Ranking 30 MLB Stadiums in 30 Days: #23 Progressive Field

2016-10-06_Progressive_Field_before_ALDS_Game_1_between_Cleveland_and_BostonLast year, I achieved a life goal: seeing all 30 active MLB stadiums.  It’s a fleeting achievement though, which will become obsolete the moment the Atlanta Braves open their brand new stadium this April.  So now is the perfect time to rank the stadiums, since I’ll need a new ranking in only a few weeks.

Over the next 30 days, I’ll countdown the best stadiums in MLB–Turner Field included, since this is the last time I’ll ever get to rank it.

Rankings like this are inherently subjective.  I won’t try to give them a faux-objectivity by creating a point system like you’ll see in other rankings on other websites.  I also don’t rank peripheral factors like food, beer, and fan support.  I only care about the building and the location.  I’m ranking stadiums, not stadium experiences.

30. Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)

29. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum  (Oakland Athletics)

28. Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)

27. Rogers Centre (Toronto Blue Jays)

26. Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers)

25. Turner Field (Atlanta Braves)

24. Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox)

23. Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians)

The last entry on this list, Guaranteed Rate Field (formerly U.S. Cellular formerly Comiskey), carries the distinction as the last stadium to be constructed before Camden Yards changed the rules for building stadiums.  Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field) carries the opposite distinction–the first one to be built afterward, along with the Texas Rangers’ new stadium, then called The Ballpark at Arlington.  Camden opened in 1992–the Indians and Rangers opened theirs in 1994.  These two stadiums, even more so than the one in Baltimore, cemented the trend of retro-modern stadiums in MLB.

After it’s construction, Jacobs Field was a massive success.  Most teams see attendance booms in the first year of a new stadium.  Many fade after one season.  The Indians sold out every game at their new stadium for 455 consecutive games from 1995-2001, a streak only recently broken by the Boston Red Sox.  Of course, the Indians had great teams in the late 1990’s, but the excitement of the new stadium helped fill the seats.  There were several seasons during their sellout streak where every ticket was purchased before the season began.

Things have changed since then.  Even with a pennant winning team, the Indians couldn’t even average 20 thousand fans a night last season.  Progressive Field is now neither new, nor unique.  Eighteen different teams have opened new ballparks since the Indians first christened Jacobs Field.  Think about that.  Progressive Field is now in the top half of oldest MLB stadiums.

Had I made this list 20 years ago, there’s no question the Indians stadiums would have been ranked in the Top 10, probably Top 5.  The fact that it’s now ranked number 23 is not a reflection on the ballpark, it’s a reflection on the creativity and ingenuity being used in modern stadium construction.  This ranking isn’t an indictment of Progressive Field; it’s a compliment to modern baseball architecture.

In many ways, Progressive Field is the perfect stadium for the Indians and for Cleveland. For comparison, the Texas Rangers have already made plans to replace their stadium opened the same year.  Turner Field, built after Progressive Field, has already been retired.  As noted, the Indian’s stadium has aged, but it’s not showing it.  On the contrary, the team has continually tinkered with the stadium to keep it fresh and to current with modern trends.  A two-year renovation was just completed, adding new amenities like updated club levels and a new bar.  Most notably, they decreased capacity to roughly 35K, which is more appropriate for Cleveland’s market size.  Unlike Texas and Atlanta, it’s unlikely to see Indians fans clamoring for a new ballpark anytime soon.

Part of Jacobs Field’s initial attraction back in 1994 was the upgrade it provided from the Indians former home, Cleveland Stadium.  Commonly referred to as the “Mistake by the Lake,” Cleveland Stadium was a largely lifeless multi-purpose stadium the Indians shared with the Browns.  Too big for the baseball with over 70 thousand seats, the park would be freezing from Lake Erie winds during the colder months and swarming with midges during the warmer months.  The move to Jacobs Field presented a contrast in almost every way.

