Ian Desmond’s long offseason nightmare is finally over. One week after spring training camps opened around Major League Baseball, arguably the top free agent hitter still available has found a home for the 2016 season.
As first reported by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Desmond signed a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers on Sunday. The $8 million contract is pending a physical. There is one catch, however: Desmond isn’t going to be playing shortstop, the position he’s held throughout his seven MLB seasons. The career infielder is expected to be the starting left fielder in Texas.
By signing Desmond, who received a qualifying offer from the Washington Nationals when he became a free agent, the Rangers will give up their first-round pick, No. 19 overall, in this June’s MLB Draft. However, Texas recoups a first-round selection, albeit the No. 30 pick, when pitcher Yovani Gallardo signed with the Baltimore Orioles last week.
Desmond, 30, put up the worst numbers of his career last season, just before he was to hit free agency. He batted .233 with a .674 OPS, 27 doubles, 19 home runs and 62 RBI in 641 plate appearances. Only Jimmy Rollins had a worse batting average among shortstops with enough PAs to qualify for the batting title. But Desmond’s power numbers put him in the middle of the pack in OPS at the position.
The shortstop also had a terrible season in the field, costing the Nationals nearly four runs more than an average player at that position. Desmond had 25 errors, most in the National League, resulting in the worst fielding percentage among his peers.
But Desmond’s struggles at shortstop won’t be an issue in Texas, where he should provide an offensive boost in left field. Last season, the Rangers compiled a collective .225 average, .688 OPS, 21 home runs and 61 RBI at the position. Desmond may not improve those batting average and on-base numbers, but he’s always hit for power and should continue to do so at Globe Life Park unless learning a new defensive position affects him at the plate.
Texas acquired Josh Hamilton last April from the Los Angeles Angels, but the former AL MVP was limited to 50 games due to shoulder and knee injuries, batting. 253 with a .732 OPS, eight doubles, eight home runs and 25 RBI. An injured left knee will sideline Hamilton during spring training and is expected to keep him out the lineup until early May. Hamilton’s absence placed a priority on finding a left fielder for the beginning of the season. After Shane Victorino signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs, the Rangers had to think creatively.
Since turning down a reported seven-year, $104 million contract offer from the Nationals in November 2014, Desmond’s bet on himself has gone horribly wrong. Writing off any chance to re-sign Desmond, the Nats moved on to develop replacements at shortstop, particularly prospect Trea Turner, acquired last year from the San Diego Padres. With his subpar offensive and defensive performance, MLB teams were hesitant to invest big money and a long-term deal on a 30-year-old player who’s trending downward and would cost a first-round draft pick.
With a one-year deal (that minimizes risk for the Rangers), Desmond is obviously hoping to re-enter the free agent market on a higher note with improved offensive numbers. If he plays well in left field, along with other positions where the Rangers may use him this season, Desmond also potentially expands his market among teams looking for an impact bat. If Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t opt out of his contract with the New York Mets, Desmond could potentially be one of the top free agent outfielders available.