December 10, 2009
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The Washington Nationals are faced with very few decisions with regard to the makeup of their daily lineup. There are all kinds of questions about the pitching staff, but that's fodder for another day's column.
We know (barring trade) that Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Nyjer Morgan, Elijah Dukes, and Cristian Guzman will be in the opening day batting order, with either Jesus Flores or Pudge Rodriguez behind the plate.
The only question is whether Ian Desmond will join them in the lineup.
One of the biggest offseason points of emphasis for Mike Rizzo and the rest of the Nats pro personnel department is to upgrade the middle infield defense. They have instructed Guzman to be prepared to play second base come spring training, which signals intent to do one of two things: acquire a shortstop or begin the season with Ian Desmond in the position.
With a couple of the free agent shortstops already spoken for, and with the premium placed on that position, it's highly unlikely at this point the team could find an appropriate starting shortstop via free agency. It was a down year at the position anyway, as Marco Scutaro was the prize gem available.
Trading for a major league shortstop is a dicey proposition as well. They just don't grow on trees, and would probably cost more in player resources than Rizzo would be willing to spend.
What's more likely at this point is that the Nats could find a player that can play both short and second base adequately to be a late-inning defensive replacement, or in the possibility that Desmond would fail, could play second base fulltime, with Guzman sliding back to short.
Not an ideal situation.
So, we're left with Desmond as the starter from Day One.
Desmond is not really a kid anymore. He’s 24 years old and has six years in the minor leagues under him. If he isn’t ready to be playing by now, a couple more months in Triple-A isn’t really going to help.
The Nats have a built-in emergency shortstop on the roster already: his name is Cristian Guzman. If Desmond starts off 2-for-45, the Nats can send him down, slide Guz over, and whoever they bring in for the utility spot to second base.
There are in-house options as well. Alberto Gonzalez and Pete Orr are both still kicking around, and Willie Harris can play second in a pinch—not that it would be preferential for him to get a lot of at bats there.
But it’s not like the Nats are going to be contending this season.
This is what lousy teams (and let's face it, two-straight 100-loss seasons qualify as lousy) have the luxury of doing: turning positions over to almost-ready players and letting them learn how to be major league players.
Desmond should be given the opportunity to sink or swim. He'll probably do a little of both. But September showed us that he's capable of playing the position and hitting a little bit from there as well.
Let's give him the opportunity to show us that potential he showed us is for real.
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