It’s day one of the hot stove season and we didn’t have to wait long to get our first Orioles-related rumor. According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the Orioles are interested in free agent Ian Desmond to fill a corner outfield spot.
My general rule for baseball rumors of any kind is to say that probably nothing will happen. A lot of rumors float out there and usually nothing happens. Hearing one reporter say the Orioles are interested in Desmond on day one of free agency is definitely in this category. What, are the Orioles going to rush out and sign Desmond tomorrow? Few things would shock me more.
We have all seen the pattern over the last several years. The Orioles do not strike fast. Sometimes that means they miss out on good bargains. Sometimes it means they avoid the frenzy over free agents whose hype far outpaces their expected production. Desmond hasn’t even officially rejected the qualifying offer he received from the Rangers yet. He has until Monday to do so.
Does it make sense for the Orioles to be interested in Desmond at all? Well, maybe. Before this year, Desmond had been a shortstop, but after languishing on the free agent market last offseason due to an awful walk year at the plate in 2015, Desmond’s only choice was to sign with Texas to be their center fielder, a position he’d played for all of three innings professionally.
As a center fielder, Desmond ended up rating as a “not too bad” in 2016. The standard line is that you need three years of defensive data to make meaningful claims, but it’s still interesting that Desmond rated better in both Ultimate Zone Ratings and Defensive Runs Saved than did Adam Jones this year.
In a more limited sample, Desmond was OK in left field as well. If the Orioles can plug in “OK” at one of their corner outfield spots, they’ll be improving the team, though of course we can’t expect Desmond or anyone to hit as many home runs as Mark Trumbo did.
Desmond did hit 22 bombs on the way to batting .285/.335/.446, numbers that put him just about league average at the plate, as he has has been on balance in his career.
In its recent free agent prediction post, MLB Trade Rumors predicts that Desmond, in addition to having the draft pick loss tied to him, will take a four year, $60 million contract to sign.
That’s quite a bit of money to get four years of a guy who’s 31 already and who, if the Orioles are lucky, will be league average at the plate and league average in right field, where he has started one game professionally. Desmond has posted a .700 OPS or lower in three of his seven full seasons.
When you are not successful in drafting and developing players at a particular position, that’s the price you have to pay to avoid the kind of revolving door of failure like the Orioles saw at the corner outfield spots in 2015.
Desmond would also cost the Orioles their top draft pick, currently slotted at #23. It may move up as other teams with unprotected picks sign free agents. That is a pick that’s far enough down that it’s not worth fretting about losing it.
If the Orioles sign someone who goes on to perform poorly, like Yovani Gallardo this past season, it’s a problem to also lose a draft pick to get them. If they sign someone who doesn’t suck, then it’s worth it to get a good player right now rather than worry about a pick that, if they’re lucky, will turn into Phil Hughes.
A number of teams figure to be interested in Desmond. If the Orioles end up outbidding them all, that would be a surprise. They will be linked to far less exciting names than Desmond over this hot stove season.
Think about that! Desmond doesn’t move the needle much for you and nearly every other player out there is a worse choice than he is. So of course the Orioles are interested early on. But probably nothing will happen.