The Nationals and homegrown, franchise-bedrock shortstop Ian Desmond are expected to resume contract extension talks this winter, one year before Desmond can become a free agent. The sides will reconvene with a nine-figure starting point.
The Nationals offered Desmond a contract extension last offseason that would have paid him $107 million over seven years, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. The contract would have included the two-year, $17.5 million deal Desmond signed last January, meaning Desmond would have made $89.5 million over five would-be free agent seasons. The deal also would have included deferred money, decreasing its true value.
Drafted by the Montreal Expos in 2004, Desmond has become a slugging, all-star shortstop, a clubhouse leader and a pillar in the organization. Based on his total contribution and the difficulty of finding a shortstop with his offensive ability, the Nationals may prioritize keeping Desmond long-term over pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, the other homegrown star eligible for free agency after 2015.
While $107 constitutes a staggering sum and a significant offer from the Nationals, Desmond had cause to turn it down. In a league-wide scoring downturn, the market has rewarded players with Desmond’s ability to hit and hit for power. One industry source, affiliated with neither the Nationals nor Desmond, said Desmond would receive far more than $90 million over five years if he became a free agent after 2015 with one more average season.
Recent precedents back that up. In April 2013, Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus signed an eight-year, $120 million contract extension at age 24, two seasons away from free agency.
Last winter, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury – an athletic, middle-of-the-field player – signed a seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees at age 30, the same age Desmond will be when he’s eligible for free agency. Per FanGraphs.com, Ellsbury had collected 23.7 wins above replacement in his career before hitting free agency. With one season left, Desmond has 16.5 career WAR.
On Wednesday, 35-year-old designated hitter Victor Martinez signed a four-year, $68 million contract, another sign of how offense pays even for players with limited or no defensive ability. And Desmond plays a premium position.
Even in a season when 183 strikeouts dropped his batting average to .255, Desmond slugged 24 home runs and drove in 91 runs, both of which led major league shortstops. He also added 24 stolen bases. Desmond has hit at least 20 homers in three straight years and won two straight Silver Slugger awards.
Regarding his contract status, Desmond made his position clear last spring. He wants to play his entire career in Washington, where he has developed ties to the community, specifically with his work for the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. But he also wants to ensure he does not depress the market for fellow shortstops.
“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,” Desmond said last March in Viera, Fla. “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.”