There’s been sort of a will-they/won’t-they thing going on with Arizona this offseason. They’re the team that probably makes the most sense for free agent Howie Kendrick. Kendrick is a second baseman, the Diamondbacks could arguably use a second baseman, and the front office there has made it clear they want to win in the season ahead. So, Kendrick would make them better, and I think they realize that, but there are these hurdles. There’s only so much money left to spend, and Dave Stewart has voiced a reluctance to give up another draft pick (currently slotted at No. 39).
Even now, Kendrick still fits. A strong market hasn’t developed, at least not publicly, and Arizona still has that potential infield hole. Though it’s noble to want to keep your draft picks, the 39th pick isn’t worth nearly as much as a higher one, so that shouldn’t be a major stumbling block. Kendrick might therefore end up remaining in the National League West, but he isn’t the only available possibility. In fact, you could argue Ian Desmond fits even better.
Like Kendrick, Desmond is a free agent who would cost the Diamondbacks that pick. Nobody wants to lose a pick, and a pick in the 30s is worth some millions of dollars, but the Diamondbacks have pretty clearly shifted their window. One thing we know about the 39th draft pick is the player selected there would almost certainly be of zero use to the 2016 ballclub. A veteran infielder could and would help the ballclub. Their priority is on the nearer-term, and a non-first-round pick shouldn’t stand in the way of meaningful improvement.
I can’t tell you which is the better way to go without knowing for certain what kind of contract the players would settle for. So if Desmond is insistent on earning a ton more than Kendrick, that’s just not workable. It’s Kendrick, though, who’s coming off the better season, so that could be all he needs for his own argument. Desmond is coming off a down year, but he’s also two years younger than Kendrick is, and Desmond has the background of being a shortstop.
Sign Kendrick and you basically know what you’re getting: a second baseman who hits for a pretty high average. He’s not defensively versatile, and the offense has a pretty well established ceiling and floor. Kendrick was just fine last season, as always.
Sign Desmond and there’s more uncertainty. In last year’s first half, he slugged .334. In the second half, he slugged .446. He’s capable of things like this:
And in the second half, he had a top-20 batted-ball velocity. He was sandwiched by Manny Machado and Yoenis Cespedes. If you look at the last three years, Desmond has probably been a little better than Kendrick. But last year’s first half happened, too. And Desmond has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. When the whiffs get out of control, Desmond is a liability.
Yet I think Desmond has a selling point Kendrick doesn’t. Kendrick, again, is a second baseman. Desmond has always been a shortstop, but something interesting that’s happened is that Desmond’s representatives have marketed him as a utility sort. So Desmond isn’t hung up on being a shortstop, and he wouldn’t be selling himself like this if he weren’t open to moving around. Desmond has been an athletic shortstop, so it stands to reason he could play any number of positions fairly well. And this is something Arizona could really use.
Most conspicuously, the Diamondbacks have uncertainty at second base. This is why they’ve been linked to Kendrick — Aaron Hill has fallen apart, and Chris Owings couldn’t hit last year after re-working his mechanics due to a shoulder issue. Desmond, presumably, could move over to second. But if you look around, Nick Ahmed is slated to play shortstop, and to this point he hasn’t hit. Jake Lamb is slated to play third, and he’s not a sure thing. Brandon Drury might need more time to develop in the minors. And if you look in the outfield, Yasmany Tomas is slated to start somewhere, and last year he was a mess. It’s a group with some upside but certain risk. Desmond, in theory, could serve as depth all over.
The concern, of course, is that Desmond hasn’t done that. He’s played 913 games as a shortstop, five games as a second baseman, and two games as a right fielder. Unproven position switches will make some people uneasy, but Desmond would be starting from the foundation of a solid defensive shortstop, and his offseason marketing suggests he’s not resistant to becoming flexible. He has the instincts, and he has the arm — he just doesn’t have the track record. But Ben Zobrist was a shortstop until he wasn’t. I don’t think it would be entirely fair to compare Desmond to Hanley Ramirez.
The Diamondbacks, as built, are short on depth. Kendrick would help at one spot, but Desmond could theoretically help at up to four spots. He could begin at second, but he could move around, at least to just give players breaks and leave some room for Owings to play. And if, say, Tomas looked terrible, Desmond could move to the outfield more regularly. It wouldn’t always look like the smoothest transition, but Desmond would provide insurance that Kendrick wouldn’t. He’d be a multi-position safety net, and that would help both the Diamondbacks and Desmond’s future free agency.
There aren’t a lot of teams looking for an Ian Desmond. Certainly not many potential contenders. The Diamondbacks look interesting, which would be appealing to him, and it would be a good ballpark environment for him to try to rebuild value. Desmond would probably want to set himself up to have another shot at free agency, so maybe he could be had for a shorter-term commitment, and then that also keeps the Diamondbacks from being stuck. It would definitely be a win-now move, but that seems to be what they want, and Desmond would still provide the flexibility to let guys like Owings, Ahmed, Lamb, and Tomas continue to play. He wouldn’t block one player in particular.
In case money’s an issue, it should be possible to clear Hill off the books. No one would badly want him, but teams would be open to taking Hill if he also came with a half-decent prospect. You figure a team like the Phillies probably has the resources to accept Hill for a season, and they’d be interested in adding to the farm. It’s just the Bronson Arroyo move, with a worse prospect, hopefully, than Touki Toussaint.
I haven’t read any links between Desmond and the Diamondbacks. It’s been almost all about Kendrick, and that makes some sense, because Kendrick was better last season, and Kendrick is a proven second baseman. At the same time, Desmond is younger, and he could conceivably be a lot more versatile, which is something the Diamondbacks could really use for the next season or two. Kendrick is the one obvious fit. Desmond, I think, might be the superior fit. It’s just up to Arizona to evaluate the reality of what they have in-house.
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