When you think of “franchise” players for the Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman is the one that comes to mind. Last offseason, Zimmerman signed a well-deserved six-year, $100 million contract extension, which showed how the Nats front office feels about the All-Star third baseman. With that, it stands to reason that the Nats would consider offering an extension to All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond next. So, after what Desmond has done over the last few seasons, is it possible that Desmond’s extension could be comparable to, or even more than, Zimmerman’s?
On the surface, many may consider this question preposterous. After all, Zimmerman is the Face of the Franchise, and he has posted the numbers to back up his expectations after he was drafted. But if you look at Desmond’s resume from the last couple seasons, this might not be as crazy as it sounds.
Awards - On Wednesday evening, Desmond won his second consecutive Silver Slugger award, proving that he continues to lead NL shortstops with his offensive prowess. He was also a finalist for Gold Glove in those same two years. Zimmerman has also won the Silver Slugger in back-to-back seasons (2009, 2010), and he has a Gold Glove to his name from the 2009 campaign.
Both Desmond and Zimmerman are one-time All-Stars, and there’s a real argument to be made that Desmond was snubbed in 2013.
Stats - Over the last two seasons, both players have put up nearly identical numbers, with Desmond leading in average and slugging and Zimmerman taking the edge in on-base percentage.
Over those two seasons, their slash lines and home run numbers are:
Desmond: .286/.333/.480, 45 HR
Zimmerman: .278/.345/.471, 51 HR
Obviously, with career numbers, Zimmerman walks away in many of these categories, but it’s not fair to compare Desmond from 2009-2011 to the player he was in 2012 and 2013. Desmond certainly wasn’t bad in those earlier seasons, but he’s a whole different player now. He’s one who deserves to have his financial future based his recent success.
Position - If you ask major league players what the most difficult position is on a baseball field, many, if not most, will tell you it’s shortstop. Desmond is among the best in baseball, both offensively and defensively, at one of the most difficult positions on the field. Third base is no picnic either, and Zimmerman is a leader at his position year in and year out. In my book, I’ll take a strong shortstop over a strong third baseman any day, but the Nats are lucky enough to have both.
Durability - Ryan Zimmerman’s health issues have been well-documented recently, and the fact of the matter is, he hasn’t reached the 150 game mark since the 2009 season. Yet, he still received a sizable contract. In contrast, in the last four years, which constitutes his entire MLB career minus his 2009 call up, Desmond’s played in fewer than 154 games just once, in 2012, when he still appeared in 130 games.
Desmond’s sample size is smaller, but he’s also had a better average of success recently, which is relevant when considering an early extension, and they’re comparatively aged. Desmond is 28, while Zimmerman is 29.
Leader - Now, onto the intangible quality: leadership. Ryan Zimmerman is a lead-by-example type of player. He isn’t a guy who will make noise in the clubhouse, but players watch him as someone to model themselves after on the field.
Desmond, however, has the whole package. He’s animated on the field, he has that clubhouse presence, and by virtue of his position, he becomes the on-field captain on defense. You’ll regularly see Desmond himself make mound visits with a struggling pitcher, for example.
Some of these aren't things that I normally put a whole lot of thought into when evaluating a player, but the fact of the matter is, these are the categories that teams look at when determining value. It’s also how arbitration panels evaluate players.
So, the question is, should Ryan Zimmerman’s six year, $100 million extension, which begins this season, be a baseline for the Lerner family and Mike Rizzo when deciding what to do with Ian Desmond? I think so.
The average annual value of Zimmerman’s contract is $16.7 million, and I think Desmond, at 28, Zimmerman’s age was when he signed his extension, should look for something similar, and I think the Nats would be foolish to not give it to him. Good shortstops are among the most difficult players to replace, and the Nationals have one who has proven himself to be among the best players in baseball at that position.
When we look back at the most important moves the Nationals make this offseason, I don’t believe it will be a trade or free agent signing. I think it will be the Nationals locking up Ian Desmond to a long-term contract extension to benefit the Nats for years to come.