Obviously, the interest that any team expresses in a free agent is going to be largely preliminary at this juncture of the offseason, but Baltimore’s interest is certainly notable, and it’s not hard to see where Desmond would fit into the roster. The Orioles deployed Mark Trumbo as their primary right fielder in 2016 and enjoyed a 47-homer season out of the big slugger but received some of the game’s worst defense in return. While Desmond is still relatively new to the outfield, he logged positive marks there in left field and handled center field capably enough to expect that he could function as a significant defensive upgrade over Trumbo moving forward. Alternatively, he could start in left field in place of Hyun Soo Kim on days in which the Orioles face a left-handed starting pitcher.
The 31-year-old Desmond signed a one-year, $8MM contract last offseason — a disappointing outcome for a player who just six months earlier looked poised to enter the market as one of the premier free agents available. A poor 2015 season at the plate submarined his free agent stock last winter, but he rebuilt his reputation with a .285/.335/.446 slash line, 22 homers and 21 stolen bases over the life of his one-year deal with the Rangers. That marked Desmond’s fourth 20-20 season in the past five years, and paired with his newly demonstrated defensive versatility, that should be enough to score him a sizable multi-year deal this winter once he rejects the Rangers’ qualifying offer. MLBTR pegged Desmond at four years and $60MM on yesterday’s Top 50 free agent list, and from my own personal vantage point it’s certainly possible to envision him topping that figure as well.
The qualifying offer he received would mean that Baltimore would have to sacrifice the No. 23 overall selection in next year’s draft in order to sign Desmond, but forfeiting draft picks hasn’t served as much of a detriment to the Orioles in recent years. Dating back to 2013, the O’s have punted draft picks in order to sign Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz and Yovani Gallardo, and they’ve also traded Competitive Balance draft picks merely to facilitate salary dump trades that shed the salaries of middle relievers Ryan Webb and Brian Matusz as well.