Ian Desmondbet on himself once. That was back prior to the 2014 season, when he turned down a seven-year, $107 million extension from the Washington Nationals.
He was a shortstop then, and a very good one. He was very athletic and could hit for power, but his numbers took a nosedive in 2015. Desmond finished that season hitting a paltry .233 with a whopping 27 errors in the field.
All that set the stage for the 2016 offseason, when Desmond waited until the eleventh hour before signing a one-year deal worth $8 million with the Texas Rangers. It was a far cry from the $100+ million that he had previously turned down, but 69 games into his first season in the American League, Desmond is making himself and the Rangers look very smart.
Why? Because to this point in the season, Desmond has not only been the best player for the Rangers, who boast the best record in the AL entering play Monday, but one of the best in the entire MLB. He is currently slashing .309/.360/.495 to go along with 10 home runs and 12 stolen bases. He has also chipped in 49 runs scored and 45 RBI, both of which are among the Top 10 among MLB outfielders.
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Going by FanGraphs' wins-above-replacement (WAR), Desmond has been the third-most valuable outfielder in the Major Leagues. Considering he only became an outfielder in March makes that statement even more impressive. The Rangers moved him to the outfield when they signed him, let him learn the ropes in left field for a while and have since moved him into the role of full-time center fielder. All of the advanced defensive metrics have Desmond as a solid above-average MLB outfielder.
“I never had that pride in playing shortstop. I never had that, ‘I’m only a shortstop and that’s all I want to be,’’’ Desmond told Jorge L. Lopez of USA TODAY Sports. “Now that I play center, I’m starting to have that feeling. I love playing center. I want to be a center fielder. This is the way I see my career going.’’
However, some haven't yet learned of his excellence out there. Statcast broke down Desmond's perfect throw to nab Kolten Wong at the plate last weekend.
So in addition to being arguably the best hitter for the Rangers, Desmond has also made a seamless transition to the outfield and now locks down one of the most important positions on the field.
Is it a stretch to say that to this point in the season, Desmond is the most valuable player on the American League's best team? Not at all.
He has been stellar, and he will likely continue to be an offensive catalyst out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup. The fact that he has his batting average above .300 despite an awful first month of the season -- he hit .229 in April -- is downright incredible. He has been on a terror ever since the calendar flipped to May, and the Rangers have as well.
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As Desmond goes, so go the Rangers.
He has shown the versatility to get on base in front of mashers Nomar Mazara and Adrian Beltre as well as being an extra-base hit machine with the ability to drive in runs by himself.
If Desmond does not make July's All-Star Game, it will be a travesty. Heck, his performance so far in 2016 deserves some MVP consideration. He's been that good.
Add in that Desmond is a terrific baserunner and a phenomenal presence in the clubhouse, and you get what is arguably the best bargain in baseball. I wrote back in March that Texas was getting a major steal, but I had no idea at the time that it would be of this magnitude.
He might have lost in 2014 when he bet on himself, but if he can continue to play like he's been playing for the last two months, he will be paid. There is no telling who will dish out the most cash for his services, but what is certain is that he will be a sought-after free agent next offseason.
But until then, expect to see Desmond as a pivotal piece in the Rangers' lineup and roaming center field like he's played there his whole career. And, if he does that and Texas continues to win games at its current pace, there is no reason he shouldn't garner a few MVP votes at season's end.