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article imageOp-Ed: MLB Free agent profile: SS Ian Desmond

By James Poellnitz     Feb 8, 2016 in Sports
Ian Desmond entered the offseason as the top free agent shortstop on the market. To the surprise of many, he still remains unsigned despite so many teams that finished the season with a need for the position.
According to Fangraphs, no shortstop in baseball has more home runs (88) than Desmond since the start of the 2012 season. In addition to the power, he also brings speed to the table. In seven seasons he has stolen at least 21 bases four times. That production has resulted in one All-Star appearance and three Silver Slugger awards. Entering the 2015 season, he looked like a player on his way to stardom.
His performance last season was far from it.
In a contract year, he set career lows in batting average (.233), on-base percentage (.290), slugging percentage (.384), set a career high in strikeouts (187) and his 27 errors led the National League. Much of that was because of a terribly slow start. Desmond had eight errors in his first 12 games. He also slashed just .211/.255/.334 in the first half of the year. After the All-Star break, he looked more like the player we all know him to be slashing .266/.331/.446 with 12 of his 19 home runs coming during that stretch.
Those first half struggles essentially cost Desmond a big free agent deal. This offseason has seen the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera, Jean Segura, Brad Miller, Alexei Ramirez, Andrelton Simmons and Erick Aybar all change addresses and will be starting shortstops for other teams this season. None of these guys come close to Desmond when it comes to production, so it's clear teams are questioning how he will perform in 2016.
Still, Desmond is entering his age 30 season so he is essentially still in his prime. One bad year shouldn't be enough to scare all 30 teams away. However, when you combine a bad year with draft pick compensation it makes you think twice about taking a chance on someone that isn't a sure thing. Those factors ensure Desmond won't be getting the $100 million contract he was hoping for. At this point he would be lucky to get the three-year, $40 million deal J.J. Hardy got from the Baltimore Orioles before last season.
Desmond and his agent understand that and as a result made a smart decision early in free agency by telling teams he is willing to play other positions. This opens up his market to teams that need both infield and outfield help.
Taking a look around baseball, there are still teams out there that are a great fit for Desmond. The Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics stand out the most.
The Rays have been linked to the power hitting shortstop the most and certainly could use his pop. The team traded for Miller early in the offseason but he has always been better in a utility role more than as an everyday shortstop. While Desmond certainly makes the team better, a couple of issues arise if the the Rays are to sign him.
This organization never spends big. If they do commit to Desmond, it won't likely be for anything north of $8 million annually. In addition to the money, he costs the Rays the 13th pick in the draft. This is a team that relies on its farm system more than any in the league. It would be uncharacteristic of the organization to pass on a chance at a difference maker out of the draft for a couple years of Desmond.
The White Sox have a huge hole at shortstop for 2016 and no one believes Tyler Saladino is the answer to that. They showed a willingness to spend early in the offseason by making offers to outfielders Alex Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes and Desmond wouldn't cost anywhere near the same as those two players. An infield of Todd Frazier, Desmond, Brett Lawrie and Jose Abreu would be one of the most productive in the game. Just like with the Rays however, the White Sox value their draft picks.
Their first pick is top 10 protected from free agent compensation (they pick 10th overall), but they would still stand to lose the 28th pick they acquired from Jeff Samardzija signing with San Francisco. After trading multiple prospects to get both Frazier and Lawrie, the farm has taken a huge hit, so losing first-round picks is not preferred. The White Sox also have a shortstop in waiting in top prospect Tim Anderson. The speed demon could make his debut this season in the majors but at the latest projects as the team's opening day shortstop for 2017. Both Desmond accepting a one year deal and the White Sox wasting a pick for just one season are unlikely.
The Twins made an unexpected, huge jump in 2015. The rest of the division got better during the offseason while the Twins have not. Desmond would fill a void at short, add much needed pop to the lineup and allow Eduardo Escobar to continue to excel in a utility role. Ownership hasn't had to commit much money to players (outside of Joe Mauer) so the money should be there. It's just a matter of losing the 16th pick in the draft.
Like the Rays, the Twins have always built teams around home-grown players. However, unlike the Rays, they have an opportunity to build on a strong performance from the year before. After pick 16, the Twins have their second round selection (56 overall) and two competitive balance picks (73, 74) after that so they still have the opportunity to bring depth to their farm system.
The Angels have not been tied to Desmond at all but would be a great fit. They have holes at second base and left field, two positions that should profile as options for him to move to. The Angels have been unwilling to fork up the big bucks for difference makers in the outfield because of how close they are at exceeding the luxury tax . Why not sign Desmond at half the cost?
As far as compensation, the Angels pick 17th. But like most teams who spend heavy and contend annually, draft picks aren't as critical to them as small market clubs. Despite the need for them to improve their farm system, if they have an opportunity to improve their ball club, they usually take it.
The last team on the list is the A's and I would make the argument that they are Desmond's best fit. Their current shortstop, Marcus Semien, proved in year one as an everyday player that he can't play the position (34 errors led all of baseball). His best role to the team would be as a backup infielder. The A's starting lineup also consists of injury risks like Jed Lowrie, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick. And at first base you are set to platoon Yonder Alonzo and Mark Canha, neither of which scare opposing teams.
Adding Desmond adds much needed power to a lineup that saw just one player (Reddick) hit 20 home runs. It also adds defensive versatility as well if any of the players mentioned above don't perform. And best of all for the A's, they would only lose the 36th pick in the draft as their sixth pick is protected.
Overall, the potential Desmond possesses is too great for him to go unsigned much longer. Expect one of these five teams to jump at the chance to sign him sooner or later.
(All statistics are according to Baseball Reference unless listed otherwise)
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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