The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association released their list of Heart and Hustle Award winners on Tuesday - one player from each team whom former players feel best embodies the "values, spirit and tradition of the game." The Nationals' winner was Ian Desmond.
He's hitting .226 in his second season in the majors, striking out more frequently than any shortstop in the game. But Desmond has improved his fielding percentage, is drawing more walks as the Nationals ask him to be more patient at the plate and is playing with the same edge he's always brought to the ballpark.
That's why he won the award, and it's also why a number of teams are interested in the 25-year-old shortstop this July, even as he struggles to smooth out the rough edges in his game. Those ragged spots are still there, though, and it's why Desmond is the subject of trade rumors at all.
He's still got plenty of respect in the organization for his athleticism, the way he carries himself every day and the potential the Nationals still see for him to be a .280 hitter who can collect double-digit homers every year. But he hasn't joined Danny Espinosa in the Nationals' untouchable category; it's hard to see the Nationals moving Desmond without a great offer this month, but it's almost impossible to see them moving his fellow middle infielder, who's hit 17 homers as a rookie and has shown the same kind of athleticism as Desmond at second base.
So Desmond's name will continue to come up in trade rumors this month, and he's well aware of the speculation he could be moved. "You can't really help (noticing it). People that tell you they don't notice it are lying to you," he said. But he's trying to take the swirling rumors as a complement, even as he hopes to stay.
"This isn't about baseball for me. I have family in this organization," Desmond said. "I've been here since I was 18 years old. There are guys that are like father figures to me, and I have teammates like brothers. To leave this organization would definitely be hard. But it's a job. As long as I have a uniform on, I'll be happy."
It's not in Desmond's instincts to draw walks, but as the Nationals have asked him to be more selective at the plate, he's tried to adjust his approach.
"When we were in Atlanta, I had one of my old coaches come up to me from when I was a kid. He said, 'You've always been aggressive,' " Desmond said. "We think it goes back to when I went to the Dominican when I was 15 years old, and one of the guys said something like, 'You can't walk your way off the island.' For some reason, that stuck with me. I wanted to be agressive, and I wanted to be the guy that went out there and made things happen. Backing off a notch, and trying to change my whole gameplan from when I was a kid is not easy. But if that's something they want me to do, that's what I'm going to do."