Why Ian Desmond Is the Free Agent Bargain of the Offseason
Sometimes, it pays to take the money.
Back in 2014, Ian Desmond turned down a seven-year, $107 million offer from the Washington Nationals. Desmond decided, instead, that he wanted to play out his contract and test free agency.
That, uh, didn't turn out so well.
After turning down a one-year, $15 million qualifying offer at the start of the offseason, coming off a subpar 2015 season and being saddled with draft pick compensation attached to his signing, Desmond twisted in the wind all winter until the Texas Rangers agreed to sign him to a one-year, $8 million contract to play left field over the weekend.
In other words, Desmond signed for seven million less than the qualifying offer and $99 million less than he would have received had he signed an extension with the Nats two years ago. It's one of the reasons why former general manager Jim Bowden called it the worst contract for a player he'd ever seen.
Desmond is a good athlete and should make the transition to the outfield easily. And there's plenty of reason to believe the former All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Award winner will bounce back for Texas in 2016.
Make no mistake, Desmond was not terribly good for much of last year, and his year-end statistics bear that out. He hit a mere .233/.290/.384 with 19 homers and 62 RBI, both the lowest totals since the 2011 season. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were also career lows, and his bWAR of 2.0 was also the lowest it's been since 2011.
But upon further reflection, his 2015 season wasn't quite as bad as it seemed
There weren't many players in baseball who had a worse first half than Desmond, who was clearly not playing as well knowing he was a free agent at the end of the season. But after that ridiculously horrible first half, Desmond rebounded nicely in the second half.
His numbers after the All-Star break were much closer to his career slash numbers of .264/.312/.424. His walk rate increased from 4.9% to 9.6% in the second half, and he hit 5 more homers in 63 fewer plate appearances. In fact, that 113 wRC+ in the second half was higher than the wRC+ he posted in all of 2014 and was just a shade lower than the 116 wRC+ he put up in 2013.
And among MLB shortstops last season, Desmond's 19 homers were third-most, behind Carlos Correa's 22 and Brandon Crawford's 21. His 62 RBI were tied for seventh and 13 stolen bases were eighth. And his isolated power (ISO) was fourth among MLB shortstops with at least 500 plate appearances last season, trailing Crawford, Asdrubal Cabrera and Troy Tulowitzki.
The addition of Desmond to play left field gives the Rangers options at two different positions. With Josh Hamilton's health a perpetual question mark (he's currently out with a bad knee and no one is sure what he'll be able to give Texas this year) and Elvis Andrus not exactly lighting the world on fire, a bounce back season from Desmond could help out Texas in a big way.
And, they got him for virtually nothing money-wise, although it did cost them their first round draft pick, number 19 overall.
Look for Desmond to do well in the hitter's paradise of Arlington, Texas and for him to recoup some of that money he missed out on two years ago with a solid 2016 season with the Rangers.