It was a big day for big contract extensions across baseball. Two MVPs, Justin Verlander and Buster Posey, signed massive deals that will keep them with the Tigers and Giants teams for years – eight years, $180 million for Verlander and nine years, $167 million for Posey. Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, in lesser news, signed a five-year extension worth $32 million.
If the trend of locking up a homegrown star at a controlled cost spreads to the Nationals, the best bet would be all-star shortstop Ian Desmond putting pen to paper. The Nationals and Desmond’s representatives discussed a potential deal before spring training, when Desmond agreed to a one-year, $3.8 million contract for 2013 to avoid arbitration. Our sense is that it’s not likely, but possible, that Desmond and the Nationals come to terms on an extension before Monday.
Desmond, his agent and General Manager Mike Rizzo all declined to comment.
Publicly, in the past, Desmond and the Nationals have shared a view on a possible contract extension. They are open to the idea, but see no need for urgency. As Desmond said early in spring training: “I have no intention of going anywhere. I don’t think they have any intention of moving me. I don’t see what the urgency is.”
They do not have to hurry, but there are reasons the Nationals would want to lock up Desmond for years to come and buy out a year or two of seasons when he will be eligible for free agency. After his breakout season last year, he has become one of the Nationals’ marquee players. There are now five players featured on billboards hanging on the parking garages that hover beyond Nationals Park – Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Desmond.
Desmond has had only one year of excellence, but his makeup gives the Nationals zero worries he will backslide. At 27, he has become one of the best shortstops in baseball. He led all shortstops with an .845 OPS and 25 home runs last season. He has cut down on his errors, has above-average range and a cannon for an arm.
The Nationals, then, have one of the hardest things to find in the sport, something every team in baseball wants – a star shortstop. If he repeats his numbers from last season, Desmond will make a strong case as the game’s top shortstop.
In general, contract extensions have become more common as baseball’s economic tide rises. Huge contracts today may seem standard shortly, as new money from television contract floods into the game.
Desmond can become a free agent after the 2015 season. Any extension he signs would likely either cover this year and his two remaining arbitration seasons or lock him up with the Nationals for a couple seasons into his would-be free agent years.
Excellent shortstops are in short supply, and the Nationals have one. They may want to make sure it stays that for a long, long time.