The new stadium was downtown, away from the lake winds and among restaurants and bars.  The ballpark became a centerpiece of a largely successful city downtown revitalization.  The Cavaliers now play right next door at Quicken Loans Arena.  Where Cleveland Stadium was cavernous, Jacobs Field was intimate, with seats closer to the field with improved sightlines thanks to it’s baseball-only design.  The old stadium was plain, the new one had quirks–an asymmetrical outfield and eccentricities like the mini-Green Monster in left field.  Even the stadium lights were unique–a toothbrush-like design so distinctive the team put it on its stadium logo.

Progressive Field is a hard stadium to rank.  There is nothing about it that’s lacking, but there is also nothing about it that makes it transcendent–at least not anymore.  Back in 1994, the Indians discovered the right formula to build a ballpark.  Unfortunately for it’s spot on these rankings, it’s a formula easily replicated throughout the country.

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Ranking 30 MLB Stadiums in 30 Days: #25 Turner Field

Last year, I achieved a life goal: seeing all 30 active MLB stadiums.  It’s a fleeting achievement though, which will become obsolete the moment the Atlanta Braves open their brand new stadium this April.  So now is the perfect time to rank the stadiums, since I’ll need a new ranking in only a few weeks.

Over the next 30 days, I’ll countdown the best stadiums in MLB–Turner Field included, since this is the last time I’ll ever get to rank it.

Rankings like this are inherently subjective.  I won’t try to give them a faux-objectivity by creating a point system like you’ll see in other rankings on other websites.  I also don’t rank peripheral factors like food, beer, and fan support.  I only care about the building and the location.  I’m ranking stadiums, not stadium experiences.

30. Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)

29. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum  (Oakland Athletics)

28. Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)

27. Rogers Centre (Toronto Blue Jays)

26. Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers)

25. Turner Field (Atlanta Braves)

Turner Field was a little like Atlanta itself: generic, artificial, and a derivative of something more authentic.  That sounds a little harsh, and it is, but there was nothing remarkable about Turner Field, much like there is nothing remarkable about Atlanta.  Both the stadium and the city have everything you need, but neither of them are very unique.

Years ago, the State of Georgia passed a law giving generous tax breaks to Hollywood studios filming in the state.  If you’ve noticed a proliferation of TV shows and movies with an Atlanta backdrop (The Walking Dead, almost every Marvel movie), that’s why.  On one level, it’s a basic financial transaction between corporation and municipality.  On another level, it works.  Atlanta easily passes for Generic American City for any film project where the location in fungible.  Atlanta is there, it fills the frame, but it doesn’t overshadow what’s in the foreground.

Turner Field was Generic American Ballpark.  It had a pleasant brick exterior, exposed steel in the concourse, all the modern concessions, and a giant video screen.  But it was difficult to pinpoint–other than the incessantly grating tomahawk chop music–anything about the place that stood out.

Turner Field, of course, is the only stadium in this 30 Stadiums in 30 Days countdown I refer to in the past tense.  The Braves played their last game there last fall, and the stadium is being repurposed for Georgia State football.  Atlanta will be moving to a stadium, well, outside Atlanta to neighboring Cobb County, closer to the team’s suburban fan base.  The new stadium, SunTrust Park, will be a multi-use development with office space, apartments, restaurants, a movie theater, and a bowling alley.  The strategy–and it’s not a bad one–is to generate income 365 days a year.  It’s the latest trend started to some degree by the Cubs and Tigers to benefit from non-baseball revenue near the site of your home ballpark.

But enough about the new place–back to Turner Field.  The stadium owes some its awkwardness to its origin.  It was initially constructed as the home stadium for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.  In an impressive display of civic efficiency, it was immediately converted to a baseball-only facility for the 1997 season.  The renovation was so complete, you’d never know it was constructed for track and field and not baseball.  In 2005, Turner Field was upgraded with the largest video screen then in existence along with LED displays, which frankly were oppressive to the eyesight.

Turner Field was built within walking distance to the Braves former home, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium near downtown Atlanta.  The near is critical there because Turner Field was near a lot stuff, but adjacent to nothing.  For the fan, there was nothing more to the gameday experience than the game–no walkable restaurants, bars, or anything else.  It was just a sea of parking lots.  The new stadium project will attempt to remedy that, and then some.

