Rangers to keep Desmond in LF all season

Longtime shortstop signed a one-year, $8 million deal with Texas

February 29th, 2016

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers have a new left fielder in Ian Desmond, and he is not here just to hold down the job until Josh Hamilton gets off the disabled list.

"He is our left fielder, and he will be all year," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said after the one-year, $8 million signing was officially announced on Monday morning.

Desmond, who spent the past seven years as a shortstop with the Nationals, has never played left field before, but he was willing to make the switch to be a part of the Rangers' winning culture.

"In joining this team, I did my research, and this is an unbelievable group of guys who do what's necessary to win," Desmond said. "I consider myself a team guy. Obviously I respect every position and the challenges, but as far as swallowing my pride and moving to the outfield, that's not a problem."

Hamilton was supposed to be the Rangers' left fielder after having surgery immediately following the 2015 season to repair torn cartilage in his left knee. But he is still dealing with inflammation in the knee and is expected to miss at least the first month of the season.

"We are going to get Josh healthy," Daniels said. "As he comes back, we look for him to be a contributor on the club. How that goes, we'll see. I have a lot of faith in Josh's ability, and I have a lot of faith in [manager] Jeff Banister to manage it. If Josh is healthy, there will be an opportunity for him to play."

The Rangers, even before left field was considered, have scouting reports going back several years that suggested Desmond could easily make the transition to center field because of his athleticism.

"He is really a perfect fit, the kind of player we are looking for," Daniels said. "An elite athlete, tremendous makeup, big-time competitor, plays hard, pushes other players, a gifted athlete with right-handed power. He is our left fielder, but the versatility he offers is a big plus.

"I don't think he'll be OK in left field, I think he will be a big plus. We're talking about good athleticism, unbelievable work ethic. I think he will be an asset."

The Rangers approached Desmond early in the offseason, but he was still looking for the right spot as a shortstop. As the winter progressed and that job did not materialize, Desmond started reconsidering the Rangers. His agent, Doug Rogalski, re-engaged talks with them last week.

"I didn't expect him to be available at this point," Daniels said. "They reached out three or four days ago and said, 'Ian wants to be in Texas and we understand that he'll have to play the outfield.' Once he expressed the desire to be here and play the outfield, it came together pretty quickly after that."

Desmond's $8 million contract pushed the Rangers' payroll past their expected budget.

"Ownership had to make a pretty quick decision, but they pushed to get it done, and it shows their commitment to get it done," Daniels said. "We believe Desmond is going to have a big year. We are betting on him and we are betting on our environment to get the most out of him."

Desmond said this is not the first time he has considered playing the outfield.

"It is something that's been on my mind a long time," Desmond said. "My first year in the [Rookie-level] Gulf Coast [League], I made 30 errors, and I said, 'Put me in the outfield.' They said, 'No, you're a shortstop.' So I grinded it out.

"I take pride in what I have done as a shortstop, but … I think over time, I will be a good outfielder and a major contributor. Free agency is the opportunity to choose what I want to do, and this is what I want to do."

Desmond said he talked with former Rangers Michael Young and Mark DeRosa before making the decision. Both had to make significant position changes in their careers. They also gave Desmond glowing reviews about playing with the Rangers.

"Coming up, Michael Young was my guy," Desmond said. "He was what I wanted to be: a selfless player and a phenomenal player. Him reaching out to me was a big benefit to the Rangers. And Mark DeRosa, he loved this place. He said, 'Dez, you're going to fit in great. Your family is going to love it.' I'm excited and ready to go."

The Rangers now have a set outfield with Desmond in left, Delino DeShields in center and Shin-Soo Choo in right. That leaves Justin Ruggiano, Drew Stubbs, Ryan Rua, James Jones and Patrick Kivlehan competing for spots on the bench. Ruggiano, Stubbs and Jones will be strongly considered since they can play center field.

This also allows the Rangers to send prospects Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara to Triple-A Round Rock.

"It allows us to let some of these guys develop, and it allows other guys to make contributions in roles that put them in the best position to succeed," Daniels said.