Mac Engel

Rangers should pay Ian Desmond to stay in Arlington

Rangers Ian Desmond: "A lot of good things going on right now"

Rangers center fielder Ian Desmond on Wednesday's 6-4 win and coming off the bench to hit an important home run in the seventh (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).
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Rangers center fielder Ian Desmond on Wednesday's 6-4 win and coming off the bench to hit an important home run in the seventh (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

The national perception is that Ian Desmond turned down a seven-year, $107 million contract offer from the Washington Nationals because he was betting on himself is just that — perception.

Perception may be reality, but that does not mean it’s accurate.

The realities are that Desmond is likely going to test free agency and, in the process, trump that previous offer made by the Nationals in 2014.

If the Rangers are going to be consistent, they better pay Desmond even after he hits the open market this winter.

They paid Shin-Soo Choo. They paid Elvis Andrus. They paid Adrian Beltre. They paid Prince Fielder. They paid Cole Hamels. They paid Yu Darvish.

Ian Desmond leads the Rangers in batting average (.316), hits (89) and RBIs (47) and is second with 12 home runs.

Under Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, the Texas Rangers may have cut the payroll in certain areas (see Maddux, Mike, and benefits for general employees), but they have been willing to spread those “savings” to other parts of the franchise, namely the players.

The single biggest reason the Rangers have the best record in the American League is the former shortstop they are able to plug into every single hole in their outfield. Since coming to the Rangers in February to play left field, Desmond has exceeded all expectations, is a deserving All-Star candidate and a guy the Rangers would be justified in suffocating with cash.

Entering play Wednesday, Desmond leads the team in batting average, RBIs, hits, stolen bases and “Thank Gods” by Rangers fans.

“Thank God” as in “Thank God” we have Ian Desmond.

He’s bailed them out at the plate when Fielder wasn’t hitting. He bailed them out when Delino DeShields wasn’t worthy of a regular spot in center.

The most impressive thing about him is our first conversation in how he described himself to me. He didn’t think about individual goals.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister on Ian Desmond

Desmond leads the Rangers in everything despite the fact that, after the first month of the season, he was batting but .229. Since then he’s batting .348 and added a home run Wednesday after entering the game in the seventh inning.

“I knew the transition would be smoother,” he said before Wednesday’s game. “Fitting in here was easy.”

Despite all of these superlatives, Desmond ranks only ninth among American League outfielders in All-Star voting. Ninth. He will most certainly be named as an All-Star reserve, but ninth feels only a bit ridiculously low for the best hitter on the best team in the American League.

As to whether the Rangers will keep him, all signs point to Desmond waiting until after the season is over to test the free-agent market, which is certainly the wisest decision. He will be 31 next season and this will be his one crack at the life-altering deal all players dream of signing.

He passed on such an offer from the Nationals in 2014, but it had nothing to do with the idea that he was betting on himself. When he agreed to a one-year, $8 million contract with the Rangers in late February, his decision in 2014 became a howling point of mockery.

The idea was that he “lost” about $99 million in the decision. That stings the nostrils.

If he continues at or near the pace he’s on — Desmond is on pace to hit 25 home runs with 104 RBIs and a .313 batting average — he should cash in this off-season.

“Overall, he’s been outstanding,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “He’s been a huge addition. He’s using the whole field. And just the consistency of his at-bats, and he’s cut down on the swings and misses.”

Under JD, the Rangers have grabbed guys others were thought to be done — Vlad Guerrero, Kenny Lofton, Eric Gagne, Manny Ramirez, etc.

“(Desmond) is closer to Vlad in that sense, but he was near the end of his career where Des is in his prime,” Daniels said. “But there was industry doubt on both that we didn’t share those same feelings.”

The only reason not to sign Desmond to a big deal is the fact he will be 31 in September, and he does have a lot of mileage on what so far has been a durable body. He’s been a 150-game a season player for his career, but he’s seldom hurt.

On the field.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister on the best position on the field for Ian Desmond

Daniels wanted to pay Josh Hamilton when he was a free agent past the age of 30 with a body far less durable. The Angels beat JD to the (stupid) deal. The Rangers just gave Beltre a two-year extension, and he’s 37.

If the Rangers elect not to sign Desmond, some other team will break his face with money.

He’s a plus-defender everywhere, has been well received in the clubhouse, is roundly hailed as a good pro and he can hit. He could be this team’s solution in center field for the next five years. What he has done in coming to a new team in a different league so late in the off-season and putting up big numbers is traditionally not easy.

Daniels said he has not been in contact with Desmond’s representatives, and from the sounds of it Desmond wants to test the market anyway. He should.

The Rangers should be the team to give him that big deal.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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