Steve Lombardozzi has made Davey Johnson the envy of Major League Baseball. The Washington Nationals manager now has three high-quality middle infielders to choose from.
The only problem is that there aren't enough infield positions to play Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa all at the same time.
Here are five possible scenarios the Washington Nationals could employ to solve this pleasant predicament, with a letter grade for each solution.
During the offseason, this scenario would have received an A.
Ian Desmond struggled last season, regressing from his promising season in 2010. This coincided with the rise of Steve Lombardozzi, who was called up in September for his major league debut, and played 13 games.
Lombardozzi played mostly second base in the minors due to Desmond's presence, but he's a natural shortstop. A trade of Desmond would have netted a decent return, and also would have paved the way for Lombardozzi's ascent to the starting lineup.
But this season, Ian Desmond has nullified his own trade. The 26-year-old is currently sixth in the National League in hits, and has eight home runs with 21 RBI.
After last season, Danny Espinosa was the Nationals middle infielder not involved in trade rumors.
But that has changed this season. Espinosa has struggled to begin the year, a poor follow-up to his breakout performance in 2011 for which he nearly won NL Rookie of the Year. So far in 2012, the switch-hitter is batting .221 with 51 strikeouts.
But if the Nationals showed patience with Ian Desmond, they need to show patience with Danny Espinosa. Trading him now would allow the Nats to acquire some valuable pieces, but it would be impulsive. In addition, a move would break up a formidable double-play combination while altering team chemistry.
Steve Lombardozzi is a natural middle infielder. But this season, he has learned to play the outfield on the fly. And so far, he has looked comfortable in left field.
A permanent move to left field has some merits. Lombardozzi would not be the best defensive option, but he is a contact hitter who has already upgraded the position from an offensive standpoint.
The biggest drawback to this idea, however, is the fact that starting left fielder, Michael Morse, is due back from injury in early June. Lombardozzi may be a good hitter, but he's not as good as Morse.
Steve Lombardozzi may be the odd-man-out in the Nationals middle infield, after all.
Both Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa have significantly more MLB experience than he does, and their chemistry as teammates and double-play partners is invaluable.
But as Steve Lombardozzi gains more and more experience in the big leagues, he becomes more and more enticing to other teams around the league.
Teams knew he could play, but now they know he can play on the major league level. Through 33 games this season, Lombardozzi is hitting .317 with five doubles and seven runs scored, with an on-base percentage of .385.
The Nationals can trade Lombardozzi later this season to acquire a veteran presence for a playoff run.
Competition motivates baseball players to perform at their best, and it will produce good results for the Washington Nationals at second base.
An excellent example of this theory occurred with the Baltimore Orioles during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. At the time, both Jerry Hairston and Brian Roberts were good enough to start at second base for the Orioles. But both players prevented their manager from making an easy decision.
Finally, an open competition was declared, and it eventually worked out well for all parties involved. The Orioles gained an All-Star second baseman in Brian Roberts, and Jerry Hairston has forged a solid career at various stops throughout the league since then.
The Washington Nationals would benefit greatly by employing this solution. The team would never have a weak link at second base, as both players would be fighting for their jobs.
The winner of the competition would become the team's starting second baseman, and the runner-up would be worth multiple assets in a potential trade.