Ian Desmond, Texas Ranger. The former Washington Nationals shortstop is now going to be the Texas Rangers' starting left fielder, it appears, with Desmond coming to Texas on a one year, $8 million deal.
I didn't even do a post about the Desmond rumors when they came out a couple of days ago, because it seemed so unlikely. Evan Grant said yesterday that there was "nothing substantive" at that point, just that the Rangers had "reached out to Ian Desmond on a fact-finding mission" to see about his interest in playing left field. It just sounded like tire-kicking due diligence.
And yet, here we are.
So I've been trying to wrap my brain around this. The first question is, if the Rangers were willing to give Ian Desmond $8 million and give up the #19 pick to do so, why wouldn't they sign Austin Jackson, who can play center field and wouldn't cost a pick?
Well, as far as the draft pick goes, I'm not sure if forfeiting the draft pick wasn't looked upon as necessarily a bad thing for the Rangers. The bonus pool for the #19 pick last year was $2.273 million. Figure around $2.35 million this year for the #19 pick...if the Rangers have budgetary constraints (and by all accounts, they do), then this move effectively saves them that amount, meaning the net cost of adding Desmond ends up being about $5.65M. Given that Jackson supposedly rejected about that amount from the Angels, that would seem to help answer the "why didn't they just sign Jackson?" question.
Also, while I've harped on Desmond's 674 OPS last season -- which is worse than the putrid performance the Rangers got from their left fielders in 2015 -- Jackson had a 696 OPS last season. Of course, the appeal of Jackson is less about his bat, and more about the fact you could slot him in center field and move Delino DeShields to left field, where DeShields would be less of a defensive liability.
As it is, the Rangers are now looking at rolling with bad defenders in center field and right field, and a guy who has never played the position in left field. Hope Jeff Banister is ready to shift aggressively out there to help cover that...
Meanwhile, in terms of impact on guys on the roster, first and foremost, this seems to put to rest the notion that Josh Hamilton is going to be an everyday player this season. While we heard a lot of rosy talk early in the offseason about how Josh was primed for a great bounceback season -- he is back home where he's comfortable! he's had his surgery early in the offseason and will be healthy come spring! -- the reality is that Hamilton can't stay on the field, even before we deal with the fact that Hamilton isn't very good when he's out there on the field. While the initial talk was that he'd platoon with Justin Ruggiano in left field, at this point, when he is on the active roster -- and I'm not optimistic that will be all that often -- his role will appear to be bench bat and fourth outfielder.
Incidentally, while Josh is on the d.l. to start the season, it doesn't appear the Rangers will put him on the 60 day d.l. to create a roster spot for Desmond -- instead, Tanner Scheppers, who is out until the middle of the year with knee surgery, will likely go to the 60 day d.l. to create a 40 man spot.
Ruggiano, meanwhile, probably still is starting against lefthanded pitchers...however, you have to think that will likely be at first base, rather than left field. When Ruggiano was signed, the Rangers said they wanted him to work at first base so he could be a platoon option there, and with Desmond presumably playing left field every day, Ruggiano seems more likely to get his ABs at first base, with Mitch Moreland sitting against lefties.
That assumes, of course, that Desmond doesn't play some first base...which is the other angle to this deal that potentially makes this intriguing. The Rangers have shown, in the past, a desire to have a "super-utility" type guy, a role that Michael Young and Jurickson Profar have each filled at various points. Desmond played some second base and started a game in right field his rookie year, but other than a third of an inning in right field in 2010, he's played nothing but shortstop since then. Nevertheless, teams expressed an interest in Desmond potentially playing second base this offseason, and he would seem to offer some versatility.
So, potentially, the Rangers could potentially pencil him in as the every day left fielder this year, but also have him get some work at the infield spots. If you could use Desmond as a Ben Zobrist-type, someone who is a starter at a certain position, but can also fill in several other positions -- basically, have him in that super-utility role that the Rangers used Young and Profar in -- then he's got a lot more value than if he's just a left fielder. If you determine, for example, that Desmond can back up Elvis Andrus at shortstop, then you don't necessarily need Hanser Alberto on the Opening Day roster, and he can start the season at AAA getting regular at bats, rather than in the majors playing once a week. If you determine you're comfortable with Desmond as your backup infielder, you can potentially keep, say, both James Jones and Drew Stubbs, giving you a decent defensive backup center fielder in Stubbs, as well as a fast guy in Jones who can pinch run.
In fact, now that I think about it some more, I think the Rangers almost HAVE to plan on Desmond playing some infield, if Josh Hamilton ever comes back. With Hamilton, Ruggiano and a backup catcher, that leaves just one bench spot left, and no utility infielder or backup centerfielder. If you use Desmond as your UIF, then your bench is Hamilton, Ruggiano, catcher, and Jones or Stubbs. I guess the Rangers could decide that Ruggiano could function as your backup CF, and use Alberto or Pedro Ciricao as the backup infielder, but Desmond backing them up in a super-UIF role might make more sense.
Of course, for Desmond to have value in either role, he's got to hit better than he did last year. The Rangers have to be counting on a rebound season from Desmond, who had a 589 OPS before the ASB last year and a 771 OPS after the ASB. If you think the post-ASB OPS is more in line with what Desmond will hit -- and from 2012-14 he had a 788 OPS -- then even as a left fielder, he has value, as long as he doesn't fall over himself on defense.
The biggest thing that jumps out at me here, having thought about it more, is that signing Desmond gives the Rangers a lot more options. You can use him as an everyday outfielder, but if Elvis or Rougned Odor go down, he can step in there, if you think Jurickson Profar or Hanser Alberto aren't ready to take that over. You don't have to rush your young guys -- you can tell Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson to forget about coming to Arlington before July, at the earliest. You have increased roster flexibility if you don't need a UIF. If a team needs a shortstop or second baseman at the trade deadline, and Josh is healthy or Maz or Gallo is mashing, you could potentially flip Desmond then.
You've got a lot more flexibility with Desmond than you would with most players. If his bat bounces back, this could be a steal.
And if his bat doesn't bounce back, well, he's a bad signing...but at least he's a bad signing on a one year deal.
I'm still not all that fired up about this deal. I don't like giving up the #19 pick in the draft, the summer after you traded away five prospects to land Cole Hamels. Yes, you can re-coup a compensatory pick next year by offering Desmond the qualifying offer, but that pick is going to be more like #30 than #19, and that assumes Desmond plays well enough to get a QO (and that he rejects it).
On the other hand, this is a team that is trying to win now, and that had a gaping hole in left field. I've been harping all offseason about why the team didn't do something to shore that hole up for one year, while waiting for Mazara and Gallo or Brinson.
Well, now the Rangers have done something to shore that hole up. Its creative and aggressive and unexpected, which isn't uncommon for this front office.
One other thing...this team is right on the edge of contending. The division is winnable, but the Astros are the favorites. The Rangers project to be in that range where every marginal win is huge, because they seem to be one of those teams that will be fighting for a playoff spot, not hoping for everything to break right to be in the race, not feeling confident they're going to the postseason.
The marginal value of a win for a team like the 2016 Rangers is huge -- just look at 2015, and how immense every win was last year. And I think it makes sense to potentially overpay now to fill a huge hole before the season, given how this team is situated, than to limp along at the position and hope to do something later -- especially when you are overpaying on a relatively cheap one year deal for a guy who gives you additional flexibility.
So yeah...I'm still not sure I like this deal. But I think I understand it better than I did two hours ago.