The outline of the old Fulton County Stadium outfield wall is still marked in the Turner Field parking lot.  This is noteworthy because the Fulton County outfield saw one of the most famous moments in baseball history, Hank Aaron’s 715th home run.  Aaron is omnipresent throughout Turner Field, along with several other notable figures in Braves/Georgia baseball history, like Phil Niekro and Ty Cobb.  Along the second deck in the outfield, the Braves displayed 14 pennants, signifying one of the most impressive feats in baseball history–14 consecutive division titles, including five pennants and one World Series win in that stretch.

Most of that recent success took place at Turner Field.  Nonetheless, attendance dwindled, some theorize because of the stadium’s inconvenient location.  So after 20 years–adolescence for a baseball stadium–it was abandoned.  It speaks to the fans’ affinity for the place that very few tears were shed.  Atlanta can, and will try, to do better.

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Ranking 30 MLB Stadiums in 30 Days: #26 Miller Park

Last year, I achieved a life goal: seeing all 30 active MLB stadiums.  It’s a fleeting achievement though, which will become obsolete the moment the Atlanta Braves open their brand new stadium this April.  So now is the perfect time to rank the stadiums, since I’ll need a new ranking in only a few weeks.

Over the next 30 days, I’ll countdown the best stadiums in MLB–Turner Field included, since this is the last time I’ll ever get to rank it.

Rankings like this are inherently subjective.  I won’t try to give them a faux-objectivity by creating a point system like you’ll see in other rankings on other websites.  I also don’t rank peripheral factors like food, beer, and fan support.  I only care about the building and the location.  I’m ranking stadiums, not stadium experiences.

30. Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)

29. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum  (Oakland Athletics)

28. Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)

27. Rogers Centre (Toronto Blue Jays)

26. Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers)

Anyone who has been to Wisconsin in April knows why the Brewers have a retractable roof.  It can get cold, and when it gets cold, a climate controlled stadium can have huge benefits.  But there’s something about indoor baseball that doesn’t feel right.  It just doesn’t feel like baseball.  Now that we’re at number 26 on this countdown, we can see it’s not a coincidence that four of my bottom five stadiums are domes or retractable roof stadiums.

It’s not the roof, however, that puts Miller Park near the bottom of my list.  It’s the feeling inside the park.  Much like Chase Field in Arizona, Miller Park looks and feels like a warehouse or airplane hangar.  More than any other stadium, Miller’s roof is very prominent, both when it’s open and closed, and that’s not a good thing.  The roof itself is an innovative design that unfolds like a fan.  It’s a nifty piece of engineering, but it’s not an atheistic masterpiece.

Miller Park isn’t a bad stadium; it’s actually a very enjoyable park.  It’s still relatively new, so it’s loaded with all the modern amenities.  Because it’s Milwaukee, there’s a beer stand or bar every five feet.  Bernie Brewer, the team’s mascot, has a his signature yellow slide to go down after Milwaukee home runs.  It’s kitschy and cheesy, but it’s the right kind of kitschy and cheesy.  Besides, it wouldn’t be Wisconsin without a little bit cheese.

Miller Park was built right in the middle of the MLB stadium boom in 2001.  Between 1998-2001, seven stadiums opened in four years.  All of them capitalized on the retro-classic or retro-modern style in the spirit of Camden Yards, which opened in 1992, or Jacobs Field, which opened in 1994.  Unlike it’s contemporaries, the Brewers opted not to build their stadium near downtown like Houston, Pittsburgh, or Detroit.  Instead, Miller Park was built next to the old Milwaukee County Stadium, which everyone couldn’t wait to tear down.  The distance detracts from park atmosphere.  I prefer downtown stadiums, which are a little bit closer to the life of the city.  One byproduct of the stadium’s location and it’s proliferation of parking spaces: the Brewers have a very healthy tailgating scene.  In fact, of all the stadium’s I’ve been to, Miller Park felt most like a football game.

