We aren’t as patient as we probably should be. That’s probably what’s going to cause the Nationals to eventually make some tough decisions about one of their young middle infielders. Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and assuredly soon-to-be-called-up Steve Lombardozzi have had similar career trajectories to this point.
Each only spent half a season at AAA, and had an OPS of .889, .812 and .811, respectively. That’s right, how soon we forget that Desmond was actually the best hitter of the bunch at the highest minor league level.
The only thing wrong with having three high quality young middle infielders is that there are only two positions for them on the field. One will have to be converted to another position or jettisoned through a trade before his potential is reached. The risk is choosing the wrong guy to hitch your wagon to.
In 1977, the Detroit Tigers had three shortstops under the age of 25 see time in the field, plus Lou Whitaker getting a call up at second base. None of them set the world on fire, but it is worth pointing out that Alan Trammell had the lowest OPS of the bunch (.441) and a .186 batting average. The next season, after seeing a combined 30 major league games between Trammell and Whitaker, the Tigers decided to make the soon to be famous double play combination their starters. Whitaker won Rookie of the Year and Trammell finished fourth.
If the Tigers had just looked at the stats, they may have been dissatisfied with Trammell’s .675 OPS in his first full season and 0.7 WAR (had they known about it) in 1979 and moved him, suffered through what would be known as “the Mark Wagner years,” and Trammell would have gone on to play for the Blue Jays or Athletics and forever change baseball history.
One difference between the Tigers and Nationals storylines: if Washington ever moves Ian Desmond to make room for Lombardozzi (which I think is the most likely move, if a move is made), they’ll be unloading a player who was never as highly touted a prospect as Trammell, and the Nats would have made the move after seeing more than 300 games from Desmond at the major league level.
The question is how much longer should the Nationals give Desmond before making a decision about their middle infield of the future? I think the team owes him at least one more year full-time at shortstop before trying something different.
Let’s go back to Trammell and Whitaker, who Desmond and Espinosa have been compared to. In Trammell’s first two full seasons he posted an OPS of .675 and .691. Again his second season he had a WAR of 0.7. In Desmond’s first two full seasons he’s had an OPS of .700 and .596 (with time to raise it) this year. In his second season, Desmond’s WAR has been 0.5. We don’t know yet whether Desmond’s career will continue to resemble Trammell’s or end up like Mark Wagner’s. That’s why the Nats need more time to try to decide themselves.