $12 million for a replacement-level first baseman).
Right now, 32-year-old Alonso is the “best” first baseman on the lineup. He’s only started 11 games at the position, but his 0.2 fWAR leads the team. However, he is mainly a rental bat whose main value comes in a pinch-hitter role, and he’ll most likely be gone next year.
The Rockies are in a bit of a pinch at first base. So what’s next?
Colorado could continue trotting out Murphy next season. His injury dampened his early offensive output, as he struggled after coming off the IR before going on a mid-season tear. From May 21 through August 4, he slashed .339/.379/.548 for 123 wRC+ and 29 extra-base hits. Unfortunately, his numbers have plummeted since then (just a .214/.281/.359 for 51 wRC+).
Most likely, Murphy is never going to return to All-Star form, and he is a liability on defense.
There could be help on the farm. Roberto Ramos was a monster for the Albuquerque Isotopes, slashing .309/.400/.580 in his first AAA season. Stats from the Pacific Coast League are notoriously unreliable, but the 24-year-old’s performance earned him a spot on MLB’s Prospect Team of the Year (Second Team). We’ll almost certainly see him in 2020 Spring Training.
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In a Aug. 22 report, Kyle Newman of The Denver Post outlined Ramos’s story of grit and determination as Ramos attempts to “complete the journey from fringe prospect to big-leaguer.” A native of Hermosillo, Mexico, who moved to Los Angeles when he was 16, Ramos is someone Rockies fans can rally behind.
But will the team give Ramos a spot over Murphy, even if the prospect rakes in the Mexican Pacific League this winter and in 2020 Spring Training? Given the organization’s infuriating reluctance to give prospects playing time over mediocre veterans, it’s unlikely.
I can’t say I’m pumped to watch the Rockies tread water at first base with Murphy’s fading abilities.
But if the Rockies are more worried about contending immediately – this is supposed to be a “contention window,” after all – they could go after a free agent. Unfortunately, it’s slim pickings for first basemen in the upcoming free-agent class (and I refuse to suggest Jeff Bridich tries to convert another outfielder to play the corner).
Certain Rockies fans have begged the club to go after José Abreu, and perhaps this is the time. He has been remarkably consistent in his time with the Chicago White Sox. In 2019, he is slashing .283/.331/.509 (not far off his career slash line of .293/.349/.515). His defense is no worse than Murphy’s.
But Abreu in purple pinstripes? It’s wishful thinking. Both he and the club have been vocal about their intentions to keep him with the White Sox, especially with the team on the rise. And if Abreu sought an exit, the Rockies would compete with bigger and more competitive squads.
The best-case scenarios? Ramos’s success translates to the big leagues, the Rockies dump Murphy, and Ramos becomes the established first baseman for years to come (while earning a World Series MVP, of course).
Or, the Rockies keep Murphy and he rediscovers his top form at the plate for the entire 2020 season.
Unfortunately, neither of these scenarios are likely.