Ian Desmond, Colorado Rockies utility player and former Texas Ranger, has announced that he has decided to opt out of the 2021 season for now in an Instagram post. He does, however, indicate that he will “continue to train and watch how things unfold.”
Desmond, who opted out of the 2020 season as well, indicates that his desire to be with his family right now is “greater than my desire to go back and play baseball under these circumstances.” Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic is a big part of these circumstances — however, Desmond also would be in a bench role on a rebuilding team that just traded their franchise player and that has two of the best teams in baseball in their division. I suspect that, at the age of 35, being a reserve on a terrible team in the middle of a pandemic doesn’t have the appeal that being with a contender would have.
Desmond signed a 5 year, $70 million deal with the Rockies after the 2016 season, with a 2022 team option for $15 million that includes a $2 million buyout. The structure of the contract is such that Desmond was only slated to make $8 million this year, so the financial hit he is taking is less than what it would appear to be on the surface, given the $14M AAV of the deal. The everyday shortstop for the Washington Nationals from 2010-15, Desmond rejected a lucrative long-term extension offer from Washington prior to 2015, then had a down year that, combined with having received a qualifying offer, reduced his marketability in the free agent market.
Desmond, as folks here no doubt recall, ended up signing a one year, $8 million deal with the Rangers after spring training had already started in 2016, with the Rangers saying he would be the team’s starting left fielder. Desmond ended up moving to center field after the season started and made the 2016 All Star team, ultimately slashing .283/.335/.446 for the year.
Given that Desmond is saying he is opting out “for now” and is continuing to work out, I wouldn’t be surprised if he and the Rockies were to work out an agreement to allow him out of the final year of his deal, with the Rockies owing him for the $2 million buyout but getting off the hook for his $8 million salary. Such an agreement would require MLBPA approval, since Desmond would be forfeiting salary, but if that happened, Desmond would then potentially be able to try to latch on with another team for the 2021 season. Given his lackluster performance in Colorado — he has been below replacement level each of his three seasons there, and has a -3.2 bWAR for Colorado — I don’t know how strong the demand for his services would be, but he has a good reputation for being a great teammate and good clubhouse guy, and he could fit as a versatile bench player for a contender.