McMahon, a Gold Glove-caliber 3B, gets a look at 2B
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The Rockies’ Ryan McMahon spotted second baseman Brendan Rodgers, whose hopes for 2023 were scuttled when doctors informed him that season-threatening surgery was the best option for his injured left shoulder.
“I went to give him a big hug yesterday,” McMahon said Friday morning.
In ways he wasn’t expecting until this week, McMahon will have to embrace his role in helping hold together the Rockies’ infield.
A conversation with manager Bud Black went as McMahon expected. A third baseman of measurable quality the past two years, McMahon was asked to move to a position he has played well in the past: second base. How permanent the move will be depends on many factors, but the fallout was immediate. McMahon made his first spring start at second in the Rockies' 3-2 loss to the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium on Friday.
“We’re going to look at it,” Black said. “It’s an option. We have a few of them.”
From the start of camp, Black has sensed from McMahon that his career arc since his 2017 debut has prepared McMahon to shepherd as well as shine. Black felt McMahon learned from last season -- his first since signing a six-year, $70 million deal -- when he committed an aberrational eight errors in a 20-game stretch (though he still became a Gold Glove finalist) and didn’t see power come on offense until late in the season.
McMahon is expected to replace a Gold Glover at second base while playing with the quality he has shown for the better part of his two seasons since replacing 10-time Gold Glove-winning third baseman Nolan Arenado, who is now collecting hardware with the Cardinals.
“'Mac' is a very competent infielder, as good at second as he is at third -- some might say even better at second,” Black said. “But he’s a really good infielder.
“I talked personally about second base, and he was all in. He understands what team means. And for me, it's been cool to watch that develop from [Ryan], now that he's established himself as a Major League player. He’s grounded, he’s confident, he's a Rockie and he's gonna do whatever is best for the team.”
McMahon enters the season confident in himself and the Rockies defensively, as the team tries try to bounce back from a 2022 season in which the defense failed them along the way to a last-place finish in the National League West.
“It’s stuff we’ve talked about,” McMahon said. “But you look at it on paper, you look at it from years past and how we go about our work, we’re not a bad defensive team by any means. That’s behind us. We’ve got a clean slate and a new focus.”
In 2021, McMahon not only was an NL Gold Glove finalist at third, but per FanGraphs, he tallied nine defensive runs saved in 368 1/3 innings at second. No NL player with 300 or more innings exceeded McMahon.
If McMahon at least splits his time at the positions, there is still a chance at the Gold Glove. One was added for a utility player last season. The Cardinals’ Brendan Donovan and the Yankees' DJ LeMahieu, a former Gold Glove winner at second with the Rockies, won the awards.
“Not really,” McMahon answered when asked about whether he has considered a chance at a Gold Glove, with the chance to avoid competing with Arenado. “Just go out there and try to play good defense.”
Elehuris Montero, a right-handed hitter with a power bat (who was part of the Arenado trade), started at third on Friday and has a chance to establish himself if he grows as a hitter and a defender. Left-handed hitter Nolan Jones, acquired from the Guardians in the offseason, was a regular third baseman during his rise through the Minors. Alan Trejo, who held a utility role last year when he was called up from Triple-A Albuquerque, will see time at second. He’ll be away from camp next week to play shortstop for Mexico during the World Baseball Classic.
Two veteran utility players, Harold Castro and Cole Tucker, also have had strong spring starts as multi-position players and are in the mix at third.