Ian Desmond Signed For How Much?

The hot stove season is over, which means that there are no more star free agents to sign, right? Well, there is one former star player who recently signed for a below market deal. Justin Gorman believes that Ian Desmond needs to seek new representation in his next go-around at free agency.

Pending a physical, the Texas Rangers have signed Ian Desmond to a one-year, $8M contract so the three-time winner of the Silver Slugger award at shortstop can… play left field and serve as a utility player?

Desmond’s agent is currently listed as Sports One Athlete Management by our friends at baseball-reference.com. If I were a betting man, I would suspect they will be fired in the not-too-distant future. While Desmond did have a 2015 that was nothing short of abysmal for the Washington Nationals (.233/.290/.384, OPS+ of 80), he (read: his agent) misjudged the market so badly that it could very easily be classified as gross negligence.

Prior to the 2014 season, Desmond turned down a 7-year, $107M contract extension to stay with Washington. That contract would have had an annual value of more than $15M – certainly he would have been set for life. It’s reasonable to think that not signing that contract may not have been a bad idea at the time, as Desmond was coming off two consecutive seasons in 2012 (.292/.334/.512, 25 HR, 21 SB) and 2013 (.280/.331/.453, 20 HR, 21 SB) that, if replicated, would have placed him in the top tier of shortstops in the years to come. The possibility existed that he could have fetched more on the open market when he hit free agency after the 2015 season. How much more, you ask? Let’s consider the five highest paid shortstops in 2016, and take a look at their average slash lines of the past four seasons, plus other notable statistics:

Name 2016 Salary 2012-2015 Average Stats
Jose Reyes $22M .286/.335/.409, average 27.25 SB
Troy Tulowitzki $20M .304/.380/.517, average OPS+ 131
Elvis Andrus $15M .270/.325/.350, average 28.75 SB
J.J. Hardy $12.5M .247/.288/.376, 3 Gold Gloves
Jhonny Peralta $12.5M .270/.333/.424, average OPS+ 106
Ian Desmond $8M .265/.317/.445, avg OPS+ 105, avg 19.75 SB

Desmond has been no slouch in comparison, but his numbers have undeniably declined over the past four years, with 2014 and 2015 (after he rejected the extension) representing the most precipitous drop in production. In November of 2015, the Nationals extended the qualifying offer of one year, $15.8M, which he clearly should have accepted. He made $11M in 2015 while putting up dreadful numbers, and he was given the opportunity to try to improve those numbers while making more per annum then he ever has, and becoming the third highest-paid shortstop in the major leagues for 2016.

Instead, Desmond and his agent carelessly decided against accepting that offer, and the Rangers made out like bandits, getting the 30-year-old reclamation project for $4.5M less than J.J. Hardy will make this year. Had he accepted the original qualifying offer and bounced back offensively, he would have cruised into the 2017 free agent market as the top shortstop available, while making nearly double what he will make in 2016. Additionally, since the Rangers have Andrus as their incumbent shortstop, Desmond will be relegated to either left field or utility duties, and his status as an everyday shortstop in the 2017 free agent market is called into question.

Sports One Athlete Management should eat its commission on this deal, because this contract benefits everyone but Ian Desmond. Desmond and his agent could have easily looked back on his recent performance and realized no team would likely (1) give up a high draft pick and (2) pay him more than $15.8M a year. Here’s to hoping he does have a bounce-back year, and this solid ballplayer can find a long-term home and help a team into the future.

Justin Gorman has written about manager tirades, baseball contracts, an illegal delivery, and the case for expansion.

Follow Justin on Twitter @j1gorman.

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