Rodgers Out, Moustakas In as Rockies Are Forced to Rearrange the Infield

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

I first learned about joint dislocation in 2003 after Derek Jeter slid into a nasty collision at third base. When I heard that Jeter had suffered a dislocated shoulder, my five-year-old brain naturally conjured up an image of a disembodied arm lying on the infield dirt. You can imagine my surprise when the Yankees shortstop returned six weeks later, both arms firmly secured in their sockets.

As horrifying as dislocation sounds, and as painful as I’m sure it is, a dislocated shoulder isn’t always a serious injury. Fernando Tatis Jr. dislocated his shoulder several times during the 2021 season and still managed to play 130 games and put up 7.3 WAR en route to a third-place finish for NL MVP. Brandon Inge once dislocated his shoulder mid-game and popped it back in place on the field; the very next inning, he smacked a go-ahead RBI single.

Thus, when Brendan Rodgers landed awkwardly on his shoulder last Tuesday, there was no cause for panic straight away. Manager Bud Black described the incident as “a pretty classic thing,” while Matthew Ritchie of wrote that Rodgers might be “a tad delayed.” Unfortunately, the injury appears to be far more significant than your run-of-the-mill dislocation, with reports suggesting Rodgers might need surgery to repair the damage. If he goes under the knife, the Rockies second baseman could miss most, if not all, of the upcoming season.

If you aren’t familiar with Rodgers, your opinion of him might be highly dependent on your go-to source for baseball statistics. Our version of WAR would have you believe he was a perfectly serviceable, if unspectacular, player last season. Rodgers put up 1.7 WAR in 137 games, on pace for 2.0 WAR in 162. That’s a league-average contributor. Baseball Reference, however, will tell you that Rodgers was worth 4.3 WAR, putting him on pace for more than five wins in 162 games. Those are All-Star numbers. Finally, Baseball Prospectus had Rodgers somewhere in the middle. He posted 3.1 WARP last season, almost the exact midpoint between his fWAR and bWAR.

On top of that, each website arrives at his WAR in a different way. At FanGraphs, as you might guess, we weren’t particularly high on Rodgers for his bat or his glove; his offense was a little worse than average, while his defense was a little better, but neither was a standout skill. Baseball Reference, meanwhile, was enamored with his glove, rating Rodgers as one of the best fielders in baseball last season, hence the All-Star-caliber WAR. Baseball Prospectus wasn’t quite as high on his defense but had a much higher opinion of his offense, rating Rodgers as an above-average hitter.

All of this suggests to me that we’re still learning who Rodgers is as a player. Now, we’ll have to wait another year to find out.

Rodgers played his first full season in 2022, batting .266/.325/.408 with 13 home runs in 581 PA. While his home stats surely got a boost from the friendly confines of Coors Field, his away splits were surprisingly awful, dragged down by a .245 BABIP and a minuscule HR/FB ratio. Thus, Rodgers is probably a better hitter than his 92 wRC+ from last season suggests, but he has yet to grow into the offensive force he looked like as a prospect.

On our 2020 Top 100 Prospects list, Eric Longenhagen praised Rodgers for his bat, assigning a 60 Future Value to both his hit tool and his game power. Our prospect guru accompanied those grades with a positive evaluation: “One axiom to which we try to adhere is ‘good hitters hit all the time’ and that is indeed what Rodgers has done for the last eight years.” Since reaching the majors, however, Rodgers has stalled out, and his bat has yet to become an asset.

Thankfully for Rodgers, the young infielder has taken some big strides on the other side of the ball. Defense was never his calling card as a prospect, and in fact, there were once questions about his ability to stick at second base. In 2021, Rodgers graded out as a poor defender according to DRS, UZR, and OAA. Last season, however, he turned things around, improving his numbers in just about every defensive category and winning a Gold Glove to boot:

Rodgers Took a Big Step Forward
2021 -5 -0.5 -2 1.1
2022 22 8.0 3 5.7
DRP via Baseball Prospectus

The Rockies, like the rest of us, will have to wait another year to see if their former top prospect can live up to his potential with the bat and maintain his success with the glove. It’s a disappointing loss for Colorado, further reducing the team’s chances to “play .500 ball,” as owner Dick Monfort predicted in January.

With Rodgers’s season in question, the Rockies turned to the free agent market for a backup plan. They agreed to a minor league deal with veteran infielder Mike Moustakas, who was released by the Reds in January. Jon Heyman initially reported that Moustakas would play second base, but Moustakas himself confirmed to Thomas Harding of that he is only comfortable playing first, third, and DH. This lines up with GM Bill Schmidt’s plan to move Ryan McMahon over to second base, freeing up a spot for Moose at third.

