I love Alexi Amarista. He’s the ultimate underdog. In fact, he kind of acts like a happy little puppy dog when he’s on the field, especially when he gets a big hit, like he did when he hit a walk-off single last week against the Giants. He’s a little guy with some pop, and he plays the game with an exuberance that makes you smile.
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Unfortunately, Amarista is not the kind of player you find on championship teams, at least not starting at shortstop. He’s got a career slash line of .229/.263/.298. He’s pretty good defensively, a bit above average, but as a team, the Padres are finishing up their second straight season of having the worst offense in the National League. You’ve got to score some points to win. Amarista’s defensive versatility would make him a valuable role player on a playoff team. But pretty good defense and bottom-of-a-bad-lineup offense doesn’t add up to a good building block for a team that wants to win the World Series.
Well, that’s interesting. In the three-ring circus that has become the Washington Nationals, Ian Desmond has developed into a steady, mature veteran. He’s got power, averaging 22 homers a year for the past four seasons. He’s been a middle-of-the-lineup guy, topping 80 RBI in 2013 and 2014. General Manager A.J. Preller’s strategy so far has been to pick up players who improve the offense, even if it means a drop-off in defense (see Matt Kemp, Wil Myers). Desmond seems to fit into that mold.
Now, Lin understates Desmond’s current offensive woes, as he is actually in his fourth year of decline. His .292/.335/.511 line of 2012 has seen a drop-off in each category every year since then. But he is on the verge of hitting 20 homers for the fourth consecutive season, and every year prior to 2015 would mark a significant offensive upgrade at the position for San Diego. In fact, even this season’s .236 batting average with 19 homers and 62 RBI would have him hitting sixth for the Padres.
Desmond’s lower numbers this season will certainly affect the size of his next contract. Had he been a free agent after 2013, at age 28 with back-to-back 20-homer, 80-RBI, .280-plus seasons, he’d have broken the bank. Now coming off a two-year stretch hitting .245 and slugging .410, he may be more affordable.
He’s a riskier player than he seemed to be a few years ago. Four years of decreasing numbers will scare off a lot of teams from offering big money, and rightly so. But in his career he has also shown the ability to be a run producer at the major league level, which is an extremely attractive quality at the shortstop position.
Desmond has the potential to be a key piece of a very good team. This offseason, we’ll find out if the Padres are that team.
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