Understanding Ian Desmond’s contract situation


Ian Desmond. (EPA/TANNEN MAURY)
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In a report Tuesday morning, Ken Rosenthal wrote that the Nationals have started searching for Ian Desmond’s potential replacement, unsure of whether they can keep him for the long-term after he turned down a contract extension offer this winter.

The Nationals need to find shortstop depth for reasons unrelated to Desmond’s future. It is probably their thinnest position. Beyond Desmond and Danny Espinosa, the Nationals have no answers at the position. Stephen Perez is a slick fielder, the best defensive infielder in their system, but at Class A Potomac he’s years away. D.C. native Manny Burriss, currently at Class AAA Syracuse, has played in the majors before. But the Nationals have no other candidates, for either the short term or long term.

But we’re here to make a different point. An anonymous team official Rosenthal quoted said the Nationals had a shortstop they wanted to keep. If they want to keep Desmond, they first need to offer a market-value contract. Before the sides settled on a two-year, $17.5 million contract, the Nationals offered Desmond, 28, roughly $90 million over six or seven years.  That’s a ton of money. But other shortstops who had performance commensurate with Desmond have earned more. Really, they offered Desmond a chance to make a bad business decision.

Desmond’s decision to not accept the Nationals does not make him greedy, and it doesn’t mean he wants to leave Washington. To the contrary, Desmond has taken an unselfish approach to his contract status, and he would love to stay in Washington, a community he has given himself to.

In 2011, after his age 28 season, Jose Reyes signed a six-year, $106 million contract with the Marlins. In the two years before Reyes signed his contract, both of which were truncated by injuries, Reyes accounted for 8.3 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs.com. In Desmond’s two years prior to this season, he totaled 9.9 WAR.  The Nationals’ reported offer to Desmond falls short of Reyes’s, and that deal came in a different, less-lucrative market. Reyes had already reached free agency, which is a pivotal difference, but not enough to make up the difference in offers.

As Desmond spelled out during an interview back in March, he already feels secure financially. His lack of need allows him to make a clear-eyed decision. Taking the contract the Nationals reportedly offered would not be in his best business interest, or in the best interests of shortstops who will come after him. He believes he has the chance to raise the market for every player at his position, and he has the security to enact that.

Desmond had no comment Tuesday, during the season. Here is a piece I did in March:

Desmond states his position in a humble manner. “I don’t pretend like I’m some college graduate with a masters in finance,” he said. “I got a high school education. I may or may not have deserved the diploma.” But Desmond is also entrenched in his nuanced stance. He is not greedily demanding more money. He is sacrificing comfort and risking security in the name of players before for him and for the sake of those to follow.

“If you said, ‘Hey, Ian, we want you to play here for the rest of your career.’ Okay. Yeah, absolutely. Duh. Where do I sign up?” Desmond said. “At the same time, there have been a lot of people that have come through this game that have sacrificed a lot for us, the players that are coming through now. I don’t want to sign a deal — and this isn’t to say they’ve offered me this — but I don’t want to sign a deal that is so bad that a future shortstop gets screwed because I signed a terrible deal. I’m not going to be that guy, that kink in the chain. I’m going to get a fair deal, or I’m just going to wait.

“Someone says, ‘Here’s X dollars,’ and you’re sitting there going, ‘Man, I couldn’t ever spend this in my whole life.’ How do you turn that down?” Desmond said. “That’s neither here nor there. My focus is here. I’ve got two more years. They’ve obviously paid me the $17.5 million for the next two years. I’m completely grateful. That’s security enough for my lifetime.”

It’s true that Desmond may finish his career in a different city. But if current positions hold until after the 2015 season, it will be because the Nationals let him walk, not because Desmond turned his back.

FROM THE POST

The players have returned, but the Nationals’ offense may take a while to come back, Boz writes

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Nats-O’s postponed

Fedde still unsigned

DH options in Baltimore

Rendon fourth in fan vote

Strasburg improves tempo

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Gwinnett 6, Syracuse 3: Jeff Kobernus went 3 for 5 with a double and his first home run. Tyler Moore went 2 for 4 and raised his average to .309. Josh Johnson went 3 for 4. Taylor Hill allowed three runs in six innings on seven hits and a walk, striking out one.

Harrisburg 7, Bowie 0: Matt Skole went 4 for 4 with a double and a triple. Kevin Keyes went 1 for 4 with a home run. Drew Vettleson went 2 for 4 with a double and a triple. James Simmons allowed no runs in six innings on six hits and two walks, striking out four.

Potomac was postponed.

Hagerstown 10, Lakewood 1: Jake Johansen allowed one run over 6 2/3 innings on five hits and two walks, striking out five. Wilmer Difo went 2 for 4 with a double and a steal. Spencer Kieboom went 2 for 4. Rafael Bautista went went 1 for 4 with his 45th steal of the season.

State College 10, Auburn 2: Dale Carey went 3 for 4. Jeff Gardner went 1 for 4 with a home run. Drew Van Orden allowed eight runs in 3 1/3 innings on eight hits and a walk, striking out two.

 

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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