The 2016 Cleveland Indians were built on homegrown talent and value free agents signings. Ian Desmond would be neither of those — the exact opposite of the latter, in fact — but he would be a perfect fit on the Indians before money comes into play.
The rise and fall of Ian Desmond’s value is legend at this point. If you have not heard the tale then come, stay awhile and listen.
Following the 2014 season, the Washington Nationals offered Ian Desmond — then a shortstop — a huge deal: seven years, $107 million dollars. Desmond was coming off of three-straight years of being worth 4.0 fWAR or greater in each season with 69 total home runs and 66 total stolen bases. His defense at shortstop was passable. Not great, but apparently enough, paired with his bat, for the Nationals to feel good about dropping a cool hundo on the then-29-year-old. Desmond would have been set well into his thirties making more than any of us ever will in a lifetime every year.
But It wasn’t enough.
Desmond turned down the massive offer and then immediately turned in one of the worst seasons of his career in 2015. He slashed just .233/.290/.384 in what would be his last season with the Nationals. His poor play in his free agent walk year meant he did not receive a lot offers — the fact that paying $107 million for Desmond was a bit crazy in the first place did not help matters much, either.
To use one of my least favorite offseason cliches, Desmond bet on himself with a one-year, $8 million deal with the Texas Rangers. With Elvis Andrus already locked in at shortstop for the Rangers, Desmond was relegated to the outfield. He was above-average in left field and not so great in center. But, more importantly, he proved there was still life in his bat.
In 156 games for the Rangers, Desmond belted 22 home runs — the most since 2014 — and had a .285/.335/.446 slash, good enough for a wRC+ of 106. Still not enough to earn himself another $100 million offer, but perhaps enough for a couple teams to engage in a small bidding war for him. Will the Indians be one of those teams?
The Indians have a Gold Glove-winner at shortstop, so there is no chance of Desmond have a future in Cleveland there. Instead, he could be turned into a serviceable center fielder (or, at least, not worse than the current options) with some time at third base and left field as well. Terry Francona loves himself some veteran flexibility, and Desmond would provide just that with the added benefit of not being Michael Martinez.
He has a mild split against left-handed pitchers (112 career wRC+) compared to right-handers (98 career wRC+) but it’s probably nothing that would warrant a strict platoon. Durability is another thing the Indians could probably count on with Desmond, even if he is on the wrong side of 30. He has played at least 150 games in six of his last seven seasons.
Essentially, I could see Desmond being like another Jose Ramirez. But is there room for both, given the price point Desmond would come at? MLB Trade Rumors estimates him at four years, $60 million, which is rather steep for a guy that might not end up being a full-time starter. A one-year deal at $8 million would be a no-brainer, but that probably isn’t happening again.
If the Indians feel they can find a spot everyday for Desmond it could be a great fit. But the money may be a bit too much to swallow.