Not too long ago, it was not out of the realm of possibility that the Washington Nationals could be in the market for an everyday shortstop. They had this kid Ian Desmond come up and play like someone who was far from ready for the big stage. His first two seasons were a tad bit less than impressive, as fans saw Desmond post a .261/.303/.374 slash line with 18 home runs and 114 RBI, as well as striking out 248 times to walking only 63 times. Defensively, Desmond made a combined 57 errors, and started to make fans and analysts alike believe he was destined for the outfield, or perhaps second base, especially after watching Danny Espinosa, a shortstop by trade, make stellar play after stellar play at second base.
Since that poor 2011 season, Desmond has morphed into one of Washington’s key players, and even a dark horse for the MVP award. In 2012 and 2013, Desmond posted a .286/.333/.480 slash line with 45 home runs and 153 RBI. Desmond has been able to plateau his strikeouts while improving his walks, as he has struck out 258 times but has walked 73 times. Defensively, he has turned into a Gold Glove caliber shortstop, only committing 35 errors the past two seasons, as well as winning back-to-back Silver Slugger awards for his offensive prowess. Desmond has done all this as well as turning into a great clubhouse leader and a fan favorite, changing almost every Nationals fans opinion of him.
As I stated yesterday, Desmond will be a free agent in 2016, so Washington has two more seasons of control over Desmond, and via MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration predictions, Desmond could make as much as $6.9 million. So, as I did yesterday with Jordan Zimmermann, where I predicted a contract of about eight years and $200 million, I will take a look at what an extension for Desmond could look like.
Teams can never have enough pitching, but to have a strong offensive and defensive shortstop who is also a leader at a young age is a completely different story. It could be argued that Desmond provides considerably more value to the Nationals because he plays everyday and effects both sides of the ball. The fact that Desmond is due to hit the open market at 30, however, could hurt his value, though we have seen that all it takes is one crazy owner to sign a 30-year-old player to a long term deal.
Let’s compare Desmond to a similar player who signed a 10-year extension back in November of 2010: Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies.
Tulowitzki has had some injury problems the last few seasons, but signed his contract, worth $157.75 million over 10 years, at the ripe age of 26. Tulowitzki’s deal payed him $5.5M, $8.25M and $10M from 2011-13, and his salary spiked jumps to $16M in 2014, then $20M from 2015-19 and the salaries fall from $14M, then back up to $15M.
Tulowitzki is entering his age 29 season, as Desmond enters his age 28 season. Through his age 28 season, Tulowitzki had posted a .295/.367/.509 slash line with 155 home runs and 552 RBI. As we know, Desmond’s career started markedly slower, so his career slash line sits at .273/.318/.432 with 67 home runs and 279 RBI.
While Tulowitzki’s home run totals have fluctuated a bit, as he has two career seasons where he hit less than 10 home runs, Desmond has hit at least 10 in three of his four full seasons in Washington, as well as back-to-back 20-plus home runs seasons.
Personally, I do not believe any player over the age of 23 or 24 is worth a 10-year deal, and the only two players I deem worth 10-year deals are Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, so I would not give Desmond a 10-year deal, even now at 28. Even with Desmond’s minimal injury history, it just doesn’t make sense to hand him a position for 10 years.
He does have a tendency to strike out, and as a hitter can be a little too aggressive at times. If I am going to extend Desmond this offseason, I would give him something like seven years and $147 million contract, which sees Desmond earn an average of $21 million annually, a bit higher than Tulowitzki’s salary from 2015-19. This contract would take Desmond to his age 35 season, where it would be time to cut ties with him, or bring him back on a two-year deal. This deal locks up Desmond’s prime years, where he can provide the most value without the deal becoming an albatross.