Ian Desmond entered the 2015 season on the last year of his contract, unable to come to terms with the Washington Nationals in the off-season. He faces the prospect of free agency at the end of the year. The Nationals will be faced with the question of whether or not to re-sign Ian Desmond to a long-term contract. I believe the Nationals should not resign Desmond and should attempt to trade him before the trade deadline.
Now, I know that the Nats are supposed to be all in this year. Teams that are all in do not usually trade a three-time Silver Slugger before a possible World Series run. They go out and pick up huge, big-name stars like Max Scherzer and do not do anything to jeopardize this season. I believe that trading Ian Desmond will not only add depth in the minors to secure a winning future and allow the team financial flexibility, but I also believe it will make the Nats better for a postseason run.
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First off, Desmond will cost this team too much money for the value that he will provide. He already turned down a seven-year, $107 million contract this off-season. He is looking at Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract with the Yankees at $153 million for the same length as a benchmark for what he should be getting. He would most likely be asking for the 18-20 million a year category. The problem for Ian Desmond is he is not going to be worth 18-20 million a year.
Since his breakout 2012 season, Ian Desmond’s numbers have steadily declined from a .292/.335/.511 slash in 2012 to a .280/.331/.453 in 2013 to .255/.313/.430 last year. Although this year is still early and he has time to bounce back, Desmond’s numbers are lower this year with a .228/.273/.351 slash. Desmond may be going through a slump. He only needs to hit .275 the rest of the way to get back to his old number if he stays healthy and gets 600 plate appearances to get back to his old numbers. This is a common trait for players approaching and passing 30. His production may bounce back to the mean this year, but it will steady decline each year making a long-term deal seem unwise.
The Nationals also have options at shortstop right now and for years to come to fill in if they traded Desmond before a playoff push. Danny Espinosa is having a great year, and, even if he regresses a bit the second half of the year, his plus fielding and ability to play multiple positions more than makes up for his bat.
If Espinosa fills in this year, the Nationals don’t have to worry about middle infielders for 2016 and beyond due to stud prospects Wilmer Difo and Trea Turner. Trea Turner just entered the Nats farm system and was hitting the cover off the ball in AA San Antonio for the Padres with a .322/.385/.471 slash line. Wilmer Difo has seen some action at the majors this year and is .320/.386/.533 in Potomac and .287/.313/.404 in double-A Harrisburg. The Nationals have depth with these two young kids and at least one of the two should be able to be that long-term shortstop of the future.
In addition, any trade for Desmond could include a good outfield prospect, which the Nationals currently do not have any in their top ten prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. They did draft three outfielders in the first three rounds in this year’s draft, but the Nationals need players closer to major league level because there is currently not much depth behind Michael A. Taylor.
After taking into account the lack of return on investment signing Desmond to a long-term deal and the options the Nationals could get for Desmond in return, it makes financial and long-term sense for the club to trade Desmond. But will it make them a better baseball team for the playoff push? I believe it will.
Desmond’s power numbers notwithstanding, playoff baseball is tight and you need the ability to manufacture runs. This is something the Nationals have not done a good job at this year and Desmond is especially poor at. He is striking out at the highest rate of his career at 28.1%. Putting the ball in play is essential in playoff baseball by putting pressure on the defense to make a play.
It is also needed for situational hitting that may call for a sacrifice fly or a bouncer the other way to move the runner. He also doesn’t get on base. This year, Desmond’s on-base percentage is only .273. That is simply not good enough when every base runner is vital in the playoffs. As a contrast, Espinsoa sports a .351 OBP and a 21.5% strikeout rate. Espinosa could fill in now and provide two key elements required to manufacture runs for a playoff push.
Ian Desmond is a three-time Silver Slugger award winner and the backbone of the Nationals middle infield, but it may be the best thing for Ian and the club to part ways before the trade deadline this year.