Sunday, March 28, 2010

Desmond will be starting shortstop

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Rookie Ian Desmond beat out veteran Cristian Guzman for the regular job at shortstop.
[UPDATED AT 12:15 P.M.]

VIERA, Fla. -- Rookie Ian Desmond will open the season as the Nationals' starting shortstop, though veteran Cristian Guzman will remain on the roster and get regular at-bats at both shortstop and second base.

Manager Jim Riggleman said he came to the decision in the last few days and informed Guzman this morning. Guzman, who is making $8 million this season and has never played anything other than shortstop in the major leagues, accepted the decision and immediately began taking grounders at second base during morning workouts.

Riggleman said Desmond, 24, won the job with his stellar spring (he enters today's game batting .278 with seven extra-base hits and a team-high 12 RBI) combined with his strong performance last September (in 21 games, he hit .280 with 13 extra-base hits and 12 RBI). The club's long-term fortunes played a key role in the decision.

"This is one of those moves we can make that will help the club this year, and in the future," Riggleman said. "Pretty much, what we try to do is help the club now. But if you can help it now and in the future, it's hard to pass that up."

The manager said Guzman, 32, will continue to get regular at-bats at both shortstop and second base, giving Desmond and Adam Kennedy time off. The three infielders could wind up all getting significant playing time.

"None of them will get 600 at-bats, but none of them will get less than 300 at-bats," Riggleman said. "So it's really not a utility [position for Guzman]. It's more than that.

Desmond and Kennedy will be in the lineup on Opening Day against the Phillies and will get an extended opportunity to hold the starting job.

"He may not be playing good in May. So Guzman may be our shortstop [eventually]," Riggleman said. "But to open the season, we're going to give Desi a shot there to hold that position down. We hope that works. If it does, then Guzy's got to be able to play some other positions."

The Nationals' batting order could wind up rotating on daily basis as well. Riggleman said if Guzman is playing, he'll bat second. If he's not, the manager could go with Desmond, Kennedy or Willie Harris in the 2-hole.

The club feels that kind of daily lineup uncertainty is a small price to pay in exchange for a glimpse into the franchise's potential future.

"Guzman's had a really good spring," Riggleman said. "His arm feels good. He's playing well. He's hitting well. But Desmond's had an exceptional spring, and as we look to the future, we continue to focus on the year '10. But this is a guy we think can play for us in '10 and in '15."

Desmond's chances of making the team seemed to take a big hit two weeks before camp opened when the Nationals signed Kennedy to a one-year, $1.25 million contract, ensuring the veteran would be the regular second baseman. But the rookie said he still reported to spring training believing he could force his way into the lineup.

"I'd be lying to say that I didn't want to come here and win the job," Desmond said. "That's what you want to do. If you're going to be a player, you want to be the best. When they signed Kennedy, for a second it was like, 'Oh, man.' But then I said, 'Hey, you've got to keep moving forward.' I kept on working out and kept on doing everything I needed to do. And it all paid off."

Guzman declined to talk when approached following batting practice this morning.


Brian said...

Great news!

I wonder how long a leash Desmond will have as the starter.

Positively Half St. said...

It should be pretty long. This is a gutsy move, one made for winning, and not for money. We should give the FO some credit for that.

sjm105 said...

I agree, FO is in a position to easily get slammed on this and other sites, and they made a bold move here. You have to hope that Riggleman can keep Guzman positive. I wonder if he can also workout at 3rd base as well. He did play a few innings in the All-Star game two years ago. Seems like people forget he was our representative and just can't wait to get rid of his $8 million dollars.. I have never heard him complain and he seems to be a good clubhouse guy.

Anonymous said...

Somehow, I don't think this arrangement will work. Give the job to Desmond and send Guzman to the DL (or packing) or give the job to Guzman and send Desmond to Syracuse. Having Guzman pouting on the bench and looking over Desmond's shoulder isn't going to work for any of the three players involved in this bizarre setup.

Anonymous said...

What about Guzman as a back up first baseman as well? He has a good glove still, he just does not have the range to use it anymore.

Brian R. said...

