When the family and I moved back to Washington in 2009 after a nine-year stint in Florida, we lived with Vanessa’s parents for several months and got in the habit of watching “Deal or No Deal” with them. The most memorable episode involved a contestant who repeatedly rejected escalating offers while her family and friends in the audience sang/chanted “No Deal! … No Deal!”
They all were having a blast as the contestant plowed through six-figure offers and moved closer to the $1 million prize. But she made a misstep and ended with some pitifully low amount, maybe $500. When the outcome was revealed, she danced and shouted with her supporters as if they were having church and couldn’t believe her blessing.
They were totally unconvincing. The contestant had blown a huge payday and was left with peanuts, which is nothing to celebrate.
Ian Desmond knows the feeling.
The Nationals’ former shortstop told Washington “no deal” twice in the last two years. In 2014, he turned down a five-year extension that would’ve paid him $89.5 million from 2016-2020 – his first five seasons of free agency – and $107 million total over seven years. Last November, he rejected a qualifying offer that would’ve paid him $15.8 million to remain in Washington for the upcoming season.
Instead, Desmond hit the open market in November and languished for three months until the Texas Rangers signed him Sunday to a measly one-year, $8 million contract. Adding to his embarrassment, he’s moving from shortstop – his position for 913 of 920 major-league games – to become a left fielder.
Like many other athletes before him, including former teammate Max Scherzer, Desmond bet on himself. But not everyone comes up a winner and Desmond is one of the most glaring examples ever.
“I’m shocked and I’m stunned at the number,” former Nats GM Jim Bowden said on his SiriusXM MLB Network Radio show, according to a transcript in The Washington Post. “I like the fit with Texas. I like him in left field. Eight million dollars?
“You talk about the worst negotiated contract that we’ve seen in the last five years. Is there a worse deal that we have ever seen, EVER? I have never seen a worse contract, ever. Ever, for a player. You can’t tell me you can’t even get $10 million on a one-year deal? … Wow. That’s a stunner.”
Desmond’s plight will elicit derision from many folks, who’ll accuse him of being greedy, foolish, spoiled, arrogant and worse. Empathy will be the furthest thought from their mind … unless it’s sympathy. It’s nearly impossible to feel sorry for someone making $8 million to play baseball for one season.
But if anyone qualifies, Desmond does. He had every reason to expect a more lucrative offer in free agency when he declined the Nats’ extension in 2014.
Shortstop is a premium position and Desmond has been one of baseball’s most potent weapons there, winning the National League Silver Slugger award from 2012-2014. Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus had signed an eight-year, $120 million extension in 2013, the same year outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the Yankees for $153 million over seven years. Everyone in baseball, Desmond included, figured he would fall comfortably within that range.
The Nats’ offer amounted to a hometown discount, which agents and the players union frown upon. Desmond spoke about the responsibility he felt to former and future players during negotiations with Washington.
“A lot of people have come through this game that have sacrificed a lot for us, the players that are coming through now,” he told The Post in March 2014. “… I don’t want to sign a deal that is so bad that a future shortstop gets screwed because I signed a terrible deal. I’m not going to be that guy, that kink in the chain. I’m going to get a fair deal, or I’m just going to wait.”
He didn’t consider a third possibility – waiting and getting a woeful deal. That was a long shot but it’s the risk when a player rejects the security of money on the table for a shot at bigger paychecks down the road.
The gambit worked out tremendously for Nats’ ace Max Scherzer, who turned down $144 million from Detroit before the 2014 season and cashed in with a $210 million free-agent contract from Washington. The same move was so-so for former Nats pitcher Jordan Zimmermann; in 2014, he declined the Nats’ five-year, $105 million extension that would’ve begun this season and instead landed a five-year, $110 million free-agent contract from Detroit in November.
Zimmermann netted an additional $5 million, but you wonder if it was worth uprooting from the only team he’s ever known.
There’s no question about Desmond’s decision to move on from the franchise that draft him. It cost him $90 million or more long-term and $7.8 million this year (in which he’ll make is $3 million less than last season).
“The pursuit of happiness,” Desmond tweeted Sunday morning, as the news about his signing spread. On Monday, he told reporters “this is a new chapter and I’m going to embrace the challenge.”
Living without regret – not transitioning to left field – will be the most difficult part.