This season, Ian Desmond made $3.8 million in what was his first year of salary arbitration, ranking him 17th among major league shortstops when it came to 2013 salary.
Through the arbitration process, Desmond’s salary will likely almost double in 2014, as another strong season (which included his second straight Silver Slugger Award and being named a finalist for a Gold Glove) leaves him in line for another hefty raise.
MLBTradeRumors.com’s Matt Swartz has projected that Desmond will earn $6.9 million through arbitration, which would have ranked 11th among shortstops in 2013.
That projection, of course, could become moot if the Nationals and Desmond are able to come to terms on a long-term deal in the next few months, something that both sides have said they would be interested in reaching.
“Desi is one of our core players,” general manager Mike Rizzo said in September as the season was winding down. “He’s one of our leaders on the team. If there’s a deal out there that we can get done that keeps him here for the long-term, it would be certainly up there on the priority list. It’s going to be a deal that would have to work for both parties.”
Desmond is under team control for two more seasons, so finalizing a long-term contract is not a necessity at this point. But Desmond’s salary will continue to shoot upwards through arbitration, and the longer the Nats wait before getting into serious discussions about an extension, the more Desmond might think about wanting to test the free agent market after the 2015 campaign.
What type of contract would Desmond be looking for? Well, to answer that question, let’s examine a few long-term deals that have been hammered out in recent years and try and see where Desmond might fit into that mix.
* In the spring of 2012, with two years left on his previous deal, Ryan Zimmerman signed a six-year, $100 million extension with the Nationals. In total, that left Zimmerman earning $126 million over eight years (or $15.75 million annually) with a $18 million team option for 2020.
To that point, Zimmerman had played six full seasons in the big leagues, come in second in the Rookie of the Year voting, won a Gold Glove and two Silver Sluggers, and averaged a .288/.355/.479 line with 25 homers and 96 RBIs over a 162-game season.
* Earlier this year, Elvis Andrus agreed to an eight-year, $120 million extension that includes a vesting option for a ninth year. The total value of Andrus’ deal, including the two years remaining on his previous contract, is worth over $146 million ($14.6 million annually).
At the time of the extension, Andrus was 24. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2009, made the All-Star team in 2010 and 2012 and averaged a .275/.342/.353 line in his first four MLB seasons, with an average of four homers and 54 RBIs over 162 games. In those four seasons prior to earning his extension, Andrus averaged a 3.2 WAR.
* Prior to the 2011 season, the Rockies and Troy Tulowitzki agreed to a seven-year extension worth $134 million, a deal that guaranteed the shortstop $157.75 million over 10 years ($15.78 million annually). At the time of the extension, Tulowitzki had just turned 26, but he had become one of the top young players in baseball, finishing in the top five in MVP voting in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010.
He put up a .290/.362/.495 line in his first five MLB seasons, with an average of 27 homers and 99 RBIs over 162 games, and averaged a 4.1 WAR over those five years.
Now to how Desmond stacks up against these guys, at least statistically. Desmond is 28, so he’s still very much in his prime, but a couple years older than the other shortstops I just listed when they received their extensions.
Desmond’s line to this point in his MLB career, over five seasons: .273/.318/.432, and he’s averaged 18 homers and 74 RBIs over a 162-game season. He’s averaged a 1.9 WAR in his five MLB seasons.
Desmond has really come on strong the last two seasons, seeing his average and power numbers shoot upwards, and his has defense improved, as well. Desmond’s career numbers to this point don’t tell the full story, and his WARs of of 3.4 (2012) and 3.7 (2013) show how much he’s improved in recent years.
His situation is a little different than the other three guys I examined, because if the Nats and Desmond work out an extension this winter, they’ll be buying out two of Desmond’s arbitration years. Zimmerman, Andrus and Tulowitzki already had signed a contract that bought out arbitration years prior to their recent extensions.
Given the contracts those three landed, however, it seems possible that Desmond could earn a contract worth around if not a little north of $100 million, one that will give him around $13-16 million annually. For example, a seven-year deal at $15 million per - a contract that would leave Desmond in a Nats jersey until he’s at least 35 - would be worth $105 million.
This is all just speculation, of course. We don’t know what numbers the Nationals and Desmond’s representatives will kick around, but we do know where the market has been set for talented middle infielders in their 20s.
The interesting part now will be to see if the Nats push to get an extension done this offseason. They might look to add another starter, and will certainly try and upgrade their bullpen and bench going into 2014. But how high on their priority list will it be to lock up Desmond long-term before the 2014 season begins?