Over the past two years, Ian Desmond has become one of the most popular players on a Nationals team that has won a total of 184 games over that time period, 5th in the majors. Desmond has been an integral part of that run; after struggling mightily with the bat in 2011, he has turned into one of the best offensive-minded shortstops in baseball. His 45 home runs are second in baseball among shortstops, and his isolated slugging percentage and OPS lead all qualified shortstops. His 10 fWAR not only leads all shortstops, but is 13th in all of baseball. Additionally, Desmond has traits that don’t show up on a stat sheet — his leadership and clubhouse presence are second to none on the team.
The problem is, Desmond is only under team control for another two years before being free to test the waters of free agency. However, both sides have reason to be interested in an extension. The Nationals, obviously, would like to keep their star shortstop for the long haul. And Desmond, now 28 years old and coming off two excellent years, knows that his value may never be higher. So what would an extension for Desmond look like?
To find the answer to this question, we must look at the terms of extension for comparable players — Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki comes to mind. When Tulowitzki signed his extension three years ago, he, like Desmond, was coming off two remarkable seasons; from 2009-2010, he was worth 11.4 WAR, the best shortstop in the league. Tulowitzki was under contract for 4 years after that (from a previous extension), yet get got an 6 year, 118 million dollar contract will keep him a Rockie until at least 2020. While there are some parallels to Desmond here, Tulowitzki was two years younger than Desmond when the contract was signed, had a first-round pedigree and a more consistent record of production.
Another comp for Desmond is Elvis Andrus. While Andrus is not a treat with the bat, his defensive prowess had made him nearly as valuable as Desmond in 2011 and 2012. Andrus was set to become a free agent after 2014, but In April, the then-24 year old signed an 8 year, 120 million dollar extension that will last until 2022. Andrus’ youth and consistency compelled the Rangers to offer the extension (even though by doing so, they blocked uber-prospect Jurrickson Profar from his natural position).
Desmond has not been as consistent as Tulowitzki and Andrus (with only two years of above average production), and his age may also prove a limiting factor in the size of his extension. For a contract comparable to what he will likely get, Desmond needs only to look to his right. Like Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman had already been an all-star and twice a silver slugger when he signed his extension. At 27, he was a year younger than Desmond, but recent injuries had left his durability in question. Zimmerman, after 3 days of uncertainty at Spring Training, signed a 6 year, 100 million dollar extension, likely making the Face of the Franchise a Nationals lifer. But since Zimmerman’s current contract ran for two more years, the extension didn’t begin until 2014, essentially making it an 8 year, 126 million dollar extension.
After looking at the data, my educated guess is that Desmond will get somewhere in the range of 7 years and 105 million dollars, a fair contract that would nonetheless be pricey for the Nats as they look to extend Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and ultimately, Bryce Harper. Desmond is a core player, integral to the team’s success. At some point, the Nats will have to make tough decisions about who they which core players they need to keep, and which they can lose and still have the team be successful well into the second half of the decade.