Former Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond was the last big-name free agent standing. It seemed inconceivable that someone of Desmond’s stature – a power hitter at a premium position who possesses terrific leadership skills – would remain unemployed even after players reported for Spring Training.
Maybe it was the first-round draft pick that was attached to his price tag, the fact that his offensive output has slowly declined every year since 2012 or that he made more errors than anyone not named Marcus Semien last year.
Whatever the reason was – and it could have been an amalgamation of the three – Desmond finally has a team to play for in 2016. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports first reported Sunday morning that the Texas Rangers had signed the 30-year-old Desmond to a one-year contract.
About 40 minutes later, Rosenthal tweeted that the deal was worth $8 million.
The Texas Rangers? Wow.
What makes the deal somewhat surprising is that the Rangers already have Elvis Andrus manning shortstop for them, which is why they will reportedly attempt to turn Desmond into a left fielder.
Desmond will immediately move into a favorable situation. He will join a team coming off a successful season in which they won the AL West and were three outs away from advancing to the ALCS. The Rangers are looking to win right away and they will work with Desmond as much as necessary to ensure that he is happy and ready to help them contend in an American League where nearly every team thinks they can compete at this juncture.
Desmond gets the opportunity to move to left field, which has two obvious benefits. First, it is a much less-demanding position than shortstop and should allow him to focus more attention on thriving at the plate. Second, if he shows he can be even a league-average outfielder in his one season in Texas, he will be that much more marketable when he becomes a free agent again next winter.
His numbers should improve considerably, too. Not only will he be playing in the Junior Circuit where offense is simply more prevalent, but he will also have the privilege of playing his home games at Globe Life Park, which was more hitter-friendly than Nationals Park in every category other than triples, according to ESPN Park Factors.
For the Rangers, the Desmond acquisition has to be seen as a positive. They are getting a player who has reached elite status as recently as two years ago for an incredibly favorable cost. The fact that the contract is for one year only makes it better. If he for some reason can’t solve left field and his right-handed power doesn’t play well in Arlington – which, while not likely, are certainly possible outcomes – they can move on and sign someone else for next season.
Left field was one of the Rangers’ biggest needs coming into Spring Training, and they just got a player in Desmond who has 30-20 (homers and steals) potential in his new park. His clubhouse presence also cannot be ignored – he will be a stabilizing presence for a club stocked with young players.
Consider the impact that Desmond had on Bryce Harper during his time in the nation’s capital. Sure, Harper is a one-in-a-generation talent with more raw ability than anyone in the game. But in the beginning stages of his career, he needed someone to show him how to be a major leaguer.
Harper has never been shy about praising his former teammate.
“That’s why he is one of the best in baseball, he’s one of the best guys in the clubhouse,” Harper told James Wagner of the Washington Post. “The thing about Desi is that he’s got the same mentality every single day.
“If he’s 0 for 5 or 5 for 5, he’s got that same mentality. He’s having fun every single day and enjoying being in the big leagues. That’s the kind of guy you want next to your locker and playing next to you in the field. That’s a guy you want at the front of your clubhouse.”
Even though he will likely be with the team for only one season, if Desmond’s mentality can rub off on, say, Joey Gallo or highly-touted prospect Nomar Mazara, that could be worth the $8 million all by itself.
Ian Desmond's Future After 2016
Signing this contract and going through the free agent process has to be a humbling experience for Desmond. After all, it is a salary reduction that could have been avoided. He turned down a seven-year, $107 million extension before last season, per Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, and then rejected the Nationals’ one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer back in November.
However, taking a pay cut to go to the Rangers now could result in dividends down the road. Next year’s free agent class is slated to be even weaker than this year’s was, meaning that a player with Desmond’s track record coming off of a productive season with the ability to play both shortstop and the outfield could get a huge contract in 2017.
With Desmond playing left field, shortstop, or serving as the super-utility player that some have speculated him to be, the Rangers are undoubtedly a better team. Couple that with the notion that they are paying him the same per-year salary that the Twins are paying veteran pitcher Mike Pelfrey, owner of a 4.52 career ERA, and it is clear that Texas got an absolute bargain.
Only time will tell, but this deal has the potential to make both Desmond and the Rangers really like where they are at this time next year.