Washington Nationals: Should Ian Desmond Return?

Will the Washington Nationals bring back the popular Ian Desmond to play centerfield next year? A popular writer says they should.

Should the Washington Nationals bring back Ian Desmond to play centerfield in 2017?

Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post thinks so. He argues Desmond is the right player to have in the outfield and Trea Turner should move to his natural position at shortstop. Where this leaves Danny Espinosa is a mystery, presumably either on the bench or out of town. After the first three games of the National League Divisional Series, out of town would be a landslide winner.

Desmond, now 31, played seven seasons with Washington before moving on last season in free agency. As the Nats starting shortstop, he slugged over 20 home runs three straight years while striking out at least 100 times in each of his six full seasons. In 2013 and 2014, those totals rose to 183 and 187, respectively.

Although that is a great bowling average, striking out more than getting a hit is not productive. For the record, Desmond fanned a scant 160 times in his All-Star season with the Washington Senators…err…Texas Rangers.

Playing in the heat of Arlington brought his offense back. The batting average rose from .233 to .285. His RBI total from 62 to 86 and the homers from 19 to 22. A popular player in the clubhouse, loved by fans, a reunion with Desmond is not the silliest thing to suggest heading into next year.

Whether it is smart can be debated.

Desmond converted into center from the infield and did all right. If you believe in the siren song of defensive WAR, Baseball Reference has him at -0.1 on the year. Turner scored a 0.2 for his mix of infield and outfield. A wash, except Turner will be 24 next year and Desmond will be 32. Do the Nats want to invest in a player reaching his mid-30s with little outfield experience?

Sometimes, you have to be innovative. The Ben Revere experiment was an unmitigated disaster. A look at who is available in free agency says Desmond and Yoenis Cespedes are the two best options. Cespedes was offered the moon and the star of his choice to come to DC and stayed with the New York Mets.

Hard to say anything in the last year would change his mind.

If you believe Turner can play anywhere, then the decision comes down to who is a better value, Desmond or Espinosa. On the surface, it is Desmond. Dig and the answer is not as clear.

Espinosa is under team control one more year. After 2017, he hits free agency and can go wherever. Desmond will cost over $10 million a year and, after one pillow contract, will want a deal over multiple years. Espinosa, if you are a defensive WAR person, was a top 10 defender in the NL last year. His 1.6 was tenth in the NL.

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Although Desmond is a better hitter for average, they both strike out too often. Espinosa whiffed 174 times in 2016. Sure, you take Desmond’s bat, but he is not that much better than Espinosa. Add in Espinosa’s defense and you have a hard time seeing where the upgrade is.

Perhaps the intangibles Desmond brings to the team makes a contract offer worthwhile. Turner is not a player destined to be an outfielder and Espinosa’s days in DC are numbered.

If it goes down this way, the numbers say this is not a big upgrade.

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