Finding a shortstop is the Padres’ top priority at this point, and a pair of reports which highlight that pursuit have surfaced today. Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes that San Diego remains in contact with Ian Desmond’s reps at Sports One Athlete Management, and FOX’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the team has had recent contact with free-agent Alexei Ramirez (links to Twitter). Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago/670 The Score first connected San Diego and Ramirez last month.
Desmond, 30, has remained in contact with the Padres, per Lin, though no deal is imminent at this time. However, Lin notes that Desmond is a favorite of general manager A.J. Preller, not only for his history of production at the plate (last season’s ugly first half notwithstanding) but also for his makeup and the leadership he brings to a team. Lin also notes that Preller said last month that even after acquiring highly touted shortstop prospect Javier Guerra as part of the package that sent Craig Kimbrel to Boston, he wouldn’t rule out landing a shortstop in free agency or in trades. “If we feel like it’s a player we really like and we think is worth the dollars and years, you can never have enough players up the middle, especially talented players,” said Preller. “Especially when you sign shortstops, you get guys who can play other positions and have value in the industry.”
Desmond posted an uncharacteristic .223/.290/.384 batting line in 2015, but much of that ugly slash line is due to a poor first half. Following the All-Star break, Desmond slashed .262/.331/.446 with a dozen homers and eight stolen bases. In spite of that disappointing first half, Desmond did finish the year just one homer shy of his fourth straight year with 20 or more long balls. And it should be noted that while he made 27 errors last year, an astonishing eight of those errors came in the season’s first 12 contests, after which he cleaned up his defense considerably.
None of that is to suggest that Desmond is a surefire bet to rebound to his 2012-14 form, of course. Signing in San Diego would figure to be disadvantageous to his production at the plate, given the typically run-suppressing nature of Petco Park. And while it’s easy enough to write off his poor first half as a fluke, it’s not as easy to write off Desmond’s alarming 29.2 percent strikeout rate in 2015. That mark was easily the highest of his career, and even when looking at his seemingly improved second half, the strikeouts were a problem. In fact, Desmond struck out in 30.3 percent of his second-half plate appearances, with his .262 average following the All-Star break largely due to a .346 BABIP which rests comfortably above his career level of .322. If Desmond is to truly turn his game around, he’ll need his strikeout rate to trend back toward the 21 percent mark he posted from 2012-13.
Desmond would also require a fairly lengthy commitment, and while it’s not known precisely where his market lies at this stage, it’s safe to say that Ramirez would command a significantly shorter term — possibly even a one-year deal. Ramirez also would not require the forfeiture of a draft pick, which Desmond would. As Rosenthal points out, the Padres’ No. 8 overall selection is protected, but surrendering their next-best pick would deprive the team of making six selections in the top 100 of next year’s draft. Adding Ramirez could provide a potential stopgap to Guerra without sacrificing the ability to substantially add to their farm next summer. (Bear in mind that not only would the Padres receive six of the top 100 picks — their bonus pool would be among the largest in the game due to the possession of those six picks, thereby allowing the team to strategically distribute that money and take some tough-to-sign players as value picks in later rounds.)
Ramirez, of course, isn’t without his own pros and cons. While he’s been a largely durable asset for the White Sox over the life of his big league career, showing both power and speed at times, he, too, was plagued by a dismal first half in 2015 when he batted just .224/.249/.292. Given the fact that he’s 34 years of age, the Padres (or any other team) have to be significantly more wary of a potential decline for Ramirez. However, he batted a much more characteristic .277/.325/.432 with eight homers and seven steals following the All-Star break.
First- and second-half splits are admittedly somewhat arbitrary in nature, but in the instance of each player there is nonetheless a notable distinction between the two halves of the season. If the Padres are confident that either player’s second half is a harbinger of things to come, then either would mark a substantial upgrade over the sub-par contributions of Alexi Amarista, Clint Barmes, Will Middlebrooks and Jedd Gyorko in 2015 (the latter three of which are no longer in the organization).