Jan 16, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
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.
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