One final thing: Miller Park has a statue of Bud Selig.  That’s gross.  Please avoid it if you go, or do humanity a favor and tear it down with your pickup truck when nobody’s watching.  Bud Selig did some good things as commissioner, and some very bad things.  But a statue?  Egads.  Now that I’ve reached the end of this writeup, I’m starting to think #26 was being kind.  Appropriate though, because if there’s one thing Wisconsinites understand, it’s being too nice.

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Ranking 30 MLB Stadiums in 30 Days: #27 Rogers Centre

Last year, I achieved a life goal: seeing all 30 active MLB stadiums.  It’s a fleeting achievement though, which will become obsolete the moment the Atlanta Braves open their brand new stadium this April.  So now is the perfect time to rank the stadiums, since I’ll need a new ranking in only a few weeks.

Over the next 30 days, I’ll countdown the best stadiums in MLB–Turner Field included, since this is the last time I’ll ever get to rank it.

Rankings like this are inherently subjective.  I won’t try to give them a faux-objectivity by creating a point system like you’ll see in other rankings on other websites.  I also don’t rank peripheral factors like food, beer, and fan support.  I only care about the building and the location.  I’m ranking stadiums, not stadium experiences.

30. Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)

29. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum  (Oakland Athletics)

28. Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)

27. Rogers Centre (Toronto Blue Jays)

It’s hard to believe that Rogers Centre–then Skydome–was the premier baseball stadium in the sport when it opened in 1989.  At the time, the Skydome was new, fresh, and exciting. In many ways, it re-imagined what a stadium could be.  It had a hotel overlooking the playing field!  There was a Hard Rock Cafe IN the stadium! (The restaurant closed in 2009).  The SkyDome was the first retractable roof stadium in MLB.  In 1989, the Skydome was first in many ways.

Now, it’s “last” in many ways.  Other than Tropicana Field (which has its own problems), Rogers Centre is the last MLB stadium left without natural grass.  It’s also the last stadium to be constructed for both baseball and football.  Rogers Centre is the last American League stadium to hold over 50 thousand fans.  When constructed, the SkyDome was built to big, modern, and multifunctional.  It was revolutionary.  But that revolution ended rather quickly following the construction of Camden Yards three years later.  At the time, the SkyDome looked like the future.  But in the retro park era, most MLB teams decided the future involved looking back, not forward.

The SkyDome became the Rogers Centre in 2005 after the team and stadium were bought by Rogers Communications.  Many locals are still upset about it.  But by 2005, the mystique of the SkyDome had largely worn off.  The Blue Jays played nightly before sellout crowds after the stadium was opened.  The team won back to back World Series in 1992-93.  Toronto and the SkyDome was the center–I mean centre–of the baseball world.  By the mid-2000’s, well into the MLB stadium building boom, the SkyDome started to appear rusty and out of date.  Rogers Communications poured plenty of money into the stadium bring it into the 21st Century.  Renovate, not replace, was the plan.

Now in 2017, Rogers Centre is a little bit of an outlier among MLB stadiums.  To my knowledge, though, there no plans to build a new stadium in Toronto, unlike Atlanta and North Texas, who abandoned/will abandon parks before they’re even 30 years old.  On the contrary, plans are in place to renovate the stadium even further.  Natural grass will be in place by 2018.  The temporary seats to accommodate football will be locked into place.  They’re a little late to the party, but the Torontonians are finally catching up the modern baseball stadium trends.  It helps that the stadium is downtown Toronto.  In any other location, it might be tempting to build a new one.  Instead, we’ll probably keep seeing one fresh coat of paint after another.  25 years ago, SkyDome was probably considered to be great.  Now, it’s not even good.  It’s just good enough.

800px-Rogers_Center-restitchedToronto_-_ON_-_Rogers_Centre_(Nacht)

Adam Eaton Trade Analysis: Nationals make the first move of the post-Bryce Harper era

Like two friends just finishing a long road trip, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and White Sox GM Rick Hahn probably don’t want to talk to each other for a while. After spending the first half of MLB’s Winter Meetings trying–and failing–to complete a deal for ace pitcher Chris Sale, the two teams settled on a trade of Adam Eaton to the Nationals for three right-handed pitching prospects, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning.

