Spring training is under way and the regular season starts a little over a month from now, but shortstop Ian Desmond is still without a team. Desmond, 30, is a former All-Star and a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner who has compiled three 20/20 seasons. He is one of only a handful of good players yet to sign on the dotted line, along with Dexter Fowler.
Desmond’s job situation has stunned his former Nationals teammates, Ken Rosenthal reported for FOX Sports on Monday.
Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa said, “I’m shocked.”
Right-hander Max Scherzer said, “Of course I’m surprised.”
Right fielder Bryce Harper, the reigning National League MVP, seemed almost speechless.
“I don’t think anybody has words for it,” Harper said. “It’s pretty incredible to even be talking about it right now. I really don’t know what to say.”
Harper elaborated, pinpointing the qualifying offer system as the culprit. He said it’s “something baseball definitely needs to change.”
Desmond rejected the Nationals’ $15.8 million qualifying offer in November to become a free agent. A player who turns down a qualifying offers has draft pick compensation attached to him, meaning that his new team forfeits a first round draft pick (if it’s unprotected) or second-highest pick (if protected) to sign him.
Howie Kendrick was a particularly prominent case in which a team very clearly valued the draft pick more than the free agent. The Dodgers only came around on Kendrick when he lowered his asking price, settling for a two-year, $20 million deal on February 4.
MLBPA executive Tony Clark said earlier this month that he isn’t happy with the system and hopes to discuss it when the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is negotiated after the current one expires after the season. It’s easy to see why the players and the union have some unpleasant feelings about the current system.