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Roster review: Ian Desmond

Oct 11, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

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Age on Opening Day 2014: 28

How acquired: 3rd round pick, 2004 draft

MLB service time: 4 years, 27 days

2013 salary+bonuses: $3.8 million

Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2014 and 2015, free agent in 2016

2013 Stats: 158 G, 655 PA, 77 R, 168 H, 38 2B, 3 3B, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 21 SB, 43 BB, 145 SO, .280 AVG, .331 OBP, .453 SLG, .784 OPS, 20 E, 4.4 UZR, 5.0 WAR

Quotable: “I wasn’t always headed down this road in my life. I’m just fortunate. I try to take every day as a blessing and try to do the most I can every day.” — Ian Desmond

2013 analysis: Whatever concerns there were that Desmond’s All-Star campaign in 2012 was an aberration were quickly dismissed in 2013. He nearly duplicated his numbers from the previous season, falling just short in most categories but firmly establishing himself as one of the very best shortstops in baseball.

Desmond combines power and speed like few others at his position. In fact, he became only the seventh shortstop in history to post multiple 20-20 seasons, joining an exclusive list that includes Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell.

Desmond continued to excel in the field, making the routine plays without any hint of trepidation and making more than his share of highlight-reel plays. Though his 20 errors (only one fewer than Ryan Zimmerman) were a bit high, his range ranked third among all NL shortstops according to Fangraphs (behind only Andrelton Simmons and Zack Cozart). Plain and simple, Desmond makes more plays than most shortstops.

Throw in his ever-expanding role as a clubhouse leader, and Desmond has turned into everything the Nationals could have ever hoped he’d become.

2014 outlook: He’s done it twice now, so why can’t he do it three times? Nothing about Desmond’s performance and growth suggests this isn’t the player he’s going to be for the bulk of his career. He hits for power, he runs the bases well and he’s a sterling defensive shortstop.

The biggest question facing Desmond this winter and entering the 2014 season will be his contract status. Eligible for arbitration, and thus a sizable raise from his $3.8 million salary, he is a prime candidate for a long-term extension. The Nationals have two more years of control and they’d be insane not to try to lock up a bunch more years down the road.

Desmond won’t come cheap. An elite, 28-year-old shortstop is easily worth $15 million a year. But he’s a homegrown product, a clubhouse fixture and an outstanding ambassador for the franchise. He’s exactly the kind of player you want to wear your uniform for his entire career.

  1. ArVAFan - Oct 11, 2013 at 6:34 AM

    How nice to be discussing someone where the only number we’re worrying about is the price tag. OK, fewer errors would be nice, too: we could have done without that particular 20. But I expect that to improve next year, barring injury (please).

  2. Faraz Shaikh - Oct 11, 2013 at 6:43 AM

    While number of errors are a lot, he is still pretty good defensively overall. Yes, sign him to an extension already.

  3. Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 11, 2013 at 8:13 AM

    I’ve said for 2 seasons how clutch Desi is with 2 outs and runners on 3rd. Why is Desi so clutch there but not so great with RISP in other situations. He changes his approach.

    In 2012 Desi led the league with 2 outs and runners on 3rd batting .355. Last year in that situation still a very good .314 and a .429 OBP!

    In all other RISP situations this season Desi hit .261 (.273 overall).

    Desi got to 80 RBIs this year which was a career high. All in all a great year and next to Tulo is the best SS in the NL.

  4. Faraz Shaikh - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    For comparison sake, compare 2013 Zips projections to actual 2013 numbers.

  5. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:13 AM

    I grouse a lot about Desmond’s “ambush” theory of hitting — swing on the first pitch and catch ‘em by surprise. The league understands him and he ends up swinging at a lot of pitches he should leave alone. Evidence is what seems to me a large number of GIDPs — plus starting a lot of ABs behind in the count.

    Having said that, as I noted a week or so ago, good shortstops are a rare commodity and take a long time to develop, and in the Nats’ case there is no one in the top three levels (at least) of the farm system who looks capable of succeeding him.

    Desmond will be a free agent for the first time at age 31, which is fairly late, How likely is he to see any 5-6 year deals at that age — unless he turns into Derek Jeter, which I doubt? If I were him I would be open to a long-term (5-6/yr.) extension and at a reasonable price ($80MM for five years?) the Nats should give it to him, hope that he continues to mature as a hitter and cross off SS on the list of long-term concerns.

    • jd - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:23 AM

      I agree completely.

      • texnat1 - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:42 AM

        I also agree, and think that 5 years for 80mm is just about right. I think that is slightly more than the Rangers gave Andrus, which is in keeping with what Desmond deserves/rising market prices.

        I would add that if he isn’t receptive, it is worth at least exploring trading him in while his value is high this off season.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:46 AM

        nats won’t do that. they will just agree on next year’s salary and move on.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 11, 2013 at 1:28 PM

      Agree, but just on the GPDs, I would quibble.

      For example, hopefully relevant: Troy Tulowitzki. In 2010 and 2011, both years that Tulowitzki won the Silver Slugger at shortstop, in about the same number of PA’s Desmond had the past two years (Ian had more, actually), they have exactly the same number of GDPs–33, split 16 and 17 per year, and Desmond won a SS himself in 2011.

