The Padres' most glaring weakness this offseason is at the shortstop position. Last year's tandem of Barmes and Amarista didn't fare well, and by the end of the season Jedd Gyorko was the best option the team had. Now that the minor league rosters have some talented future options in Jose Rondon, Ruddy Giron, and Javier Guerra, there is hope down the road . . . but there still is no viable option at the major league level. Could Ian Desmond provide a short term solution? What are the implications of signing him from both a short-term and long-term perspective?
Ian Desmond just turned 30 and is coming off a down season. With Trea Turner waiting in the wings and temporary options on staff, the Nationals decided to offer Desmond a one-year qualifying offer, which was declined. This means that any other team who signs him will forfeit their first unprotected 2016 draft pick. The Padres' 8th overall pick is protected, so they would stand to lose the compensatory round pick afforded to them due to the departure of either Justin Upton or Ian Kennedy (high-20's or low-30's in draft order). Various predictions early in the offseason had him signing a 4-5 year contract for $60-80 million. His market has fallen off and the interest hasn't been as high as expected. The market for shortstops is relatively small, primarily limited to the Padres, Twins, White Sox, and Mariners. That said, he's certainly the youngest and most talented of the remaining options of Jimmy Rollins, Alexei Ramirez, Clint Barmes, and Willie Bloomquist. The loss of a draft pick would surely weigh heavily in a decision to add a short-term free agent, since it appears that Preller & Co. are building with an eye on 2017/18 and beyond.
From 2012-2014, Desmond was one of the best offensive shortstops in the game. He hit more than 20 homers and stole over 20 bases in each of those seasons, representing the rare power + speed combination. Unfortunately, his production seems to have peaked in 2012 and has been steadily declining since. The homers have declined while the strikeouts have increased. If he joined the Padres, he would be another right-handed power bat who racks up K's. There is certainly a chance that the tide can be turned and we could see a Melvin Upton-like resurgence, but there's no guarantee that he will be better than the .233/.290/.384 line he generated in 2014.
Desmond has always been a steady but unspectacular defensive shortstop. That said, with a projected infield that has Cory Spangenberg at 2B and Yangervis Solarte at 3B, a solid veteran defender seems necessary. His defensive metrics grade out at league average and haven't shown any signs of decline. He's been remarkably durable, playing in over 150 games in all but one season since 2010. It's been rumored that teams have considered him for a 3B or 2B or even OF role, but he considers himself a shortstop and has manned the position for the vast majority of his MLB tenure.
The Padres need a shortstop, and he would capably man the position for the foreseeable future. The minor league talent is still young (Rondon-21, Guerra-20, Giron-18) and only Rondon has seen any time above single-A. To expect any of them to see MLB action before 2018 is ambitious. By slotting Solarte and Spangenberg and adding Jon Jay to the outfield mix, the lineup is slightly less righty-heavy, but as noted above, Desmond's profile is similar on the surface to current roster pieces. A look at his career splits show a very small platoon advantage, so I don't expect Gyorko-like struggles against RHP's. Which is nice. Desmond would project as a 5-6-7 hitter due to his lower OBP but significant power potential.
This is where it gets tricky. If Preller's SS start to contribute in 2018, the team could find a surplus and need to move someone off a position. Desmond could be a candidate to play 2B or 3B, but it's unlikely that he would be amenable to a utility or backup role. If he is willing to take a two- or three-year contract, then this really would be a short-term situation with minimal impact on long-term plans. The draft pick consideration is worth attention. Right now the Padres have four picks in the first three rounds, and they stand to gain two more if Upton and Kennedy sign elsewhere. Five picks in the first three rounds still afford plenty of chances for the scouts to snag some high-level talent.
What Makes Sense?
Early predictions had Desmond signing a 4-5 year contract for $60-80 million. Now that the free agent market has started to take shape, interest in Desmond appears to have waned. I could see him signing a two- or three-year deal with team options for years three, four, and five at an AAV in the $12-15 million range with incentives. Daniel Murphy is a pretty good comparison, and he just signed for 3yr/$37.5m. This would nail down the SS position for the near future but allow for the flexibility to move on if young talent rounds in to form. The departures of Benoit, Kimbrel, and Gyorko freed up enough cash for this kind of short-term investment. The hefty contracts of Upton, Shields, and Kemp drop off after 2017, 2018, and 2019 respectively. Two or three guaranteed years would follow this trend in freeing up payroll as player development is scheduled to begin bearing fruit.