Free agent set for next chapter of career after dip in production
By Mike Bauman
Not that long ago, Ian Desmond's free agency would have been greeted with a sizable number of potential employers, offering lucrative contract offers.
Desmond was, after all, a shortstop who could hit, hit with power, run and impress on defense. He was one of the reasons that the Washington Nationals won the National League East in 2012 and '14 and were on the brink of establishing themselves as an elite team.
But in the current offseason of his free agency, with one week until Spring Training officially begins, Desmond is without a team. There is concern, based on the numbers, that his recent decline in production is not necessarily reversible. And yet, at 30, Desmond should not be in the twilight of his career.
Desmond's previous employers, the Nationals, thought enough of him to make a qualifying offer. In the current climate, that becomes part of the problem, since he will cost his next club a Draft choice.
The White Sox have been reported to have interest in signing Desmond. Assuming that he returns to a more productive level, this would make sense.
The White Sox have upgraded their infield, obtaining Todd Frazier to play third base and Brett Lawrie to play second base. The player currently atop Chicago's depth chart at short is Tyler Saladino, at this point in his career, a defense-first player. He might be better-suited as a utility infielder, giving the White Sox defensive depth.
Chicago's No. 10 in the 2016 Draft is protected. If the White Sox signed Desmond, they would retain that pick, but would have to give up the No. 28 pick which they gained as compensation when starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija signed with San Francisco.
The 2015 season was the worst of Desmond's career. He put up a slash line of .233/.290/.384 and did not field up to his previous level. Desmond did recover somewhat in the second half, putting up a .777 OPS in the second half.
This followed three straight seasons in which Desmond had won NL Silver Slugger Awards, hitting a total of 69 home runs. He hit 19 homers in 2015.
Desmond had also stolen at least 21 bases in four straight seasons, but in 2015, he stole just 13.
Also troubling to potential employers is the fact that Desmond's strikeout ratio has increased in each of the past three seasons. In 2015, he struck out 187 times in 583 at-bats.
On the plus side, Desmond's age doesn't suggest that he should be at the end of line. And he has been a durable player, appearing in at least 154 games in five of the past six seasons.
The Tampa Bay Rays had been interested in obtaining Desmond, but they were reportedly reluctant to give up a Draft choice to get him.
The change-of-scenery argument might be in order here. There was a considerable amount of underachievement going on with the 2015 Nats, and Desmond was part of the overall picture.
The bulk of Desmond's career suggests far more value than his 2015 performance does. It could easily be argued that his biggest fault was bad timing. Desmond's walk year suggested, instead of the promise of production to come, a career in decline.
Between that notion and the loss of a Draft choice, Desmond's price will probably be substantially reduced. His next employers will be taking the chance his earlier performances, rather than his performance in 2015, will define the remainder of his career. There have been much larger free-agent gambles taken this offseason.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.