This is an un-Rizzo trade.  We’re accustomed to the Nationals hoarding organization depth and then using it to secure valuable pieces from other teams while holding on to their top prospects.  In the past, Rizzo shops and shops until he finds a trade partner not demanding the best assets in the Nats farm system.  Think Alex Meyer for Denard Span or Robbie Ray for Doug Fister.  Each time, the top prospects were left untouched while Rizzo dipped into his secondary pool of talent.  Even this past season, Rizzo refused to touch his top prospects for Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman, instead dealing a lesser prospect for a lesser closer.  Secure the present, but always protect the future.

So it’s a little bit shocking to see Lucas Giolito–once considered the top pitching prospect in baseball, Reynaldo Lopez–a consensus 2016 Top 100 prospect, and Dane Dunning, a recent first round pick in the 2016 draft get traded for a non-household name.  Rizzo rarely breaks into his prospect vault.  To see him do it for a guy named Adam Eaton is a little bit shocking.

How to explain?

First, Eaton is more than you think.  He doesn’t have the name recognition–or trophy case–of Andrew McCutchen, also targeted in trade talks this week, but he might provide the better value to Nats.  Eaton is an amazingly consistent player (.287/.361./431 in 2015, .284/.362/.428 in 2016, 14 HRs each season).  He doesn’t grab MVP votes, but he’s the type of player a championship lineup covets.  He gets on base.  Plays defense.  Stays healthy.  He’s a player a savvy GM 10 years ago could have grabbed for cheap from a more traditional GM still wedded to baseball card stats.  He reminds me of Ben Zobrist or Jason Heyward (2014-15 version).  I refer to Zobrist and Heyward because those players were acquired last season by the best GM in baseball, Theo Epstein, who’s on the phone right now giving his ring size for the ceremony at Wrigley Field next April.  If Adam Eaton were on the free agent market right now, GMs would be lining up to sign him to $100 million contracts.  Sportswriters would say things like “Adam Eaton is getting $100 million???!!!” but the GMs wouldn’t care because they know the value he brings to a ballclub.

The truth is the Nationals traded for Adam Eaton because they can’t sign a guy like him as a free agent.  The market is glutted by players like Mark Trumbo and Ian Desmond, who will give you power and production–if you’re willing to pay handsomely for it–but won’t do the day to day things Eaton will.  After finishing second place in the Zobrist and Heyward sweepstakes last offseason, Rizzo finally won.  But he won at a price.

And the price is shocking.  Giolito has been untouchable in trade talks the past three seasons.  Lopez, too, was in the first tier of prospects usually untouchable.  Dunning was a first round pick six months ago.  The trading of first round picks is normally a mistake left to short-sighted teams like the Diamondbacks or the Padres.

Giolito in particular seems like a missed opportunity.  Had Rizzo been willing to trade him a year ago, or even 4 months ago, what could have acquired?  Would Chapman or Miller successfully closed out Game 5 against the Dodgers last October?  Could Troy Tulowitzki have been the 2016 Nats shortstop?  It seems like Rizzo held onto a prized asset a little too long, and then sold him low after an unimpressive rookie season.

Twelve months ago, I expected Giolito to be the Nationals future and now he’s in the past, along with two other highly regarded prospects.  But it would be a mistake to characterize this trade as a mortgage of the future to enhance the present.

Eaton actually is the future, and that’s the only reason the Nationals made this trade.  Eaton is 28 and he’s signed for five more seasons, all at below-market team-friendly prices.  Eaton himself is a long term asset, a fact which makes it easier part with top prospects.

Other than Eaton, the biggest news from the Winter Meetings this week was the story the Nationals are prepared to let Bryce Harper walk away as a free agent after the 2018 season.  After seeing the Nats trade three prospects, one might assume the Nats are gearing up to maximize that two year window.

On the contrary, they just made the first trade to prepare for the post-Bryce Harper era.

 

 

 

 

 

May Jose Fernandez live forever

fernandez_o967wnri_7zsln5k2I woke up this morning intending to write something on the Nationals 2016 NL East Championship.  Sadly, reality cancelled those plans.

The death of Jose Fernandez hit me hard, and it’s difficult to articulate why.  Celebrities die all the time.  It’s become commonplace, along with the (possibly excessive) public mourning associated with the news.

