The Nationals have decided Ian Desmond, who followed an impressive September with a solid spring, will be their Opening Day shortstop. Cristian Guzman, who signed with the team before its first season in Washington, will be a utility infielder.
The move culminates a months-long process of passing the torch from the 32-year-old Guzman to the 24-year-old Desmond. The Nationals had planned to give Desmond the shortstop job this season and move Guzman to second base until they signed Adam Kennedy, who will be the Opening Day starter at second. Instead, Guzman opened the spring with a chance to keep the shortstop job until Desmond made his case with a .278 average, a homer and a team-leading 12 RBI this spring.
Riggleman said he came to the decision a couple days ago, and told Guzman this morning.
Desmond "will not be a 600-at-bat shortstop," Riggleman said; Guzman will get starts there, and the move could mean Guzman and Desmond both get some time at second base. But the Nationals will give Desmond a chance to keep the job.
"Guzman's had a very good spring, but Desmond's had an exceptional spring," Riggleman said. "He's playing really good in spring training. He may not be playing good in May, so Guzman could be our shortstop. But to open the season, we're going to give Desie a shot to hold that position down. We hope that works. If it does, then Guzie's got to be able to play some other positions. We talked to him about playing second, third, first, using him that way."
Guzman is coming off shoulder surgery, and some of his throws to first base have lacked power. But he's had little problem making routine throws, and Riggleman said Guzman's shoulder played "very little" into the decision.
He said Guzman accepted the decision, though he added, "I'm sure it's a blow to him. It's a tough thing."
Guzman, who is in the final year of a two-year, $16 million contract, is a 10-and-five player, meaning he's got 10 years of service time in the majors and five with the Nationals. He can refuse a trade to any team.
"When you tell a 10-year veteran we're going to look at another option, there's no easy way to say that, and it's not easily absorbed," Riggleman said.
Guzman declined to speak to reporters about the decision.
Riggleman said Desmond likely won't get much time in the outfield, as had been discussed earlier in the spring. The Nationals' right field picture is still cloudy enough, even with the move to option Justin Maxwell to Class AAA Syracuse on Sunday morning. Willy Taveras, Mike Morse, Willie Harris and Roger Bernadina are all still in the mix to play there. Harris will start in right on Opening Day, but is also a utility infielder, so the Nationals' decision to keep both Desmond and Guzman means the number of extra outfielders they keep will depend on if they keep six or seven relievers.
If it's six, they'd be able to keep three extra outfielders. But if it's seven, Taveras, Morse or Bernadina would be cut.