Houston Astros: Why GM Jeff Luhnow Should Pursue Ian Desmond
By Issa Cook
If Ian Desmond is Willing, Should the Houston Astros Pursue Him?
With the free agency period winding down and spring training rapidly approaching, many players still on the market are beginning to realize that they need to find a home soon. On the other side, MLB front offices can capitalize on this stagnant period in free agency by snagging some players that might cost a little bit less at this point in the offseason.
Houston Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow is not done working to improve the club, as the Astros need to upgrade their starting pitching, and adding another reliever to an already improved bullpen would definitely help. While adding an infielder definitely should not be a top priority for Luhnow and the Astros, there is a free agent out there who could help this team out a lot, and his name is Ian Desmond.
Desmond, a 2012 All-Star and former shortstop for the Washington Nationals, initially might puzzle Astros fans when they hear his name connected to Houston. The Astros have Carlos Correa and do not like to spend money, why would they pick up an aging shortstop who seems to be on the decline? This is a fair question, but I have no interest in talking about Desmond as an everyday shortstop.
Looking at the current Astros depth chart, Luis Valbuena is the starting third baseman, and Jon Singleton is starting at first base. It could just be me, but unless Singleton finally turns the corner this year (and I’m not confident in that happening), those two guys at the corner will not get it done for a serious World Series contender. Desmond could come in and start at third base, moving Valbuena to first base.
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My guess is that Desmond is still looking for a team who wants him to be their everyday shortstop, but it seems like his time at that position has passed. Teams spent a lot of money on pitching this offseason, and free-agent position players like Desmond, Yoenis Cespedes, and Justin Upton seem to have been affected by that over-spending a bit.
Astros fans should not think that Desmond will be very cheap as he will still cost the Astros a draft pick due to the Nationals giving him a qualifying offer, and he probably will want a two-year or three-year deal. But, just think of the value of having two high-character veteran players in Jose Altuve and Desmond to mentor Correa as he approaches the prime of his career. Also, Desmond, a right-handed hitter, would have a good time at the plate with the Crawford Boxes in left field. He hit 19 home runs in 2016, 24 in 2014, and 20 in 2013.
Looking at the rest of his numbers, Desmond finished 2015 with a .233 batting average, .290 on base percentage, 13 stolen bases, and 62 RBIs. His numbers definitely declined last year, but he did improve over the course of the season and posted a 2.0 WAR by the end of the year. If he can get back into his typical .250 to .260 range in batting average and steal about 20 bases, he’ll be a perfect fit in Houston.
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Overall, signing Desmond would definitely benefit Jeff Luhnow and the Astros, adding a great guy to the clubhouse who can help mentor Correa at shortstop. While signing a player to move to a new position is always risky, Desmond seemed to be a natural fielder at shortstop, and I believe he could make a smooth transition to the hot corner. It should be very interesting to see how the Astros play this run to the end of January in free agency.