The St. Louis Cardinals have stated a desire to upgrade their outfield, likely by adding a center fielder to move Randal Grichuk from center to left.
The St. Louis Cardinals have stated their need for outfield help and rumors are circulating connecting names to the Cardinals. One intriguing name on the free agent market, should the Cardinals want to look into him, is Ian Desmond. But should they kick these tires or should they kick him to the curb?
Last offseason, following a down year in which he hit .233/.290/.384, Ian Desmond was unable to earn a long term deal as a shortstop, his primary position with the Washington Nationals for the first six years of his career. Due to his lack of options as a shortstop, he marketed himself as an option in the outfield, and was given a one year contract by the Texas Rangers to prove he could be an everyday center fielder.
The move seemed to rejuvenate Desmond’s career. In the first half, he hit .322 with fifteen homers and twenty-two doubles, earning a spot on the AL All-Star roster in his first season as a full time center fielder. He was on pace for a career high batting average, and likely would have neared his career-high in home runs of twenty-five.
His attempt at a career year would fall short, however, as he struggled to only a .237 average with seven home runs and seven doubles in the second half. His numbers after the all-star break strongly resemble the hitter Desmond was in 2015, when he had one of his worst seasons at the plate.
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Overall, Desmond’s season was worth 3.3 fWAR, a solid if not spectacular campaign. However, Steamer projects Ian Desmond in 2017 to perform more like he did in the 2015 season or 2016 second half, predicting him to slash .251/.310/.414, while still maintaining twenty home run power. Desmond’s overall success at the plate in 2016 was largely due to a career high .350 BABIP. This rate seems unlikely to last, and the projections see his batted ball luck falling to a more normalized .318, just below his career BABIP of .326.
Perhaps most alarming about Desmond is his defensive profile. Last season in center field, Desmond posted a -4.9 UZR; for comparison, Grichuk posted a -0.9 UZR. Steamer projects Desmond’s defensive rating to tick downward in 2017, unsurprising for a center fielder entering his age-31 season.
This suggests that Desmond would not be a defensive upgrade in the outfield, which is the primary reason the St. Louis Cardinals are looking for an outfielder. Ultimately, Desmond is projected to put together a 2017 campaign worth 1.5 fWAR on declining offensive production and defensive ability.
He likely will receive a contract this offseason worth ~$30 million over 3 years, similar to the contracts earned by Denard Span and Gerardo Parra last offseason. Further complicating Desmond’s free agency is the qualifying offer attached, meaning whoever signs him will forfeit a draft pick in the 2017 draft.
Ian Desmond’s overall value in 2016 was based on his first half success and batted-ball luck. Should the St. Louis Cardinals acquire him, he is likely to resemble the 2015-Desmond or post-All-Star-Break-2016-Ian-Desmond, who hit .233 and .237 in those respective periods. Further, his defense is likely to decline over the length of the contract.
Given his dollar and draft pick cost and his expected slumping production, the St. Louis Cardinals would be wise to avoid a pursuit of Ian Desmond.