By PAT GRAHAM
AP Sports Writer
DENVER (AP) — Ian Desmond provided a calming voice to help the Colorado Rockies stick together soon after losing star third baseman Nolan Arenado in a blockbuster trade.
That just may be the veteran outfielder’s biggest contribution this season.
Desmond decided Sunday to opt out for a second straight season. He announced on his Instagram account that his “desire to be with my family is greater than my desire to go back and play baseball under these circumstances.”
No amount of lobbying by Rockies manager Bud Black could persuade the 35-year-old Desmond, who was scheduled to make $8 million this season after walking away from a pro-rated salary of $5,555,556 last season.
“This was a decision not about money,” said Black, whose team will begin full-squad workouts Tuesday in Arizona. “This was from the heart, and from the stomach. This was hard. This was agonizing for him.”
Desmond did leave the door open for a possible return by adding “for now” in his post. He vowed to “continue to train and watch how things unfold.”
His leadership was on display soon after the Rockies traded eight-time Gold Glove winner Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals. Desmond along with shortstop Trevor Story, outfield Charlie Blackmon, reliever Scott Oberg and others preached the same message over and over — stick together.
“That goes to show who he is and his commitment to the team,” Black said. “Again, he’s going to follow us. He’s going to continue to train. He’s going to assess what’s going on and maybe his feelings in a month, two months, two weeks, two days … I don’t know, but he’s engaged. He’s not, from those conversations with his teammates, checked out.”
Desmond is in the final year of a five-year, $70 million deal he signed in December 2016. Colorado has a $15 million option for 2022 with a $2 million buyout.
In opting out last summer during the coronavirus-shortened season, Desmond cited a desire to spend more time with his family and to help grow youth baseball in his Florida hometown. He also added the COVID-19 pandemic made the baseball season one that “is a risk I am not comfortable taking.”
On Sunday, Desmond wrote of his decision: “This impacts a lot of people, some positively and some negatively, and I own that. At the end of the day, this weighs on me more than anyone but I’m following my heart and I feel good about my decision.”
Desmond added that he’s informed teammates, the coaching staff and front office and they’ve all been “extremely understanding and supportive.”
“I wish nothing but the best for the entire Rockies organization and have let them know I am willing to do whatever I can to help them from afar,” Desmond wrote. “Thank you.”
Desmond’s departure paves the way for more playing time in the outfield for the likes of Garrett Hampson, Yonathan Daza, Sam Hilliard and Raimel Tapia. It could also possibly open a spot for Bret Boswell, an eighth-round pick in the 2017 amateur draft, or veteran Chris Owings.
No doubt: Desmond’s combination of big bat, booming voice in the clubhouse and versatility will be difficult to replace.
“We have some options to work through the next 5 1/2 weeks to supplement Desi,” Black said.
Desmond is a career .263 hitter with 181 homers and 711 RBIs in 1,478 games with Washington, Texas and Colorado. He batted .255 with 20 homers in 140 games with Colorado in 2019.
His time with Colorado got off to a painful start after breaking his left hand when he was hit by a pitch during spring training in 2017. He didn’t have his customary power but still helped the Rockies clinch a postseason spot that year and again in ‘18, when he hit 22 homers. Colorado has missed the playoffs the past two seasons.
“Desi and I had great conversations over the years, probably more so about other things besides just the nuts and bolts of baseball,” Black said. “He had a creative mind when it came to baseball. But I understood right away where Desi was coming from on the personal side, the baseball side and the life side. He was always open and very honest. You always knew where Desi stood, which is a great trait.”
Mostly a shortstop to start his career, he’s become a skilled outfielder and first baseman.
“In my mind, I’ll view Desi as a complete player, a consummate professional, a great teammate,” Black said. “Did a lot of great things.
“But again, I think that in his statement he’s opting out for now. We’ll see how this all transpires moving forward.”
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Colorado Rockies’ Ian Desmond during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Mesa, Ariz. Desmond announced Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021 he is opting out for a second straight season. Desmond announced on his Instagram account that his “desire to be with my family is greater than my desire to go back and play baseball under these circumstances. I’m going to train and watch how things unfold.” He added “for now” in his statement to opt out, leaving the door open for a possible return.