SURPRISE, Ariz. — Ian Desmond started his transition from one-time All-Star shortstop to everyday left fielder with the Texas Rangers on Monday, a new chapter in his career that he is eagerly embracing.
"This wasn’t a desperation move," Desmond said. "This was me getting to free agency and deciding as a man that I was ready to make a change."
Desmond had played shortstop throughout his seven major league seasons, all with the Nationals, but became a free agent after turning down a $15.8 million qualifying offer from Washington. The 30-year-old Desmond was an All-Star in 2012 but has started only one of his 927 career games in the outfield.
When Desmond expressed his willingness to switch positions, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said the $8 million, one-year deal came together quickly. Josh Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP and five-time All-Star, will miss at least the first month of the season because of lingering issues with his left knee that was operated on twice last year.
"It was something that presented itself late in the process that we couldn’t pass up," Daniels said. "This is a winning piece, a winning player, on a team that expects to win. To add that kind of piece here late in the process, it is a really great fit for us."
After Desmond passed a physical Sunday, the deal was completed and he was in camp Monday working with the rest of the outfielders.
"As far as swallowing my pride and moving to the outfield, that’s not going to be a problem," Desmond said. "Learning the position, I’m obviously a little bit behind, about 7-10 days and in some cases years and years and years, because it’s been a long time since I’ve done this. But I’m going to work as hard as I can."
In his only start as an outfielder for the Nationals, Desmond recorded three putouts in seven innings playing right field during a 2009 game. His only other outfield appearance since then was for one-third of an inning in 2010.
Desmond has a .264 career batting average with 110 home runs, 432 RBIs and three Silver Slugger awards. He struggled for much of last season, when he hit .233 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs and made an NL-high 27 errors.
Daniels, who spoke to Desmond several times before the deal was complete, said a review of past reports showed many scouts indicating that they bet he could play centre field.
"It’s a really natural fit for us as far as the kind of player we look for, elite athlete, tremendous makeup," Daniels said. "I don’t think he’s just going to be OK out there. I think he’s going to be an asset."
The Rangers want Hamilton to get healthy, and Daniels expects him to be a strong contributor to the team when he gets back.
Texas will forfeit its first-round pick in the June amateur draft, No. 19 overall, because Desmond rejected the qualifying offer after last season.
Washington will get a compensatory pick after the first round since Desmond signed with another team. But Texas also has a compensatory pick in June since right-hander Yovani Gallardo signed with Baltimore on Thursday after turning down a qualifying offer after last season with the Rangers.