The star-studded shortstop has been with the Nationals his entire career, drafted by the then-Montreal Expos in the 3rd round of the 2004 MLB Draft. He spent the 2004 season in the Expos system, then when the team moved to Washington, he moved with them. Desmond has been the Nationals' starting shortstop since 2010, and is approaching free agency this winter.
It's sad to see a star leave town, but for the Nationals it makes both economic and baseball sense. The team has a projected 2015 payroll of $141 million (Baseball Reference). They already have five players signed to guaranteed contracts in 2016. By itself, that's $59.8 million.
Desmond would command $100 million or more on the open market. The Nationals and Desmond have not had recent extension talks, plus it is unknown if Desmond would take a hometown discount to continue playing in Washington. Regardless, adding $15-$20 million a year to the Nationals' payroll does not make sense at all. Allow me to explain.
When the Nationals were involved in the three-team trade with the Padres and Rays that sent Wil Myers west to San Diego, they "acquired" a player to be named later. That player is almost a guarantee to be shortstop Trea Turner, who was the Padres' first round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. Turner could be in the big leagues for Washington in 2016, if not sooner if Desmond is gone.
In short, the Nationals already have a long-term backup plan intact if they deal Desmond now. In fact, they have a short-term backup plan as well. That was by acquiring Yunel Escobar from the Oakland Athletics to play second base. Escobar has not played second since 2007 and has been a shortstop ever since. He could serve as a bridge at shortstop, playing there until Turner is ready. Escobar is a free agent after next season, barring a 2017 club option.
If the Nationals deal Desmond, how would they find a second baseman to replace Escobar?
That's an easy one. The New York Mets have a second baseman and no shortstop. The difference is, however, they have two big league ready players that could play second base in Dilson Herrera and Ruben Tejada. The Mets could acquire Desmond, and deal Daniel Murphy to the Nationals, and slot Herrera or Tejada into their vacant second base position.
The Mets could only do that, however, if they knew that they could sign Desmond to a long-term deal. With only a payroll of $98.4 million this season and already four players signed to $57.4 million next year, the possibility of them extending Desmond is a real one. If they can't sign Desmond long-term, they have two possible options. One would be to get Desmond at a reduced price from the Nationals, then offer him a qualifying offer and try to re-sign him in the offseason, while the other would be to not acquire him at all.
The Nationals then could move Daniel Murphy to third base (his natural position) and move Anthony Rendon back to second base. Then, around the infield, they would have Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Yunel Escobar, and Daniel Murphy.
Murphy, of course, would not be the Nationals' only return for Desmond. They would also likely acquire a prospect or two, depending on if the Mets believe they can meet Desmond's demands and sign him to long-term extension.
The price, time, and place is all right. The Nationals need to deal shortstop Ian Desmond.