The Nats’ middle infield outlook

With the signing of Adam Kennedy, the Nationals’ middle infield looks a lot more stable for the 2010 season than it did earlier in the week. But what about how it looks for the future?

Barring an injury or a scenario in which Ian Desmond overtakes Cristian Guzman at shortstop, the Nationals look like they will open the season with Kennedy at second and Guzman at short. Expanding that organizationally, I’d assume Desmond starts the season as the shortstop at Triple-A Syracuse, with Willie Harris, Eric Bruntlett and possibly Alberto Gonzalez as backup options. There’s a possibility Desmond makes the big league club and gets at bats off the bench, but I think the Nationals would prefer to have him playing every day.


If that happens, here’s where it gets interesting: Guzman is a free agent after the season, and Kennedy has a $2 million team option for next year. That means both of those guys could be trade bait late this summer (Guzman’s $8 million salary would probably mean a trade would involve the Nationals eating some of his salary), or they could both be gone after this season.

Desmond could be in the majors this year, possibly starting at shortstop late this summer if Guzman falters. More likely, though, he’s competing for the starting job next year, with Danny Espinosa right on his heels. The Nats like both players, but the sense I get is that Espinosa’s ceiling might be a little higher, especially at the plate. They could move Desmond to second base, but they also have 2009 second-rounder Jeff Kobernus moving through the system. For all three of those guys, this is going to be an important season.

With their middle infielders, the Nats appear to be implementing a strategy that’s at least a hedge against their young players underperforming in 2010 and at most a delay of those players’ entrance into the everyday lineup. It also truncates the timetable between Desmond’s permanent arrival to the majors and Espinosa’s, meaning those two players could be in a heated battle for playing time in the future.

Now, is it possible Desmond is playing every day by the late part of the summer? Yes, especially if the Nats aren’t in contention for any type of playoff spot. But most of their moves this winter have been geared at putting a respectable major-league product together for 2010, and there’s less of an emphasis on awarding major-league playing time to young players before they’re ready.

Middle infield depth has been an organizational problem for most of the Nats’ existence in Washington, and that’s becoming less of an issue as Mike Rizzo plugs holes at the top. But it does make 2010 an important year for the future of the position at the major-league level, and specifically for Desmond’s, Espinosa’s and possibly Kobernus’ development.

One link to pass along: Byron Kerr talked to Jim Riggleman about Adam Kennedy this morning. The two worked together in 2007, when Kennedy was with the Cardinals and Riggleman was working in the St. Louis organization.