Detroit Tigers: Why Signing Ian Desmond Isn’t a Smart Move
By Ben Rosener
The Detroit Tigers are still without a left fielder, and it seems the team is open to an upgrade over the incumbent duo of Anthony Gose and Tyler Collins. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweeted that the Tigers have “discussed” Ian Desmond, in addition to a number of other prominent free agent outfielders.
Yes, that Ian Desmond.
The longtime Washington National is a career .264 hitter with the potential to hit for 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in a given season. However, he’s only played two games in the outfield in the big league career.
Detroit should stay away from Desmond.
Athletic ability aside, the 30-year-old would be learning an entirely new position. That isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. Remember Jhonny Peralta playing left field in the playoffs?
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Obviously Desmond would have much more time to prepare, but a position switch still is a lot to ask. Errors are almost a given with the learning process. The former National wasn’t exactly a Gold-Glove caliber player when he logged innings at shortstop either. Over his career, Desmond has been worth -24 runs in terms of Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average.
The Tigers have fielded some poor defensive teams, and are just now making improvements. Detroit features an excellent double-play combination consisting of Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler, while J.D. Martinez, Miguel Cabrera and James McCann are all above-average defenders at their respective positions.
Defensively, adding Desmond to play in the outfield would be like sticking Cabrera at third base because of the arrival of Prince Fielder. The batting order might look nice, but the defense will suffer.
While the Gose/Collins pairing might underwhelm on offense compared to someone like Yoenis Cespedes, the duo would (at the least) provide solid and dependable defense.
To go along with to being somewhat unreliable in the field, Desmond managed a paltry .233 batting average in 2015. What’s more, his OPS was a career-low .674. The former third-round pick also posted the lowest home run and RBI totals since the 2011 season. The shortstop’s 80 OPS+ was tied for the lowest of his career.
Things weren’t always that way for Desmond. From 2012 and 2013, the shortstop hit a combined 45 home runs, 71 doubles and 153 RBI. He also stole 42 bases.
While he managed nearly identical numbers from a home run/RBI stand point over the past two years (43 homers, 153 RBI), Desmond’s number of doubles and batting average dropped significantly.
From 2014 to 2015, the free agent hit 53 total doubles. His batting average also steadily dropped from .292 in 2012, to .280 in 2013, to .255 in 2014 and finally to .233 last year. Additionally, Desmond strikes out a ton. In every season in which he’s been a starter, the shortstop has averaged 146 strikeouts. Only two Tigers eclipsed that number last season.
The player’s age and contract length come into question as well. At the onset of the offseason, MLBTradeRumors.com predicted a five-year, $80 million contract for Desmond.
Let’s say he gets that contract from the Tigers. Detroit would be paying Desmond $16 million per year for his age 30 to 35 seasons. Is an older Desmond going to be playing the outfield in four or five years?
If the Tigers sign Desmond, they’d essentially be paying for a poor defensive fit that eventually turns into an overpriced replacement for Ian Kinsler.
Ian Desmond hasn’t played much outfield in his Major League career. Could he immediately take to the position and be an excellent defender? Possibly. But there will likely be growing pains.
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The Detroit Tigers shouldn’t even consider paying for those growing pains.