The Most Valuable Player in the American League during the first half of the season is a man who is playing a new position for the first time in his career and who remained unsigned until after Spring Training had already started.
Marinate on that one for a moment.
Heading into the back end of the MLB campaign, Ian Desmond isn’t just the best feel good story of the 2016 Major League Baseball season, he is THE feel good story of this season, a guy who went from afterthought to All-Star.
Desmond, signed to a one-year, $8 million deal long after every other member of this year’s All-Star teams were locked up, has turned the Rangers’ last minute investment in him into baseball’s best bargain.
Desmond famously turned down a seven-year, $107 million contract extension from the Washington Nationals in 2014 when he was coming off a career best season thinking, perhaps, an even bigger lottery ticket was waiting to be cashed. After a disappointing campaigns in 2014 and an especially disastrous 2015 season, which saw him hit .233 in 156 games, Desmond’s dreams of a lucrative long term deal had all but evaporated and doubts about turning down that seven-year extension must have been creeping in.
Costing yourself a shot at a nine-figure payday will leave a man with a chip on his shoulder and, well, whatever it is that drove Desmond during the offseason, struggling players everywhere would do well to replicate. He’s now the best player on a contender, a Rangers squad currently holding a 6.5 game lead in the division.
At the plate, Desmond has been a revelation. His slash line is an eye popping .320/.372/.525, and his 15 home runs in 85 games have him on pace to obliterate his previous career high of 25 if he keeps this up.
What he’s done at the plate, though, is hardly surprising. Prior to this season, Desmond had posted a career high batting average of .292 and slugging percentage of .511.
It’s what he’s done in the field that is most remarkable.
According to Baseball Reference, prior to this season, Desmond had played all of 7 ⅓ innings in the outfield spread across two games in his Major League career. Defensively, he was a shortstop being tasked with learning a new position while playing at the highest level in the world.
So, how have things worked out? Well, take a look for yourself.
That’s Desmond aggressively charging a ball and unleashing a laser of a throw to the plate that reached home plate on the fly in plenty of time to nail the Astros’ Jason Castro at the plate, one of six outfield assists he’s recorded this season.
“”You know … just a lot of hard work and you know it certainly wasn’t done by myself,” Desmond told MLB.com, when asked how he’s been able to successfully transition from shortstop to the outfield. “You have to give a lot of credit to [outfield coach Jayce Tingler], I showed up in Spring Training and he sought me out. He came up and said, ‘We’re going to work and we’re going to work hard.’ I said, ‘I’m going to put everything I got into it,’ and he said, ‘I’m with you.’ He held true to his word.”
Regardless of how this season ends, the first half has been a resounding success for both Desmond and the Rangers. And if he can continue his current pace, that nine figure pay day that once appeared to have evaporated could materialize in the not so distant future.
Matt Lindner is a business and sports reporter in Chicago. Be sure to catch your favorite MLB team’s every game on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio.
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