St. Louis Cardinals: Refrain from signing declining Ian Desmond

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Sep 28, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20) in the dugout during the game between the Washington Nationals and the Cincinnati Reds at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20) in the dugout during the game between the Washington Nationals and the Cincinnati Reds at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /
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Could the St. Louis Cardinals be interested in one of the only  original Montreal Expos draftees remaining in Major League Baseball?

Coming off his least productive year in terms of WAR since 2011, Desmond rejected a one-year, $15. 8 million qualifying offer from the Washington Nationals in November. The 30 year-old’s value has gradually depreciated following a few recent, hefty offseason signings, leading to recent anticipation that the St. Louis Cardinals could make an offer to sign him.

Although Desmond offers 20-20 potential that the Cardinals haven’t experienced in over a decade,  it’s difficult to envision him in a Cardinals uniform for a myriad of reasons. Not only would pursuing an infielder with decreasing five-tool capabilities cause structural problems for the Cardinals, but also require the 11-time World Series champions to lose their 2016 draft pick to the Nationals.

By swapping Jon Jay for Jedd Gyorko in December, the Cardinals acquired a power-hitting option that offers contract and positional flexibility for the roster. Gyorko will likely platoon all infield positions besides first base with left-handed hitting infielder Greg Garcia, who demonstrated poise in limited opportunities last year with nine pinch-hits.

With Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong expected to assume their starting roles from last season and middle infielder Aledmys Diaz making minor league progress, Desmond would almost instantly make a balanced infield more crowded. Such circumstances have prevented other teams from signing Desmond as an infielder, even though some may consider using him as a corner outfielder

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Even if this commitment influenced the Cardinals to pursue Desmond’s services, his presence may prompt issues of starting time for a team with young building blocks in Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham. Thus, outfielders must hold a sense a different defensive abilities than infielders, which could make such a transition tough for a player that led the National League with 27 errors last season.

Aside from his defensive inconsistencies, Desmond possesses other holes in his game that likely prevented the Nationals from negotiating a new contract. In addition to finishing with the third-most strikeouts (187) in 2015, Desmond’s batting average with runners in scoring position has decreased in four of the last five seasons.

Desmond’s gradual decline has restrained teams with middle infield needs from reaching a deal, such as the Tampa Bay Rays. The idea of losing a 2016 draft pick in hope for a one-year turnaround appears to be a risk for several teams, especially for a Cardinals’ franchise that has not noticed the best results from short-term arrangements in recent history.

In particular, Mark Ellis made multiple trips to the disabled list and only slashed .180 when the Cardinals signed him to a one-year, $5.5 million contract for 2014. In any scenario that Desmond signed, he would probably take on similar expectations to Ellis, which would challenge his ability to make adjustments that triggered success a few seasons ago.

Next: St. Louis Cardinals: The Next Left-Handed Specialist

While one could argue that Desmond offers the most upside of anyone remaining in the 2015 free agent class, the reality is that the Cardinals would not improve by taking a chance on him. Winning four straight division titles may not be easy for the Cardinals, but signing Ian Desmond ultimately would not make St. Louis’s pursuit any easier.

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