The Nationals are stunned that Ian Desmond is still looking for work
VIERA, Fla. – Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa said, “I’m shocked.”
Right-hander Max Scherzer said, “Of course I’m surprised.”
Right fielder Bryce Harper, the reigning National League MVP, seemed almost speechless.
“I don’t think anybody has words for it,” Harper said. “It’s pretty incredible to even be talking about it right now. I really don’t know what to say.”
The subject: Former Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who remains a free agent as position players begin spring training in Florida and Arizona.
Actually, Harper had an opinion about Desmond, who rejected the Nationals’ one-year, $15.8 qualifying offer, requiring any other team that signs him to lose its top remaining draft pick and accompanying bonus-pool money as compensation.
Now that right-hander Yovani Gallardo is in agreement with the Orioles, Desmond and outfielder Dexter Fowler are the only compensation free agents who remain unemployed – and Fowler is being targeted by the Orioles and possibly other clubs.
The Rockies and Rays have been linked to Desmond, but neither appears to be moving on him aggressively. The White Sox, another team reported to have interest, signed Jimmy Rollins to a minor-league contract on Monday.
“I think it’s that draft-pick compensation. That’s something baseball definitely needs to change,” said Harper, who considers Desmond one of his best friends.
“I don’t think there is a draft pick out there who is better than Ian Desmond. I don’t there is a draft pick out there who is a better guy or person in the clubhouse than him.
“Hopefully, he gets the opportunity, a chance to play for a team. And once they get him, it will definitely be a diamond that nobody else wanted.”
Scherzer, too, agreed that the qualifying offer is the reason Desmond remains unsigned.
“It has to be. It literally has to be,” Scherzer said. “There’s no other reason why a team would not want to sign a shortstop like that.
Desmond, 30, is not without warts as a player – his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all have declined in each of the past three seasons while his strikeout rate has risen.
He struggled before the All-Star Game last season, batting .211 with a .589 OPS. However, he produced numbers closer to his career norms after the break – .262 and a .771 OPS. He also settled down defensively – 20 of his 27 errors came before the break.
Few in the industry said Desmond should accept the qualifying offer. Most teams were set at shortstop, but Desmond – the best at the position on the open market – still figured to land a long-term lucrative contract.
“With his track record of what he’s done and his skill set . . . you could see it even when he was struggling,” Scherzer said. “I know he was disappointed that he didn’t play as well as (in the past). But you could still see his talent. You could still see him make plays at short. You could see the power. You could see the speed. You just don’t find that out of a shortstop.
“When he’s a teammate of yours, you see how good of a clubhouse guy he is as well. He was a great player to have on your team.”
The lingering question: Did Desmond blunder by rejecting a seven-year, $107 million offer from the Nationals during the 2013-14 offseason?
The contract, according to the Washington Post, would have included a two-year, $17.5 million deal that Desmond already had signed, plus a five-year, $89.5 million extension that would have covered five free-agent years.
At the time, Desmond was coming off the second of three straight Silver Slugger awards at shortstop. Based on where the market was heading, he seemed on target to land a monster deal.
It hasn’t happened.
“He’s too good of a ballplayer to be sitting out right now,” Espinosa said. “It’s very hard to believe. To not have a team all over him is crazy.”