But there’s something exceptional about Jose Fernandez’s death.  He was the best baseball had to offer.  If you didn’t enjoy watching Fernandez pitch, you’re not a baseball fan.  His talent was incomparable, and he had only started to scratch the surface.  Fernandez was 24.  His talent and trajectory suggested a Hall of Fame career.  More than that, his electronic personality gave baseball a charismatic character it so desperately needed.

More so than his talent, age, and personality, Jose Fernandez represented what’s great about our society.  Forgive me for going there, but Jose’s tragic departure seems particularly salient in 2016, when almost half the country appears poised to vote for a Presidential candidate with reckless disregard for the dignity of human life and the diversity that’s always been America’s greatest strength.  Fernandez came to the county like so many thousands of refugees unfortunate enough to be born in a country with considerably less freedom and prosperity than the United States.  He barely survived his journey from Cuba at age 15, saving his mother’s life in the process.  If you haven’t read about Fernandez’s journey to America, I suggest you do so.

Baseball, rooted in history, has always represented the progress and evolution of our culture.  Ethic minorities–Honus Wagner, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente–have always represented something greater than their contributions on the field.  Jose Fernandez built on that tradition. Unlike many of his fellow refugees and immigrants, Fernandez was born with the physical gifts to immediately find success in his new country.  Every strikeout belonged to the Cuban American community rooting him on.  His success was theirs.  His success was ours too because–put simply–the immigrant story is the American story.

Jose Fernandez’s death is unspeakably and unconscionably sad on every level.  For his family, his teammates, his community.  He was taken from us too soon.  But his story should live forever in the replays of his devastating slider and magnetic smile.  More importantly, his story should live forever in the vibrant and ethnically diverse society he leaves behind.  God bless America and God bless Jose Fernandez.

Reaction to Ian Desmond signing with the Rangers

  The Ian Desmond free agency saga finally ended on a sadder note than any of us could have predicted two years ago. This morning, it was announced Desmond was signing with the Texas Rangers for one year and $8 million dollars, reportedly to play left field.

It’s a staggering financial failure for Desmond, who just two years ago was offered a 7 year, $107 million contract extension from the Nats (in reality, the offer was actually 5 years and $89.5 million since the 7 year offer bought out the last two years of Desmond’s arbitration with the Nats). At the time, Desmond’s decision to turn down the money was a subject of great debate among fans and reporters who cover the Nats. Some of us thought $89.5 million for 5 years was a fair price for a shortstop entering his decline years at the age of 30. Many supporters of Desmond bought in to the argument of Desmond and his agent, that he was a rare offensive talent playing a premium defensive position. Desmond supporters pointed to Elvis Andrus’ 8-year $120 million contract signed in 2013 and Jacoby Ellsbury’s 7 year, $153 million contract signed that same year.

There were four factors working against Desmond his fans just refused to see.

1. Age. Elvis Andrus signed his lengthy extension with the Rangers when he was 24 years old. Desmond turned down his extension from the Nationals at age 28, a world’s difference in time for a shortstop. Middle infield, put simply, is a young man’s game. Last season, there were only 5 qualifying shortstops aged 32 years and older, and only two older than 34. For this reason, I always believed the better “comp” for Desmond was Jhonny Peralta’s 4-year, $52 million contract signed in 2013. Desmond to his credit has displayed remarkable durability in his career, logging 154 games or more five times since his first full MLB season in 2010. Yet, Desmond always displayed solid but unspectacular defense and range at shortstop, and never showed a skill set similar to, say, Omar Vizquel making him seemingly exempt to the laws of aging. Desmond’s future was likely somewhere other than shortstop, a problematic fact for someone whose perceived value was as a shortstop. Even more troubling, Desmond began to show…

