Rockies fan favorite DJ LeMahieu is now a New York Yankee, having agreed to a two-year, $24 million contract on Friday. He’s going to face a new kind of pressure when he plays in the Big Apple.
But here in Denver, some other people are also going to feel the squeeze. Either Ryan McMahon, Garrett Hampson or Brendan Rodgers, all candidates to replace LeMahieu at second base, are going to have to produce big time if the Rockies are going to make it to the postseason for their third season in a row.
And you know who else is on the hot seat? General manager Jeff Bridich.
Last season, LeMahieu told me repeatedly that he wanted to return to Colorado. However, Bridich and his front office decided to let LeMahieu test free agency, choosing to go with the promise of youth and spend owner Dick Monfort‘s money in other ways.
Thus far, the Rockies’ only major offseason move has been to sign veteran, slugging infielder Daniel Murphy to a two-year, $24 million deal to play first base. That’s the same deal the Yankees gave LeMahieu. So you can add Murphy to the pressure cooker.
McMahon, Hampson and Rodgers have a combined 132 games and 240 at-bats at the big-league level. Rodgers, the club’s top prospect, has yet to make his major-league debut.
The Rockies are asking a lot from their baby-faced trio. They must replace LeMahieu, who is a two-time all-star, a three-time Gold Glove winner, the 2016 National League batting champ and the best second baseman in Rockies history. He’s been a rock in the lineup. LeMahieu’s 877 games at second (849 starts) were more than twice as many as the next player — Eric Young (413; 389 starts).
And, oh yes, LeMahieu was one of the most-respected and well-like players in the Rockies clubhouse.
This is no knock on the kids, but they have a lot of prove for a team that is on the record saying that its goal is nothing less than the World Series.
McMahon,24, hit .232 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 91 games as a rookie last season. It wasn’t until later in the season, when he began tweaking his long swing, that he earned the trust of manager Bud Black.
Garrett Hampson, 24, showed excellent speed on the bases and a lot of maturity during spring training last year. He hit .275 in 40 at-bats in his big-league debut. Rodgers, 22, a first-round pick out of high school in 2015, advanced to Triple-A Albuquerque last season, but hamstring and shoulder injuries cost him a chance to make his big-league debut.
During last month’s winter meetings, Bridich expressed confidence that the Rockies can fill the void at second base.
“It’s difficult to say (what will happen) right now, because none of those guys have a ton of experience at the major-league level, (but) they’re athletically all able to do it, and do it well,” he said. “They’re all different than the incumbent, and the incumbent is different than most typical second basemen. He does things that fit him because of his big body and his natural instincts.
“Maybe we have to position differently or we’re going to have to figure out what these guys are going to do well defensively if they are the people that are going to be manning the position. We’ll have to learn how to best do that.”
And do it under pressure.
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