USA TODAY US Edition
Desmond humbled, in search of change
Untold millions lost, shortstop makes do as Rangers outfielder
Ian Desmond stood in front of his new locker Monday, surrounded by new teammates, preparing to play a new position, under a new contract and answering a whole new line of questions.
It would have been so easy for Desmond to walk through the Texas Rangers clubhouse door bitter. Who would have blamed him? This is a guy who turned down a seven-year, $107 million contract extension two years ago from the Washington Nationals. He rejected their $15.8 million qualifying offer in November.
Now, here he is, relegated to a one-year, $8 million contract with the Rangers and being forced to switch positions.
We haven’t seen an athlete’s value plummet like this since the days of Mike Tyson.
Desmond didn’t ask for it, but he certainly will be Exhibit A in the Major League Baseball Players Association’s case against the free agent system in labor negotiations.
Yet while Desmond concedes it was a frustrating winter, maddening at times, he refuses to be angry at the system, believing it will be corrected by the time he hits free agency again in a year.
“This offseason seemed like an eternity,” Desmond said. “It seems like an eternity. But free agency was great. It really was. It was challenging. It was tough. It really made me think. It pushed me to new places mentally. I enjoyed it. I’m coming here now completely humbled.”
Oh, yes indeed. In what other occupation can you lose nearly $100 million in value after being one of six players with at least 100 home runs and 100 stolen bases since 2010, winning three Silver Slugger awards and becoming an All- Star shortstop in 2012? Where else can you build that kind of résumé and remain unemployed for months?
“I’m pumped to have him here,” Rangers ace Cole Hamels said. “We all are. He’s got everyone excited in here knowing that with this lineup and the veteran guys it’s going to bring the best out of him.
“But we also know that he’s a guy that deserves a big contract. Not this. And I believe this will pay off for him. And he’ll get that big contract. He’ll have the Nelson Cruz effect.”
Cruz couldn’t find a job two years ago, with a qualifying offer attached to him, requiring teams to forfeit a first-round draft pick for his services. He signed a oneyear, $8 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles and hit 40 homers. The next winter he signed a four-year, $57 million deal with the Seattle Mariners.
This year, the free agent system put a whammy on outfielder Dexter Fowler, starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo and second baseman Howie Kendrick, all of whom signed for less per season than the original qualifying offer.
Desmond declined to hash out any intimate contract discussions with clubs this winter, but he joked that, even with his high school diploma, he can figure out there’s a problem. Teams are treating their first-round picks as if they are the next Bryce Harper or Mike Trout.
“I think it’s clear that something needs to change,” Desmond said. “I don’t think it’s a matter of should it change. But how it should change.
“I spent 12-plus years with the Washington Nationals. I gave them everything I had. And I think that should be worth something, not only to them, but to me. There are smart enough people in place to make the proper adjustments. I trust they’ll figure it out.”
In the meantime, Desmond will have to learn to play a new position in a new league. The Rangers were willing to sign him only if he would play left field. He has started one game in the outfield as a major leaguer.
“This is not running from something,” Desmond said, “but running to something. That’s what free agency is about. You get the opportunity to choose what you want to do. That’s the beauty of it. This is what I chose.
“I’m a shortstop. I believe what I can do as an infielder, but I want to be part of something bigger than myself. I’m a team-first guy. I told them if they can have me on board, I’ll find a way to make it work. “So there’s risk on both sides.” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, who kept in touch with Desmond’s representatives all winter but never believed they could actually afford him, is convinced he’ll be fine in left field. Besides, if you can try Mike Napoli and Joey Gallo among the group of 12 left fielders that started for Texas last year, certainly Desmond should be a significant defensive upgrade.
Rangers special assistant Michael Young is convinced Desmond “is going to kill left field.”
Time will tell. Hanley Ramirez, who moved from shortstop to left field last season for the Boston Red Sox, was a complete bust. Al- fonso Soriano, who moved from second base to left field, was barely adequate defensively.
Yet those players were forced to switch positions if they wanted to haul in huge free agent paydays.
Desmond, who could have signed as a shortstop or infielder with another team, is the one who decided to give the outfield a shot.
“This isn’t me trying to resurrect myself,” said Desmond, who committed a National Leagueworst 27 errors in 2015. “This wasn’t me saying I got to keep myself alive. This wasn’t a desperation move. This is getting to free agency, deciding as a man that I’m ready for a change.
“This is going to be a new chapter for me, and I’m ready to embrace it.”