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Roster preview: Ian Desmond

Jan 16, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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Age on Opening Day 2014: 28

How acquired: 3rd round pick, 2004 draft

2014 salary: TBD (should make roughly $7 million via arbitration)

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

2014 storyline: After back-to-back, Silver Slugger seasons, Desmond has firmly entrenched himself as one of baseball’s best all-around shortstops. And there’s no reason to believe the last two years were anomalies. Desmond combines power and speed at the plate, using an aggressive approach to attack fastballs early in the count. He’s still prone to over-swing at some bad pitches every now and again, but he makes up for it with his production.

Given how reliable he has become in the field, it’s almost hard to recall that Desmond once was among the worst-fielding shortstops in the game, one who committed a league-high 34 errors as a rookie in 2010. He has come a long way since then, never making anyone nervous on routine plays while also possessing some of the best range of anyone at his position.

Desmond’s clubhouse leadership continues to grow as well. He is now the longest-tenured player in the franchise, drafted by the Expos way back in 2004, and he commands respect and admiration from his teammates. All of those attributes combined make Desmond invaluable to the Nationals, so it’s no surprise they’re trying to lock him up to a long-term extension now, two years before he can become a free agent. Don’t be surprised if negotiations heat up during spring training, with Desmond (like most players) preferring not to negotiate during the season.

Best-case scenario: Is there another level Desmond can reach? Truthfully, yes. He not only duplicates his performance from the last two seasons but expands on it by showing a bit more patience at the plate (hitting .300 for the first time and posting a .350 on-base percentage). He also clubs 30 homers, establishing a new career-high, and swipes 25 bags to match his previous best from 2011. Desmond also cuts down on his errors in the field (he commits a career-low 13), winning a Gold Glove Award in the process. He wins his third straight Silver Slugger Award, gets voted in as an All-Star Game starter and finishes in the Top 5 in NL MVP voting.

Worst-case scenario: It’s difficult to imagine Desmond falling all the way back to his 2010-11 numbers, but he could slip some if he gets a little too overanxious at the plate. He hits only .260, with an OBP hovering around the .300 mark. He spends time on the DL with a muscle strain. And he gets careless in the field, committing 27 errors. The luster wears off a bit after a down year.

Most-likely scenario: Desmond simply does what he has done the last two seasons. He hits .285 with a .330 OBP, smacks 23 homers and steals 20 bases (joining Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins and Alex Rodriguez as the only shortstops in MLB history with three 20-20 seasons). He once again challenges for the Gold Glove at shortstop and remains a trusted leader within the clubhouse. And the Nats reward him with a 7-year, $120 million extension.

  1. unkyd59 - Jan 16, 2014 at 6:08 AM

    That’s my boy…

  2. MicheleS - Jan 16, 2014 at 7:29 AM

    It’s been a true pleasure to watch him grow. Gold Glove/Silver Slugger shortstops are not out there in the Free Agent market or in our farm system…. Sign him!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. alexva6 - Jan 16, 2014 at 7:32 AM

    In the early days, management never waivered in their belief in Desmond. He was consistently touted as a team leader. While I do not believe he will ever change his approach, what he has become has validated the support he received.

    • Jw - Jan 16, 2014 at 8:54 AM

      That would include Jim Bowden, who was roundly mocked for comparing Desmond to Derek Jeter long before Desi had ever played a game in the bigs. How’s that comparison looking now?

      • scbilly - Jan 16, 2014 at 10:53 AM

        Overheated like a lot of things Bowden said – the only reason you would ever mention him and Sparky Anderson in the same sentence.. But he and Rizzo were still right to stick with a guy who’s become a key reason the franchise has turned around.

  4. Candide - Jan 16, 2014 at 9:26 AM

    Sidetrack: Cunegonde and I are going to NatsFest. We live in Alexandria, not far from the Wilson Bridge, so getting to National Harbor is really easy for us.

    Does anyone want to meet at our house and carpool with us, save a few bucks by sharing the cost of parking?

    Our tickets are for the 11:00 admission, so if you paid extra for the 10:00 autograph session, please ignore.

    If interested, drop me a private email at gilbertbp (at) comcast (dot) net.

  5. Doc - Jan 16, 2014 at 9:35 AM

    Desi probably could have along a little better, and a little faster with some better coaching in the minors. He attributes Larry Bowa for helping him become the fielder that he currently is, and Bowa has never even been on the Nats’ staff!!!

