By Noah Trister
AP Baseball Writer
Ian Desmond didn’t settle on a new team until late February, his puzzling free-agent saga finally ending when he signed a one-year deal with Texas.
Now Desmond looks like a bargain for the Rangers — and a big reason they’re comfortably ahead in the AL West.
Desmond’s $8 million deal with the Rangers seemed almost humbling after he’d rejected a qualifying offer from Washington worth nearly twice that amount. He also had to switch positions, moving from shortstop to the outfield. But Desmond has been outstanding after a slow start, and he’s now batting .319 with 15 home runs, 54 RBIs and 15 stolen bases.
“It’s off-the-charts incredible. Just the leadership, athleticism,” manager Jeff Banister said. “I don’t want to put any one single player ahead of any others. But you take him out of our lineup and off our team, it has a different look to it.”
Desmond wasn’t the biggest name to change teams last offseason, and he certainly wasn’t the most expensive signing, but moves like this can shift the course of a division race if they pan out. Desmond has turned a tough situation into a success story, and Texas has been rewarded for its confidence in him.
“You look at the slugging numbers, the OPS and what he’s done out of the 2-hole for us in runs scored — has been as good as anybody in our lineup,” Banister said. “To make the transition to the outfield, has been more than serviceable. He has been really good in center field.”
Here are a few other offseason acquisitions who have made significant contributions for their new teams:
ZACK GREINKE, DIAMONDBACKS
The Diamondbacks signed Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract, and the right-hander got off to an awful start, finishing April with a 5.50 ERA. He eventually settled in and started to look like the pitcher he was last year.
He won seven straight starts from May 17 to June 18, and he’s now 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA.
“He’s great,” Arizona slugger Paul Goldschmidt said. “He’s been pitching for 10-plus years so he knows what he’s doing. He had a few rough starts but then he was really, really good for eight, nine, 10. It was a lot of fun to play behind him after being on the other side the last few years.”
Greinke is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique. The team has set no timetable for his return but hopes it is shortly after the All-Star break. Arizona is well under .500 despite Greinke’s efforts.
DANIEL MURPHY, NATIONALS
After his big postseason helped the New York Mets win the National League pennant, Murphy signed a $37.5 million, three-year contract with division-rival Washington. The Nationals now lead the Mets by three games atop the NL East, in part because Murphy is hitting an NL-best .346. The 31-year-old second baseman also has 15 homers and 59 RBIs.
JOHNNY CUETO, GIANTS
Cueto had his ups and downs during a brief stint with Kansas City that ended in celebration when the Royals won the World Series. The Giants have little to complain about after signing the right-hander to a $130 million, six-year deal. He’s 13-1 with a 2.47 ERA after pitching his fourth complete game of the season Wednesday night. That victory gave San Francisco the best record in baseball.
MARK TRUMBO, ORIOLES
After going deep twice Wednesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Trumbo led the majors with 26 home runs. He came to Baltimore in a December trade with Seattle, and he’s complemented his typical power with a higher-than-usual batting average for the AL East-leading Orioles.
FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ, TIGERS
It was easy to be skeptical when Detroit traded for K-Rod, considering the Tigers’ track record with closers lately. But Rodriguez has 23 saves in 25 chances in 2016 and has generally finished off games without much drama.