Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times recently wrote that Ian Desmond’s lingering presence on the free-agent market continues to increase the possibility of a deal between Desmond and the Rays, and today, Topkin explored that topic on a much more in-depth scale.
Per Topkin, Desmond — a Sarasota, Fla. native — has indicated that he would like to play for the Rays. There are a number of other factors working in favor of a match between the two sides, Topkin notes, including the fact that Desmond shares the same agency as Rays skipper Kevin Cash and is close friends with Rays right fielder Steven Souza (from the pair’s days together with the Nationals). However, the Rays are loath to surrender the No. 13 overall pick in order to sign him, considering the importance of the draft to the cost-conscious club. SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo recently tweeted the same sentiment; the Rays have some interest in Desmond but consider the draft pick forfeiture a “huge obstacle” to an earnest pursuit.
Adding Desmond to the fold would shift Brad Miller from receiving the lion’s share of playing time at shortstop into a utility role, though he was deployed in a similar capacity over the past few years in Seattle. Beyond the draft pick and Desmond’s fit on the roster, the length of the deal represents an issue as well. Desmond would likely need to be amenable to a short-term deal — either one year (perhaps with an option) or two years — in order to make a signing realistic, per Topkin. It’s not clear whether Desmond’s asking price has dropped to that point or if he’s still seeking a multi-year deal, however. Alternatively, Desmond’s camp could seek a contract similar to the three-year contract with a one-year opt-out that Yoenis Cespedes just signed with the Mets (of course, at a considerably lower annual rate than Cespedes’ $25MM mark). The contract structure, as Jeff and I discussed on the MLBTR Podcast a few weeks back, makes sense for a number of remaining free agents as a modernized version of the traditional one-year “pillow” deal.
Desmond is just one of four remaining free agents to have rejected a one-year, $15.8MM qualifying offer that still remains on the market. While the Nationals are the lone team that would not need to sacrifice an existing draft pick to sign Desmond (though they’d be forfeiting the right to add an additional pick should he sign elsewhere), James Wagner of the Washington Post writes that there won’t be a reunion between the two parties. Desmond and the Nats haven’t had any form of contract negotiations this offseason, and the additions of Daniel Murphy and Stephen Drew have likely solidified the team’s group of middle infielders, especially with Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo rising through the minor league ranks.
Coming off a season that saw him bat just .233/.290/.384, Desmond’s stock is undeniably weaker than many anticipated prior to the 2015 campaign, although the second half of the season did see him rebound to a more Desmond-esque .261/.331/.446 batting line. Detractors question Desmond’s glove at shortstop — he had a bout of extreme error proneness early in 2015 — and his rising strikeout rate, while those who remain high on his abilities can point to the fact that he’s batted a collective .264/.317/.443 and averaged 22 homers and 20 steals per season since 2012. Jeff recently polled MLBTR readers on whether Desmond or fellow qualifying-offer-hampered free agent Howie Kendrick would earn more, and Desmond won the voting decisively.
In addition to the Rays, some speculative landing spots for Desmonds (from my point of view) include the White Sox, Rockies, D-backs, Braves, Twins, Tigers and Indians (a move to third base or second base would be required for some of those fits), though not all of those clubs are an ideal fit, and a number of them seem reluctant to part with their top unprotected pick. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently explored some of those clubs and other potential fits in an edition of the MLBTR Newsletter (for which you can sign up here).