    But now that he has arrived, he has become a great team leader. He is our Derek Jeter, JW.

    Hard to imagine this team without him. He’s one of my all time favorites.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Jan 16, 2014 at 11:24 AM

      For someone more willing than I to do the research, Desmond was originally an Expo. Wasn’t Bowa around the organization at one point early in Desmond’s career?

      • Jw - Jan 16, 2014 at 11:46 AM

        I believe Bowa was part of Frank Robinson’s staff, or an advisor to the GM in the Bowden era.

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Jan 16, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    Again, I think Mark is under-valuing a key performer. Seven years at $120MM works out to about $17MM a year. Every out-of-sight signing (see, e.g., Kershaw) illuminates that these high $$ contracts are “expensive” only in the short term. Looked at through a long lens $17MM in 2021 is going to look like the cost of doing business, not extravagance. How much will Steven Drew — nowhere near Desmond’s contributions — end up signing for? $12-14MM/yr. for three years? I don’t think Mark is far off but $125MM over the same period is closer to what I would expect. Pretty much Zimmerman plus the inflation of salaries since Zimmerman’s extension.

    Mark’s “best-case” scenario is easily w/in reach: Desmond cuts his Ks to 100/year and squeezes out 12 more hits by putting the ball in play 45 more times. Bingo! A .300 hitter. Well, maybe not the 30HR part.

  7. shawndc04 - Jan 16, 2014 at 11:00 AM

    I agree that he is a core player for us. I hope that management does right by him and locks him up for the foreseeable future. He does all the right things on the field and in the clubhouse.

  8. Theophilus T.S. - Jan 16, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    I want to acknowledge that Mark has raised his valuation of Desmond by a year and $20MM from where it was ten days ago. Looking back in the archives I find that, on 1/7, I “offered” Desmond six years at $110MM, plus an option. I’m relieved to confirm that my current offer, seven years at $125MM is consistent with my prior suggestion.

  9. Faraz Shaikh - Jan 16, 2014 at 12:09 PM

    As far as I can tell, Bowa never held a position with nationals. He helped out Desi as an outside mentor.

    • Jw - Jan 16, 2014 at 1:00 PM

      Here’s the Larry Bowa-Nationals connection: He is Nick Johnson’s uncle.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 16, 2014 at 1:06 PM

        But not a professional one.

  10. nats128 - Jan 16, 2014 at 12:35 PM

    David Price just signed for this year at $14 million. Next year is his last arb year.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 16, 2014 at 1:07 PM

      Hope Rays trade him for boatload of talent. They are definitely not re-signing him.

  11. Section 222 - Jan 16, 2014 at 1:39 PM

    Prior to the 2012 season, I was a Desi-skeptic (never a hater). Part of that was that he was ill-suited to be a leadoff guy, or even hit second. Not patient enough, not a high enough OBP. He also couldn’t handle the No. 8 spot where he got thrown alot of junk out of the strike zone that he coudn’t lay off. And that’s where Riggleman seemed to want to put him in the order. In 2010, he batted 2nd 45 times and 8th 39 times.

    In 2011, he batted leadoff 50 times and 2nd 41 times. His slashline was .253/.298/.358/.656. Hence my skepticism when Davey annointed him the leadoff hitter in 2012. In 2012, he led off for 38 of our first 39 games, and then basically batted 5th or 6th the rest of the year, except when he was injured. That’s where he’s most effective, as shown by his splits during the two periods: 271/.293/.452/.745 until May 19, the last game that he batted leadoff, and .303/.354/.541/.895 for the rest of the season. That’s a remarkable improvement.

    In 2013, he batted fifth 74 times and sixth 62 times. He’s found a home in the middle of our lineup, and I hope he stays there for many years to come.

  12. Theophilus T.S. - Jan 16, 2014 at 1:58 PM

    This I believe resolves the Desmond-Bowa connection http://dc.sbnation.com/washington-nationals/2011/5/9/2161898/ian-desmond-larry-bowa-nationals.

    • Section 222 - Jan 16, 2014 at 3:03 PM

      Always nice to have a question answered by reference to an actual contemporary report. Many thanks.

  13. Sonny G 10 - Jan 16, 2014 at 8:19 PM

    I agree with all the positive things said about Desmond above. I would also like to add that I admire and appreciate Ian’s devotion to the fans, especially the young fans. Seems he’s always out signing autographs for the kids before games.

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