Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Salary, loss of pick roadblocks to Rays deal with Ian Desmond

There have been whispers, chatter and even legitimate internal discussion for the past couple of weeks about the possibility — albeit unlikely — of the Rays signing free agent shortstop Ian Desmond, who has failed to get the type of big-bucks contract he was expecting going into the offseason.

And with the start of spring training a little more than three weeks away, and with their roster nearly set as the signing of Steve Pearce finally will be official today, the time to sort out if adding Desmond, 30, is possible would seem to be fast approaching.

For the Rays, there are two major hurdles.

One would be the terms. Desmond made $11 million last season with Washington and turned down a qualifying offer, which was a one-year, $15.8 million deal, expecting he would do better on the open market.

That Desmond has indicated he would like to play for the Rays, that he is from nearby Sarasota, that he is represented by the same agency as Rays manager Kevin Cash (Sports One Athlete Management) and that he is close friends with Rays outfielder Steven Souza Jr. are all factors.

But he is still going to want to get paid.

Even if he were amenable to a one-year deal, which in theory would allow him to rebuild his value and go back on the market next year, the Rays would have to figure out just how high they were willing to go salary-wise. Evan Longoria is their highest-paid player at $11.5 million in a total payroll projected at around $70 million.

They might be more interested if they could get Desmond to agree to a 2017 option, or for a second year, so they could spread the money out.

The other issue for the Rays is they would have to forfeit their first-round pick in the upcoming draft, the No. 13 overall selection.

Given how vital the draft is to the Rays, and that some in the industry value those mid first-round picks well in excess of $10 million, that could be the even bigger hurdle.

Best-case scenario for the Rays if they signed Desmond for one year is that he plays well enough so they could make a qualifying offer of their own that he would turn down to get back on the market. They would then get back an extra pick in 2017, though between the first and second rounds.

But that's a gamble, of course, and if he didn't excel, they could lose out on the money they paid him and not get back the draft pick as they couldn't risk making the qualifying offer.

In short, it could come down to whether they got enough of a bargain on the salary to make it worthwhile to give up the draft pick.

That said, Desmond could be a considerable addition to the lineup.

He is coming off a disappointing 2015 season in which he hit .233 with 19 homers, 62 RBIs and a .674 on-base plus slugging percentage. But his average numbers for the previous three seasons are impressive — a .275 batting average, 23 homers, 81 RBIs and a .788 OPS.

If the Rays did sign Desmond, they presumably would put him at shortstop and move Brad Miller, who was acquired in an early offseason trade from Seattle to play there, to a utility role, though that would then diminish his projected impact and make them even more right-handed.

Most likely, Desmond will end up elsewhere. The White Sox could use him, and other teams are lurking. The Rays' best move could just be to wait and, if he doesn't find anything else as camps start to open, see how badly he wants to sign based on how good of a deal they can make.

Around the majors

A METS BOAST: Jeff Wilpon said Yoenis Cespedes' decision to stay with the Mets signals a change in how the team is viewed. "We're a destination now where players want to be," the chief operating officer said.

DIVERSITY: MLB hired Tyrone Brooks from the Pirates as senior director of its new front office and field staff diversity pipeline program.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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