Ian Desmond has been the best offensive shortstop over the last handful of seasons, yet struggled the entire offseason to find a deal. He did have a down season in 2015, but has finally found a home with the Texas Rangers, even with it meaning that he will be transitioning to left field. So what should fantasy owners expect from Desmond heading into 2016?
That’s the amount of money that Ian Desmond lost by not taking the contract extension offered from the Washington Nationals last season. It is safe to say that he needs to fire his agent, but the Texas Rangers may have found themselves the best free agent bargain of the offseason.
It is clear that the free agent process including the attached qualifying offer is flawed and needs to be revamped. Desmond’s struggles over the first half of the season surely did not help his stock, but to think that a guy that has averaged, .265 AVG/22 HR/20 SB/76.5 RBI, over the last four seasons would struggle to find a job, is truly baffling.
Now Desmond does not lack his flaws. He strikes out a ton and his contact rates have slipped the last two seasons. He is not the .280 hitter he once was, and owners cannot expect him to return to that level, but there is still enough production to offset some of these flaws.
I will concede that for the majority of last season, he was brutal to own and even droppable by the All-Star Break. For even the most pessimistic owners, no one could predict in a contract year that he would produce such a ghastly first half, .211 AVG/7 HR/24 RBI/5 SB/.589 OPS line.
Even as bad as he was and how lost he looked at the plate, he started to show signs of life the last two months of the season. His, .262 AVG/12 HR/38 RBI/8 SB/.777 OPS, second half was right on pace with his career norm and stat rates. Those flashes are the only reason that any owners are going to even be willing to give Desmond a second chance this upcoming season.
If we examine his batted ball data it is clear where Desmond fell off last season. His GB% rose to a career high 53.4% last season, which drove down his first half power and lowered his AVG production. His LD% rate dropped once again to 15.6%, a decent drop from his career 17.8% career rates. He still posted a solid Med% contact rate over 50% and a Hard% close to 30%, but his Soft% did rise to 20%. Basically meaning that, he made weaker contact and hit way too many ground balls compared to years prior. This is where the hopeful move to Texas can help him rebound.
Washington ranks as a pretty neutral hitters ballpark, but the Globe Life Park in Arlington, is a hitters paradise. Even with how bad Desmond performed, he still managed 19 homers, so he should have no problem eclipsing that in the A.L.
This is more of conjecture, but owners have to think that Desmond will have something to prove this season as he has another chance to reestablish his value this season. He is athletic enough to stick in left field, and he took a lot of flak last season for his defense at short. Hopefully, by removing himself from under that microscope, he can relax and just mash with the Rangers.
His speed dip can be simply attributed to the fact that he was not on base enough last season to maximize his speed. He should still be able to notch close to 20 bags again in 2016 with his OBP rates climbing closer to his career norms, even though he lacks the 25+ SB potential he once had. Desmond also has the benefit of joining another deep lineup, as he will probably slot into the middle of a lineup that features Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and company, so his counting stats should remain solid and his run production should still rank solidly amongst shortstops.
The Rangers did not bring in Desmond without the hope that he can rebound and that can only come with consistent at bats, they did forfeit the 19th overall pick after all. So even with the outfield options they have in house, none of them have the upside that Desmond brings. Desmond will not cost a big investment of draft day, so owners will have the chance to buy low on him after last season. He will still qualify at SS, so there is clear value from that alone, and owners could do a lot worse than taking a flier on him as a MI or UTIL option.
It would be foolish to expect him to bounce back completely because the dips in production are still concerning, but after being snubbed in free agency, having to prove himself once again this upcoming season, and now joining another offensive beneficial situation, there are still some things going helping his fantasy value. He has been one of the best offensive threats in baseball the last four seasons, and he is one of the rare 20 HR/20 SB threats left in baseball, so do not sleep on his success and potential like 29 other teams did this offseason.
2016 Fantasy Projections: .245 AVG/22 HR/70 RBI/19 SB/65 R/.730 OPS