Gil LeBreton

Ian Desmond deal a sign of Rangers’ commitment

Despite mostly playing shortstop throughout his seven-year career, Ian Desmond will be asked to play left field for the Rangers.
Despite mostly playing shortstop throughout his seven-year career, Ian Desmond will be asked to play left field for the Rangers. AP

For a team that treasures its draft picks like princes-in-waiting, for a team that spent the winter with its payroll pockets turned inside-out, and for a team that already has two young shortstops and no shortage of left field candidates, this deal sorta puzzles me.

But if the signing of free agent Ian Desmond says anything about the Texas Rangers, it’s that they are all in for this 2016 pennant thing.

There will be no waiting around, it seems, to see whether Josh Hamilton’s platelet-enriched but aching knee comes around. Tsk-tsk on the Rangers for thinking all winter that Hamilton would be the answer in left field.

There also will be no waiting around, it seems, to see whether (pick one) Ryan Rua, Justin Ruggiano, Drew Stubbs or any of the farm system kids can seize the job in left field.

The Rangers reached an agreement Sunday with Desmond on a reported one-year, $8 million contract. By signing the former Washington Nationals shortstop, the club must forfeit its No. 1 pick in the June draft, the 19th overall selection.

For 913 of Desmond’s 927 career major league games, he has been a shortstop. For two of them, he has played right field.

Yet, it seems folly to think that Desmond — a seven-year veteran at age 30 — is coming to Texas to unseat Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Reports on Sunday all suggested that Desmond will be asked to step in for Hamilton in left field.

He can handle it, said Shin-Soo Choo, who played against Desmond in the National League in 2013.

The unofficial scouting report from Choo was highly favorable — power-hitting, athletic and blessed with a cannon of a throwing arm.

Desmond’s numbers took a dip last season, but before 2015 his career slash line had been .270/.317/.431, with a 162-game average of 34 doubles, 20 homers, 78 RBIs and 23 stolen bases.

For the record, the Rangers played 12 people in left field in 2015. Some of them were named Carlos Peguero, Ryan Strausborger, Kyle Blanks and Adam Rosales.

As a group, Hamilton and the other 11 left fielders batted .225. The Rangers left fielders ranked 26th (of 30) in both home runs and OPS.

True, Hamilton’s knee may completely heal and he’ll have an All-Star comeback season.

It’s also possible that unicorns may fly out of Hamilton’s butt. But I know which way I’d bet.

Desmond made the National League All-Star team in 2012, when he batted .292 and hit 25 home runs.

You can knock his strikeouts — 187 last season — and his low-water on-base percentage (.312). But scouting reports suggest that the Rangers are getting a dynamic, versatile, Ben Zobrist-type player who was highly regarded in the Nationals’ clubhouse.

Forfeiting the No. 19 draft pick for a likely one-year player seems contrary to general manager Jon Daniels and his staff’s long-stated policies. But do the possible math.

The Rangers gained a compensatory first-round pick when Yovani Gallardo signed with the Orioles, so they still own a first-round pick this year.

If Desmond performs to his past levels, the Rangers can either (1) trade him before the July 31 deadline or (2) offer him a qualifying offer at the end of the season. Desmond turned down Washington’s $15.8 million qualifying offer this winter and, while once-burned, he understandably could be tempted to accept such an offer this time.

But it’s just as likely that Desmond will turn up his nose at another one-year deal.

Thus, the Rangers could end up with another compensatory pick in 2017 to replace the No. 19 first-rounder that they will lose this time.

Under closer scrutiny, the deal with Desmond appears to be a public admission by the Rangers that despite what they said all winter about Hamilton, they no longer have faith that Josh can be a dependable left field starter.

What it says about Rua and Ruggiano remains to be seen. But clearly, Desmond isn’t joining the club to adorn the bench.

A year ago, a ghastly slow start threatened to wreck the Rangers’ season before Mother’s Day.

On Sunday, they acquired some early-season insurance.

Consider them all in.

Gil LeBreton: 817-390-7697, glebreton@, @gilebreton

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