2. Decline. Desmond’s breakout season came in 2012 when he hit a career high 25 home runs. Desmond’s power alone was enough to make him an elite offensive shortstop in MLB, yet in 2012 he still struck out at a high rate of 20.7%. In 2013, the year immediately prior to his 7 year contract extension from the Nats, Desmond strikeout rate rose slightly to 22.1%. In the offseason that year, Mike Rizzo likely factored some decline into his contract offer, but even he didn’t predict what happened in 2014. Desmond’s strikeout rate rose to 28.2% and his on base percentage fell from .331 to .313. Desmond still had enough power (24 HRs) to be an elite offensive shortstop, but the trends were heading in the wrong direction one year away from free agency. Unfortunately for Desmond, the trends accelerated. His strikeout rate rose to 29.2% in 2015 and his on base percentage fell to .290. Ian was no longer an elite offensive shortstop, but instead someone with the chance to be an elite offensive shortstop, if only he could bounce back. This is a dicey proposition for a team looking to invest big long-term money in a free agent, especially when the free agent costs the forfeiture of a…

3. Draft pick. Ian Desmond became the most dramatic example of new trend in baseball where marginal players are disproportionately hurt by the free agent qualifying offer system. Teams signing free agents have long forfeited draft picks, but the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the MLBPA made teams forfeit bonus money along with the draft pick when signing a free agent that turned down a qualifying offer from his old team. In the past, teams losing high draft picks could compensate by spending money in the later rounds. Now, by losing the bonus “slot” money that comes with the draft pick, many free agents aren’t more valuable than the pick forfeited. Some free agents have the talent to clear the bar and overcome the disincentive to sign as a free agent. The Tigers perceived Jordan Zimmermann’s value to their rotation to be so high the loss of a first round pick was not a concern. Desmond’s age and decline, however, meant he was more valuable to a new team as a one of two year flyer, hoping he regains his offensive form. This still might not be a huge problem if not for the lack of…

4. Job openings. Outfielders can be moved from right to left to center. Teams need at least five starting pitchers. Shortstops, however, are like quarterbacks in football. There are only 30 starting jobs in the Major Leagues. For Desmond, the math just didn’t add up. Most teams without established incumbent shortstops had young players to whom they wanted to give an audition. Heading into this winter, only a few teams were possible landing spots for Desmond: the White Sox, Padres, Mets and a few others. One by one, these teams found more affordable, short-term options that wouldn’t cost them a draft pick. The market dried up and it dried up fast.

As this winter went on and Desmond’s situation looked more and more precarious, I became more convinced he would sign a one year contract. When Yoenis Cespedes didn’t get the 9-figure contract offers he was expecting, he made sure to sign a contract with the Mets with an opt out after one year. His thinking is straight forward: if the market isn’t there this year, have a great season and try again next winter. Dexter Fowler signed a one year contract with the Cubs after his market also didn’t pan out the way he intended. Desmond not only needed a year to reestablish his reputation as an elite offensive shortstop, a one year contract might have put him back on the market at a more favorable time, when there are more jobs available.

Now, he has signed a one year deal, but he won’t get to play shortstop. Desmond’s perceived value was built around the proposition he’s an elite talent at a premier position. Now, instead of being an elite shortstop, he’s an average outfielder. Perhaps he’s hoping teams will still view him as a shortstop next offseason, but it’ll be hard if he hasn’t played the position in a year.

As the season got closer and Desmond still hadn’t signed, I started to think Desmond would be better off waiting until after the June MLB draft when teams would no longer have to forfeit a draft pick to sign him. Not only would he be more marketable, but he’d have over two months for jobs to open up as young shortstops fail and incumbents become injured. Desmond could have been huge bargain for a contending team in June with a shortstop opening. A big second half could have put Desmond in line for a big 3 or 4 year contract next winter. A few players though, notably Stephen Drew, have tried that approach and it didn’t quite work out. Desmond also probably wanted to play a full season, and it’s hard to blame him.

After turning down the Nats’ contract offer two years ago, Desmond told the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore “There have been a lot of people that have come through this game that have sacrificed a lot for us…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.”

Now Desmond has the worst of both worlds. He waited and he waited and he signed a contract to play a position other than shortstop with $81.5 less in guaranteed money. Desmond lost in every possible way, and for those of us who enjoyed seeing him play in a Nationals uniform, the ending couldn’t be sadder.