McMahon was primarily a third baseman in the minors but played second in his first two full seasons to accommodate Nolan Arenado at the hot corner. After Arenado was traded, McMahon slid back to third while Rodgers took over at second. McMahon has had great success since returning to his natural position, compiling 23 DRS and 20 OAA since the start of the 2021 campaign. He may not be as valuable a defender at second base, but his unexceptional arm should play better at the keystone. His unexceptional bat will also play better at second base, where the offensive bar isn’t quite as high. The average second baseman had a wRC+ of 96 last season, while the average third baseman had a wRC+ of 102; McMahon posted a 95 wRC+ in 597 PA.

Moustakas is no McMahon or Rodgers with the glove, and he’s well past the point in his career when he was a Gold Glove finalist. He has played just 71 games at third the last three years, putting up -6 DRS and -4 OAA. Indeed, the 34-year-old took most of his at-bats as a designated hitter last season. Nevertheless, he should still be capable of holding a glove at third, and his offense is a more significant concern than his defense anyhow. Since the start of the 2021 season, Moustakas has posted a 73 wRC+ in 491 PA. He struck out at the highest rate of his career in 2021, then struck out even more the following year. His isolated power last season was .131; it hasn’t been lower since his rookie campaign.

Moustakas has dealt with arm, hip, leg, and foot injuries over the past two seasons, and he now claims to be back at full strength. When he was last healthy, he was still a valuable offensive contributor (105 wRC+ in 2020), so there’s hope for a bounce back, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. It’s generally not a good sign when hitters in their 30s start to show worse plate discipline and make significantly less hard contact than they did before. Don’t forget, there’s a reason the Reds are paying Moustakas eight figures to not play for them this season.

Therefore, while the Moustakas signing came in the wake of the news about Rodgers, I’m skeptical that Colorado views him as a direct replacement. It’s more likely the Rockies will consider him for playing time alongside Nolan Jones and Elehuris Montero. Moustakas isn’t a solution; he’s merely added depth.

While Jones shares a given name with the greatest third baseman in Rockies history, Montero came to Colorado two years ago in exchange for the very same man. Jones is a former third base prospect who converted to the outfield in 2022 with the Guardians. Montero played first and third for the Rockies last year. Both are promising bat-first players who exceeded rookie limits during the 2022 season. Each has the potential to become a big league regular, and one would think a rebuilding team like the Rockies would prefer to give the youngsters plate appearances over an aging veteran.

Further complicating Moustakas’s path to playing time are C.J. Cron and Charlie Blackmon. Cron is going to be the everyday first baseman, and he projects to be one of the better hitters in Colorado’s lineup. Blackmon, a veteran lefty like Moustakas, figures to get the majority of the plate appearances at DH against right-handed pitching. Even a bench role won’t be easy to come by, as the Rockies need one bench spot for a backup catcher and another for a utility infielder. If Jones and Montero split time at third, the final bench spot probably has to go to someone who can play center field. For all those reasons, Moustakas isn’t just going to walk onto the Rockies roster. There’s room for him if he earns a spot, but it’s going to take a strong showing this spring.

The injury to Rodgers threw a wrench in Colorado’s game plan, and signing Moustakas was hardly the solution. All the same, the Rockies will hope that adding this aging slugger makes the loss of their young Gold Glover a little more bearable… or should I say Moose-able? No, no I shouldn’t.

Leo is a writer for FanGraphs and an editor for Just Baseball. His work has also been featured at Baseball Prospectus, Pitcher List, and SB Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @morgenstenmlb.

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19 days ago

“Kris Bryant”

Let’s recap the options, shall we?
Nolan Jones: Had already stopped getting reps at third base because he couldn’t play it, and had intriguing defensive metrics in Cleveland in a small sample.
Mike Moustakas: Washed up.
Elehuris Montero: Deserves a shot, but unproven.Kris Bryant: -5 OAA and -3.4 ARM in 950 innings over the last two years in the outfield, while suffering from repeated foot and back issues in 2022 that completely torpedoed his offensive potential.

Now, the metrics don’t really like Kris Bryant’s defense at third base anymore either but they are so committed to him on the grass. I’m sure the reason is because they don’t trust any of Blackmon, Bouchard, or Toglia in the corner outfield, which is fair. But it defies all reason to keep Bryant lower on the defensive spectrum when he can’t even play that position in CO’s spacious outfield. To the best of my knowledge, there’s never been any rationale for why he’s out there, other than that the Rockies wanted to make a splash and they had a hole out there.

18 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Maybe they forgot Bryant was on the Rockies? I know I did…