Oct 4, 2015, 10:12 PM EDT
NEW YORK — An emotional Ian Desmond fought back tears as he tried to sum up 12 seasons in the Nationals organization Sunday evening following what almost certainly was his final game with the franchise.
“When I got drafted by the Expos, they didn’t know where the team would be,” Desmond said, pausing several times to compose himself. “But they couldn’t have found a better home. I’m extremely proud to say that I was a Washington National.”
The longest-tenured player in the organization, Desmond was a third-round pick in 2004 of the Expos, who at the time were owned by Major League Baseball and faced an uncertain future, with either relocation or contraction a possibility.
The franchise moved to Washington in 2005, and Desmond made his first-ever appearance in a Nationals uniform that spring, when former general manager Jim Bowden brought the then-19-year-old up from minor-league camp to play a couple of Grapefruit League games with the big leaguers. Then-manager Frank Robinson took such a liking to Desmond, who dazzled with a few highlight-reel defensive plays, he brought him north for the club’s first-ever exhibition game at RFK Stadium.
Desmond’s path back to Washington took time and patience, while the organization waited for the talented but raw ballplayer to hone his game both at the plate and in the field. He made his major-league debut Sept. 10, 2009, launching a home run that nearly cleared the left-field bleachers at Nationals Park, then served as the club’s starting shortstop over the ensuing six seasons.
Desmond remained a work-in-progress through his first two years in the majors but took off in 2012, winning the first of his three Silver Slugger Awards and earning an All-Star selection. His production declined some in the years since, bottoming out this season in the form of a .233 batting average, 19 homers, 62 RBI and a .674 OPS.
Those disappointing numbers almost certainly will cost Desmond in the free-agent market this winter. He turned down a long-term extension offer from the Nationals last year that was believed to be worth more than $100 million; it’s unlikely he’ll receive any offers this winter that come anywhere close to nine figures.
Though there has been mutual respect between Desmond and the Nationals throughout the process, both sides have all but acknowledged the odds of a deal to stay in Washington are next-to-zero.
“I think at this particular moment, there’s a lot of things to be discussed,” Desmond said. “This organization has been nothing but good to me. We’ve come a long way, a long way personally and as an organization.”
Asked what his biggest takeaway from this season would be, Desmond cited the team’s overall effort in the face of injuries, inconsistent performances and turmoil over the final month.
“We never stopped playing,” he said. “No matter what, we kept on grinding away. Obviously no one wants to sit here and play pity party, but it was a tough year. We overcame a lot. Not enough, but I’m extremely proud of the way we handled our business.”
The Nationals have been preparing for Desmond’s expected departure, leaving themselves with multiple options to fill his position in 2016 and beyond. Veteran infielder Yunel Escobar played third base this season but has spent the majority of his career at shortstop. Danny Espinosa has been primarily a second baseman and then utilityman in his time with the organization but has always been considered an elite defensive shortstop. And top prospect Trea Turner, acquired last winter, flashed his potential during his late-season call-up and likely will be a long-term answer for the club at either shortstop or second base.
Though he knows he almost certainly won’t be a part of it moving forward, Desmond offered an encouraging view of the Nationals organization as it enters a new chapter.
“I think when you have character people around, good things are bound to happen,” he said. “There are a lot of good players here, a lot of good coaches in the organization.”
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