Is Ian Desmond Becoming a Free Agency Bargain?

The two-time Silver Slugger Award winner is still looking for a job. What can he bring to the table?

Free agent shortstop Ian Desmond did himself no favors as he prepared to hit the free agent market last year.

His struggles in 2015 were one of the main reasons the Washington Nationals were such a disappointment. The one-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner hit a mere .233/.290/.384 last season with 19 homers and 62 RBI, both the lowest totals since the 2011 season.

His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were also career lows, and his bWAR of 2.0 was also the lowest it's been since 2011. 

As a result, after refusing a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer, Desmond did not hit the free agent market this offseason with suitors hot on his heels. Instead, the 30-year-old has been waiting for the market to break, and now it appears as if things are starting to move in his direction.

It was reported over the weekend that the San Diego Padres are talking to him about being their everyday shortstop. 

The Padres have a definite need at the position. Last year, Alexi Amarista hit .204/.257/.287 with 10 doubles and 3 homers in 357 plate appearances and a bWAR of -0.5, and Clint Barmes batted .232/.281/.353 with 14 doubles and 3 dingers in 224 plate appearances and a bWAR of 0.2.

Even in a down year, Desmond was light years better than that duo. And Desmond was a 20-20 man for three straight seasons before last year, with an OPS of .845, .784 and .743 in those three years. 

And perhaps much of Desmond's overall numbers can be attributed to just a bad first half.

1st Half323.211.255.334.589.12474.958
2nd Half260.262.331.446.777.185129.6113

Desmond's second half numbers were much closer to his career slash numbers of .264/.312/.424. His walk-rate increased from 4.9% to 9.6% in the second half, and he hit 5 more homers in 63 fewer plate appearances. In fact, that 113 wRC+ in the second half was higher than the wRC+ he posted in all of 2014 and was just a shade lower than the 116 wRC+ he put up in 2013. 

Those were his two Silver Slugger Award winning seasons, by the way.

And among MLB shortstops last season, Desmond's 19 homers were third-most, behind Carlos Correa's 22 and Brandon Crawford's 21. His 62 RBI were tied for seventh and 13 stolen bases were eighth. And his isolated power (ISO) was fourth among MLB shortstops with at least 500 plate appearances last season, trailing Crawford, Asdrubal Cabrera and Troy Tulowitzki.

If Desmond signs with the Padres, it would be interesting to see how his power numbers would hold up. Historically, Petco Park has been deadly to power hitters but last season had the 10th-highest rate of homers per game. Before the season, they brought in the left field fences about three feet, and lowered the wall there from eight to seven feet high. There was also talk the new scoreboard had changed wind patterns in the stadium, among other theories.

A deal is reportedly not yet close between the two sides, but whoever signs Desmond might just be getting themselves an above average offensive shortstop at a relative discount.