BY: Richard W. Humphrey
The Rangers reacted quickly and decisively to the news that Josh Hamilton will start the season on the disabled list and be unavailable for at least the first month. They made a deal with the very athletic free agent Ian Desmond. Desmond turned down a qualifying offer from his former team, the Washington Nationals after last season; but has been unable to obtain a suitable multi-year offer. With most teams’ rosters full and with little money left unallocated; he bit the bullet and accepted a one year contract at $8.0 million from the Rangers. He’ll try the free agent market again next winter.
Since the Nationals tendered a qualifying offer, the Rangers will forfeit their number one draft pick and the associated slot money that goes along with it, roughly $2.5 million. That pick would have been the 19th in the first round. However, the forfeiture moves the compensatory pick they obtained when Yovani Gallardo signed with Baltimore from 30 to 29.
Jon Daniels was interviewed on the Dallas ESPN radio affiliate (103.3 FM) Monday afternoon about the signing. He said that Desmond told them that he wanted to be with the Rangers and that he was willing to make the position change. Daniels said, “The negotiations went pretty fast after that.”
Certainly, the multi-positional capability for Desmond will enhance his value in the future. Players such as Ben Zobrist that offer roster flexibility have become quite popular in recent years, and they are getting paid well for it. Daniels also noted the flexibility Desmond provides to the Rangers. If say an infielder sustains an injury, Daniels is not limited to infielders in the minor league system as replacements. If an outfielder is the player he wants to put in the line-up, he can call up an outfielder and shift Desmond to the infield.
Desmond has always recorded high strike out totals. He struck out more than 180 times in each of the past two seasons. “That’s part of his game,” Daniels said. However, the Rangers overall have good contact hitters. Sin-Shoo Choo led the Rangers with 147 strikeouts last season. Only two other players reached 100. Daniels does not expect Desmond’s strikeouts to be a big problem.
Desmond is a right-handed batter, and there is no question that the Rangers’ batting order has been too left-handed. He helps balance the offense. He is also known as a player that plays hard and is a good teammate. Cole Hamels spent his entire career in the National League until last July and is thus familiar with Desmond. He told MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan, “He (Desmond) brings a certain kind of energy. He’s got tremendous power. He’s an outstanding addition.”
It is certainly a risk on the Rangers’ part. Desmond is a shortstop and has played less than 10 Major League innings in the outfield in his 12 year career. Exactly none of those innings were in left field. He hit .233 with a .290 on-base average, 19 home runs and 62 RBIs last year in 156 games with Washington. That was the third straight year his batting averaged dropped from a career high .292 in 2012. His career batting average is .264.
$8.0 million for one year is a lot of money for normal people. However, in Desmond’s case, this contract represents a colossal failure on Desmond’s and his agent’s part. Prior to the 2014 season, he turned down a $107 extension from the Nationals. Not only is he taking a financial hit, but he is also transitioning to a new position.
On the Rangers’ part, it could be a tremendous value. For sure it sends a message to the players that management believes in this team and is supporting it. Rumors persisted throughout the off season that the Rangers were so financially strapped that they were unable to make trades or sign free agents that could have helped the team. With Hamilton ailing, and with little faith in the internal candidates, there was suddenly an $8.0 million increase in the 2016 salary budget to accommodate Desmond.
Daniels was asked where this signing leaves Josh Hamilton when he returns from injury. Daniels said he hopes that Hamilton comes back healthy and capable of being the player they envisioned. He’s confident one way or another, the situation will sort itself out if it happens.
Hamilton was also positive about the move, telling the Ranger writers, “I agreed 100% (with signing Desmond to play left field). I told them I thought it would be a great addition.”
This is bad news for the Rangers’ internal outfield candidates – Ryan Rua, Justin Ruggiano, and Patrick Kivlehan. It also virtually shuts out the Rangers’ top three minor prospects – Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson – from consideration of making the opening day roster. Ranger management has consistently indicated that they want the young trio to at least start the 2016 at AAA and perhaps play the entire season there. Desmond’s acquisition makes that more likely.
To make room on the 40-man roster for Desmond, the Rangers placed reliever Tanner Scheppers on the 60-day disabled list. He underwent knee surgery since training camp began that will keep him off the active roster until at least the All-Star break.
“This is a new chapter,” Desmond told the Ranger beat writers. “And I’m going to embrace the challenge.”
* The return of Jurickson Profar looks even more promising. In Monday’s intra-squad game, he hit a home run off Cole Hamels in his first at bat, and made two outstanding defensive plays at shortstop.