The Ian Desmond Fiasco Exposes Baseball’s Systemic Flaws

Ian Desmond has finally signed a major league contract for the 2016 baseball season. With the Rangers, of all teams. Which, I guess, isn’t a Donald-Trump-leading-Republican-field level surprise.

I’ll let others tackle the actual on-the-field baseball aspect of this news. Instead, I’m going to look at the two big systemic flaws that were exposed by the erstwhile shortstop’s long, strange trip through the Hot Stove season.

First, I should note that I think the current overall state of Major League Baseball is stronger than Ken Caminiti after an HGH injection followed by a cocaine-speedball chaser. That metaphorical reminder of the game’s Darker Days should speak volumes about the way things are now.

However, like anything, baseball can improve. The Mysterious Case of Ian Desmond and the Haunted Qualifying Offer highlights the areas where that improvement needs to take place.

Problem #1: Tampa Bay of Pigs
As the game of offseason musical chairs played itself out, with Desmond getting more and more desperate, finding a team where he fit became harder and harder. But there was one place that, at least to me, stood out as an ideal landing spot: Tampa Bay.

Desmond is from nearby Sarasota, Florida. The Rays could have used an upgrade at shortstop (I like Brad Miller, but think he fits better as a utility player), and the team is right on the cusp of being a legitimate contender. Desmond is the type of wild card who could have put them much deeper into the mix for the AL pennant.

Of course, the Rays didn’t sign Desmond. They barely even sent his agents a holiday card. Why? Because they couldn’t afford him, even for $8 million, which is a relatively paltry sum in player acquisition terms.

Given their payroll constraints, we all appreciate what the Rays management has been able to accomplish over the years . But when a potential contender, with one of the lowest payrolls in the game, can’t or won’t step up, we’ve come to a breaking point.

The ghosts of Olympic Stadium are howling for a baseball team, and they’re doing it in French.

Problem #2: Take It or Leave It
The other reason the Rays didn’t sign Desmond was because he had rejected the Nationals qualifying offer, leaving him with a huge albatross hanging around his neck in the form of a forfeited first-round draft pick.

Between Desmond and Dexter Fowler, the QO has, understandably, come under extreme scrutiny this year. I never really had an issue with the QO. After all, it’s not like taking a guaranteed $16 million for one year is such a bad deal.

Now, though, after seeing it depress the market for highly serviceable players over the past few offseasons, I’m beginning to change my mind. Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond, Nelson Cruz, and others who have suffered under the QO yoke are good enough players that they shouldn’t be sitting around all winter as afterthoughts.

It’s obvious to anyone who pays attention to the game that the QO was the only reason those players were left unemployed for so long. Teams are not only reluctant to part with a draft pick, they give that pick a certain monetary value, which they subtract from the contract of the QO-hindered player.

These sorts of transparent financial considerations, where the on-field product takes a back seat to economic theory, are not good for the game or the fans. Teams need to be compensated for losing valuable free agents. We just need a better system for it.

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