Richard Justice

Desmond, Rangers make most of unlikely pairing

Desmond, Rangers make most of unlikely pairing

ARLINGTON -- The Texas Rangers saw him as their kind of player, a winning player, a team-first player. Ian Desmond would make them better while fitting nicely into the clubhouse culture on which the organization prides itself.

As Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said on Tuesday, "He checked off all the boxes."

There was just one teensy problem. Really a small thing. Probably not even worth mentioning. It was that Desmond happened to play shortstop.

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Oh, that. Actually, Desmond had never started at any other position during seven seasons with the Washington Nationals. He'd even made the National League All-Star team as a shortstop in 2012.

Texas already had a very good player at that position, Elvis Andrus, and he wasn't going anywhere. It's just that the more the Rangers discussed Desmond, the more they thought they could make things work.

"He's a guy we've always admired from across the way," Daniels said. "[Former Ranger] Michael Young called him a winning player. Our scouts liked him and thought he could play the outfield."

Desmond did not jump at the opportunity Texas presented. He allowed free agency to play out, and when he wasn't thrilled with the offers he'd gotten, he contacted the Rangers early in Spring Training and agreed to a one-year, $7 million deal.

Looking back on it, there weren't many smarter moves in baseball. Desmond made a nearly seamless shift to the outfield and played well enough to make the American League All-Star team. He finished the regular season with 29 doubles, 22 home runs and 86 RBIs.

As the Rangers prepare to play Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Blue Jays on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. CT on TBS, Desmond's new teammates rave about what he has brought to the team, not just in production, but personality, leadership and work ethic.

"Ian has been more than we expected -- great teammate, studies the game," Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "We gambled in putting him in center field, and he's been unbelievable.

"He pretty much carried the team for about two months offensively. He has been a great addition to the clubhouse. I don't think we'd be where we're at without him."

Desmond's great snag

Another Ranger, Carlos Beltran, who was acquired from the Yankees at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, had known and admired Desmond for years.

"He's a hungry player," Beltran said. "He comes here every day, and at 4:45, he'll have his spikes on, ready to play for a 7:15 game. He loves it. He plays hard every out."

As for Desmond, he calls the season "a blessing."

"It has tested me," he said. "It has pushed me to be better. Ultimately, hopefully I'm the best player I've ever been right now.

"I feel I've been here my whole career. That's the way this organization is. That's the way this group of guys is. They embrace each other. There's unity. The first day I got here, everyone's cracking jokes. It was pretty seamless."

Now about that switch to the outfield.

"The transition was like anything else," Desmond said. "It took some learning. I'm still learning right now. It has been a lot of hard work."

Beltre's run-scoring single

Desmond spent hours on a back diamond in Arizona with Rangers field coordinator Jayce Tingler getting accustomed to the new position. In the end, he made it look easy.

"This isn't an opportunity everyone gets," Desmond said. "It was about joining a winning team and trying to be an asset to that team. That's what it boiled down to. I wanted to put myself in an opportunity to win. I wanted to help a team, and I wanted the team to recognize I could help."

On the first day Desmond showed up at Spring Training, he sat down with Andrus and assured him there would be no conflict, that his new position was now the outfield. (He played 29 games in left, then switched to center for 130.)

"He wanted to be here," Andrus said. "That's the most important thing. That makes you feel that what you're doing here is good. He has been a perfect fit."

Desmond is likely to take another crack at free agency this offseason with an impressive line added to his resume: All-Star at both shortstop and center field.

First, though, there's business to take care of.

"That hasn't crossed my mind," Desmond said. "Right now, I'm worried about playing center field for the Texas Rangers and getting a world championship."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.