Desmond arrived in camp a bit later than normal because he and his wife, Chelsey, had their third child in October, and unlike past years, the entire family isn’t making the trip.
“Our kids are thriving and they’re getting to the age where it’s really fun and it’s harder and harder to leave them,” he said.
Desmond’s presence was felt instantly upon his arrival. He made his way through the clubhouse Monday morning, catching up with and hugging teammates. “I’m excited to get back to my teammates and do what I have to do,” he said.
Desmond is entering what could be his final season in a Nationals uniform. He will be eligible for free agency, and the Nationals made no progress with him this offseason in extension talks. During the winter, they added veteran infielder Yunel Escobar and agreed to a trade for heralded shortstop prospect Trea Turner, and Desmond was the subject of trade inquires.
“I’m going to enjoy this ride,” Desmond said. “And you know what? If it’s my last year here, it’s my last year here. But I’m going to enjoy every single day. I’ve got a lot of friends and family in this organization. I’m going to make sure I don’t slight them in any way by throwing in any other distractions. I owe it to everybody here to give my 100 percent concentration and that’s what I’m going to do. Everything else is not really going to be talked about. It’s time to go.”
Desmond said he hasn’t thought about whether he would be open to talking again about an extension during the season. The Nationals’ last offer was $107 million over seven years last offseason.
“I’ve never really talked about it with” the media, Desmond said. “I’ve kind of kept it to myself and my agent. And that’s he way I plan on going forward. I feel like we’ve got a lot of expectations in here, and to reach them we’ve got to be really focused. I’m not going to be the one that adds any extra distractions.”
After trade rumors emerged this offseason, Desmond said Manager Matt Williams called him to tell him he wasn’t going to be traded. Desmond said he understands why the Nationals would listen to offers for him.
“This is a business, and you’ve got to test that market,” he said. “I don’t blame them for doing that, and I’m not going to hold anything against them. This is a really good baseball team and I’m glad to be here.”
Added Williams: “I just wanted to free his mind and let him know that there’s a lot of things that are said and a lot of things that are speculated on. But from me to you, I want to give you the real story and let you know what we’re thinking, what I’m thinking. And again, at that time I just told him listen, just concentrate on getting ready. We don’t have anything, we’re not in trade talks with you at this point. So just relax, get ready. You never know what will happen, especially with people blowing up [General Manager] Mike [Rizzo’s] phone. You never know. So you can’t worry about it. All you can worry about is getting ready to play. So he’s great. He’s got a fantastic attitude and he’s ready to go.”
Spending time with his family and back-to-basics training in the offseason helped Desmond prepare. It gave him a chance to reflect on last season, which was, in some ways, a down year. He won his third straight Silver Slugger award and posted his third straight 20 homer-20 stolen base season, but he hit .255 with a .313 on-base percentage and struck out 183 times.
“A lot of my swing felt inconsistent,” he said. “I never really went up to the plate and had a clear mind all year for 162. I might have had a week stretch here or week stretch there where I felt comfortable at the plate and went up there and hit the ball. I was up there tinkering with my swing, worried about mechanics. That’s so not me. That’s not typical for me. I just wanted to get back this offseason to get back to what I know how to do and free the way for a smooth and easy transition into this season.”
To correct his hitting, Desmond didn’t watch any video of it. He instead went to a facility called The Sandlot at 5-Tools Baseball in Bradenton, run by a friend, and swung freely in the batting cages. It is an old-school warehouse with no air-conditioning. “Dirty,” he said. “You just go in there and work and iron things out.”
By hitting without thinking too much, Desmond found comfort again. He got out of his own head, saw the ball and hit it.
“I feel pretty free right now,” he said. “I’m in a very good place mentally. I’m excited about all the things the team is doing. I’m excited about Yunel right next to me. I think we can complement each other really well. I’m excited to work with him. I think we can complement each other really well. I feel he does some things and we can learn from each other. He does a lot of things I think I can learn from him.”
And just as he reassured Desmond earlier this winter, Williams hopes the shortstop stays in that same relaxed frame of mind this season, final one in Washington or not.
“I don’t want him to worry going into the season because he’ll not be as productive as he wants to be, nor as we want him to be,” Williams said. “But he’s not worried about it at this point. He’s here to play and he’s here to get ready to be a part of our team this year, a vital part of our team.”