      Tulo’s not fast, though, so let’s look at a fast guy–Andrelton Simmons. He GIDP’d 16 times this past year. OTOH, Jose Reyes, a really fast guy, is generally in single digits (hurt in 2013, career high 10 in 2012), but he leads off a lot, so probably gets fewer chances to do so.

      I don’t think 16 is a lot for somebody with power who hits behind slow-ish guys most of the time. IMO.

      Just a thought.

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:20 AM

    Twenty errors for a SS on the number of balls Desmond reaches are not a lot. Probably would be a help if Z’man could shed some pounds, get quicker and reach some of them.

  7. Faraz Shaikh - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:20 AM

    $80MM seems a lot, does it not? I hope for a discount on that deal. Five (or even six) year deal seems reasonable.

    SS will remain a long-term concern as you noted that we have nobody in the system to replace him for next 3-4 years. But I doubt many other teams have that luxury either.

  8. jd - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    Faraz,

    $16mil per year is not a lot at all for a SS with a 5.0 WAR 2 year in a row and whose game is still on the upswing. He would do better on the open market. Tulo signed for 7 years at about $19 mil per. Desmond is not as good as Tulo but he’s not that far behind.

  9. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    Faraz — lots of teams have young, promising SSs, e.g., Miami, Phoenix, Atlanta, Milwaukee, ChiC (though Castro is “mercurial,” as they used to say) and that’s w/out looking at their MiLB players. If you say other teams are in the same position long term as the Nats, that makes my point — really good SSs are few and far between and take a long time to develop. So the Nats are fortunate and should pay well to be sure they keep what they have. $80MM over five years is Mark’s $15MM for one year in arbitration plus inflation; if Desmond continues on this path, or anywhere close to it, in 2017 — a time for which the Nats have no clear or even likely replacement — it will seem downright cheap.

  10. NatsLady - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    I miss my Nats as much as the next person, but it would not be fun going to a playoff game in this weather. I would go, but I’m not a rain and 43 degrees type person.

    • natsfan1a - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:29 PM

      I would go, taking along my goggles and snorkel gear (saved from the clinch, of course). :-)

  11. NatsLady - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:00 AM

    Fangraphs did an interview with this guy. What do you think?

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/torey-lovullo-future-big-league-manager/

    • jd - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:04 PM

      I am impressed.

  12. Faraz Shaikh - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    I don’t understand baseball’s inflation rate (completely unreal compared to everything else) but I don’t want to spend $15 MM for one player. That’s $50 million for 3 players (werth, zimm, and desi) soon enough. We are already overpaying two players. I hope we do not add a third to that list.

    We need to develop some position player prospects into solid major leaguers.

    • jd - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:45 AM

      This is why you need to have a home grown pipeline to sustain a window of opportunity. Players are relatively cheap and below market value for about 3 – 4 years. If you have veteran big time players at many positions your payroll will skyrocket quickly. You talk about 2 – 3 players making that kind of money; wait until we have to start paying market value to JZIm and and Stras. That’s life in the big leagues.

      This is why Tampa is always trading their stars before they hit the big payday.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 11, 2013 at 1:37 PM

      The numbers sound unreal when you are in the real world, for sure, but they aren’t based on “everything else,” they’re based on that marketplace. The agents don’t compare him to how much Miley Cyrus makes, or how much Ginny Rometti makes. They’ll compare him to other baseball players, and other shortstops. $200MM is going to be the new normal, if it isn’t already, for the top-spending teams.

      Maybe they don’t need to be a top-spending team, but that means a revolving door–not just getting new guys in, but losing the old ones. That doesn’t seem to be the model they’re following.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 11, 2013 at 2:15 PM

        That’s exactly what I don’t want us to be, top-spending team. handing out contract extension to Desmond is important given SS market and other reasons, but I would like us not to overpay.

  13. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    Faraz —

    If wishes were horses, . . ..

    If Desmond is extended you will have long-term (3-5 years) coverage in place for five of the eight positions, six if you count Werth. The top-4 in the rotation, once they are in arbitration, will likely cost $60+MM a year. LaRoche comes off the books in 2015. Fifteen million, or even more, for Desmond is just a small wedge in the pie.

  14. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    Kilgore’s estimated salaries-through-arbitration are way low. The players (their agents know these are not typical arbitration-eligible players) know their long-term value, know the Nats are doing well financially, and will demand big nos. to not only ensure their short-term but also enhance the value (to the team) of doing long-term extensions. The Nats will not go low as that only feeds the possibility an arbitrator will go with the player’s higher asking price. In a split-the-difference negotiation the Nats will end up paying more than any of the nos. predict. Kilgore says $34MM to the arb. eligible players but could be 20 percent higher.

  15. kirbs3256 - Oct 11, 2013 at 6:55 PM

    Y’all got to remember, of his 20 errors I remember 7 or 8 of them coming in about a three week period at the start of the year. So if you take the oddity out, it really breaks down to a couple a month.

  16. janebeard - Oct 11, 2013 at 7:21 PM

    I want them to pay whatever they need to keep Ian. He is my favorite player and has been since he came up (excepting Livan, who I will always love). He is a great player and seems to be a terrific, terrific person. And his errors were mostly in the beginning of the season.

    I think Davey really helped Ian blossom. I hope the next guy believes in him, too.

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