Monday, March 8, 2010

Why I'm not Worried about the Middle Infield "Logjam"

There's quite a bit of fretting over the possibility that Ian Desmond, easily the most MLB-ready bat in the Nationals' minor leagues, will be blocked this year by Cristian Guzman and Adam Kennedy, two mediocre-at-best veterans who are unsigned for 2011 (strictly speaking, there's a club option on Kennedy's contract, but there aren't many people rooting to see him play every day at age 35).

On one hand, I'm a big-time proponent of committing to youth, and I still believe that one of the main reasons the Nationals are still as bad as they are here in 2010 is because Jim Bowden ran the team in 2005 and 2006 as if he was one veteran away from a championship. I want to see the kids play, because that's the only way we're really going to get better.

But here are the reasons I wouldn't be bothered, even if Desmond plays well and still starts the year at AAA:

1. Desmond is 24 years old. He has 89 career plate appearances at the big league level. While I think this is a key year for Desmond to show he can be a Major League regular, I don't think the best way to do that is to ask him to make 150 or more starts in 2010. There's plenty of time for him to start in AAA and still get 400-500 plate appearances, which should be plenty to get him ready to really take over in 2011, assuming he does well and stays healthy.

2. If the team hadn't signed Kennedy, they'd be forcing Desmond into full-time action with no viable back-up plan, in case he gets dinged up or struggles. That's a lot of pressure to put on a kid, and it's not usually the best way to help a guy transition to the majors.

3. Kennedy and/or Guzman are going to get hurt. They're both getting up in years, and between the two of them there are exactly zero 140 game seasons since 2005. So playing time will come, regardless of what the club decides in March.

4. The organization is dreadfully thin behind Desmond, Kennedy, and Guzman. Willie Harris is a bad second baseman, and Eric Bruntlett is awful. Alberto Gonzalez has proven he can't do it. After that... it's all waiver wire.
Depth is good, and the Nationals certainly do not have too much of it (as if that were possible). If you're inclined to fret, worry about the potential for extended appearances of a Desmond-Bruntlett middle infield.

5. If Desmond really is playing well in AAA after three weeks or a month, I don't doubt that Rizzo will send Kennedy or Guzman to the bench if needed.

Now, I'm still not a fan of using Desmond as a utilityman. I think that's the opposite of the best way to transition a prospect into the big leagues. And if we get to July 4, and Desmond is still rotting in Syracuse or riding the pine, then I'll be pretty disappointed. But for now, having three starting-caliber middle-infielders is not a problem. And truth be told, the Nationals will be lucky if two of these guys perform at an acceptable level for a starter this year.


Positively Half St. said...

I'm with you. Desmond needs to play every day, and that simply won't happen if Guzman is healthy. I'm not convinced Desmond is the answer, anyway. If he is a major-league caliber player, he should have even less trouble proving he's ready against the competition in Syracuse.

Deacon Drake said...

Kennedy may have sold his soul for the numbers he put up in Oakland last year, so I'd guess that he is going to be more his OPS+ 80 self. Also, 2008 Guzman is probably long gone. I don't see either of them getting off to a hot enough start to not have 2 slots open for Desmond.

estuartj said...

One of two things is likely to happen. Guzman is hurt or finally stops slapping his way to .300+BA and he is benched for the remainder of his contract, OR if he continues to hit as he has the last 2 years Rizzo finds someone willing to give up a decent, but not great prospect in return for Guz & $2M+ or so.

Either way Desmond is starting by the trade deadline.