Desmond's leash may not be that long. Over the last week or so of spring training, his batting average has dropped about 60 points - and, of course, last September his .280 average was the product of a week of batting .588 followed by three weeks with a batting average of .114.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...good news!? 300+ ABs for three guys deserving of 600 ABs, not sure this is the solution we were all looking for! I feel bad for all of them. Also this notion of changing the batting order every day is ridiculous you need to be able to pencil in most guys in the same spot everyday.

Anonymous said...

Agree this is a gutsy, smart move.

Anonymous said...

I am impressed with Jim Riggleman and Mike Rizzo. They don't always tell the press what they are doing but they have a plan and are quietly going about executing it. My guess is that Guzman and Willie Harris will probably be packaged for a right fielder, even if it means the Nats eat a lot of the Guzman money.

Wily Mo Peterson said...

Love the move. What does this mean for the reserve middle infield spot? And was the favorite for that spot before this decision, Bruntlet or Gonzalez? Do either have any options left?

Mark Zuckerman said...

Wily Mo Peterson: (Love the name, by the way). It's down to either Bruntlett or Gonzalez for that spot. Gonzalez does have options. Bruntlett also is here on a minor-league contract so he could just open the season at Syracuse. Going to be a tough call between the two. Bruntlett has more versatility because he can play the outfield. Gonzalez has had a much better spring at the plate.

Calatito2 said...

No 10 year veteran coming out of surgery should lose the job to a rookie over 20 spring games. Why the rush to play the rookie? he is only 24 , now we got a 8 millions sitting in the bench with no place to play

Anonymous said...

My concern is how much does all this platooning in both the infield and the outfield disrupt the defense? I don't see how it can operate smoothly with all the pieces moving in and out. I think we are going to see a continuation of the Alphonse and Gastogne routine we have marveled at over the past couple of years.

Anonymous said...

$8 million sitting on the bench is just a measure of a poor accounting decision made some years ago and shouldn't (but often does) affect the current decision to field a team now and into the future. If Desmond's hitting is poor for a couple of weeks I hope they stick with him and let him come back to form.

Unknown said...

Taino- In my mind, Guzman did not lose his starting role over 20 ST games. He lost it over the second half of last season, while Desmond demonstrated last September he can perform well at the MLB level, and showed this spring that he can keep it up. Also, if his surgery is the issue, he shouldn't be playing hurt. He should start on the DL and get some rehab time before he comes up to the big club. If he's healed from surgery, he needs to prove it on the field. Also, even though Guzman is being paid $8 mill, he is not worth $8 mill. That's a bad contract given out by a bad GM who no longer runs the team. I'm happy the team is playing the player that gives us the best chance to win (in my opinion) and not the one who simply makes the most money.

greg said...

yup, i'm in total agreement that the $8m is a sunk cost and shouldn't be a deciding factor, especially in the last season of that contract.

i also don't buy that he's 100% healthy if he can't make the throw from the hole at SS.

Anonymous said...

Let Guzman play SS versus tough right-handers, 2B versus all left-handers and when shift AK to 1B at end of game when leading.

Anonymous said...

"My guess is that Guzman and Willie Harris will probably be packaged for a right fielder"

That will only happen when Jim Bowden gets another GM job. If you are a player and are useless to the Nationals, the worst team in the league, I think it is safe to say you are not wanted. For example, Elijah Dukes.

And how is this a "gutsy" move? It seems like everyone all spring has been saying it is the rational one. But I guess calling the rational, gutsy, is more of a commentary on the Gnats front office.

Guzman has no future with the team and isn't very good. There was no reason to start him over a guy with potential.

Steve M. said...

Mark Zuckerman said...
Wily Mo Peterson: (Love the name, by the way). It's down to either Bruntlett or Gonzalez for that spot.

Mark - Guzy played 3rd in the All Star game 2 years ago so he can back up Zim and can back up SS and 2nd. Willie Harris and Morse have played 3rd also.

Why can't the Nats send both Bruntlett and Gonzalez down and keep both Bernadina and Tavares (and of course Morse).

Willingham and Dunn can both be replaced late in the game for defense as Morse goes to 1st and Bernadina to LF and Tavares to RF.

Post a Comment