The case for trading Ian Desmond is simple. He had not played this season like an essential piece of a contending team, and the Nationals have an infielder at Class AAA, Stephen Lombardozzi, who is tearing apart the International League. In those terms, Desmond seems perfectly expendable.
But there are stronger reasons for holding on to Desmond, at least at this trade deadline. As ever, it’s impossible to advocate whether or not to trade a given player without knowing the specific return. If the Nationals are knocked off their feet by an offer for Desmond, sure, they should trade him; the same goes for any player.
So we’re talking more about Desmond’s value here. The odds of the Nationals maximizing their return by trading Desmond now are slim, and the risk of losing a long-term contributor still exists.
Trading Desmond now would be the epitome of selling low. It would be difficult to argue against Desmond as having, so far, one of worst offensive season of any everyday player in the National League. His .584 OPS is the worst in the league (although his 63 OPS+ is better than Casey McGehee) and his .273 on-base percentage is 146th out of 152 qualifying players in the majors.
Before this season, Desmond had a .724 OPS over 663 major league plate appearances, including his 2009 call-up. If the Nationals hold on to Desmond for the final two months of the season, he will have a chance to increase his value – and his track record suggests he will, or at least that he won’t get any worse.
The trade deadline is generally a better time to get another team to overpay for a player than the offseason, as their urgency to win and the leverage of July 31 forces their hand. With Desmond, though, that’s not necessarily the case. Any team trading for Desmond at the deadline would be doing so more for future seasons than pressure to win the in present.
By waiting until the offseason, if they are serious about moving on from Desmond, the Nationals will also give themselves an opportunity to evaluate Lombardozzi at the major league level. After a September call-up, the Nationals will have a better handle on how Lombardozzi will translate in the majors.
Lombardozzi has hit .331/.375/.454 over 33 games in Syracuse, but the idea that he’s ready to take over second base – with Danny Espinosa moved over to shortstop, his natural position – might be an overreaction to six excellent weeks at Class AAA. Nationals scouts love Lombardozzi – the prevailing phrase you hear, time and again, from Washington evaluators is “he’s a big leaguer.” But Lombardozzi still has to prove it.
Desmond, though he’s regressed this year at the plate, has proven he can be a capable major league shortstop. As a rookie in 2010, he was about a league-average offensive shortstop, which at 24 is not an insignificant feat. That’s still in him.
This year, his defensive improvement, according to the UZR stat at FanGraphs, has placed him on the cusp of the top 10 shortstops in baseball. He’s stolen 20 bases in 24 attempts this year. In a clubhouse with a lot of players who prefer not to speak up – which is fine – Desmond will.
Desmond is still only 25. He’s got four more years of affordable team control left after this season. He has shown flashes of ability to do most everything well on a major league well, just not all at the same time. It would be tough for the Nationals to take if Desmond, a player who cares deeply and works hard, a player who’s been a part of the Nationals’ future before they had a past, put all of it together for some other team.
So the case against trading Ian Desmond also comes down to this: Despite evidence to the contrary this year, he still could be a really, really good player.
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NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 15, Syracuse 1: Chris Marrero went 2 for 3 with a walk. Yunesky Maya allowed seven earned runs in three innings on eight hits and three walks, striking out three.
Harrisburg 13, Bowie 2: Bryce Harper went 2 for 4 with two doubles off Zach Britton, the Zach Britton who started the season in the Orioles’ rotation. Tyler Moore and Bill Rhinehart both went 2 for 5 with a home run. Tanner Roark allowed no earned runs in eight innings on four hits and no walks, striking out seven.
Potomac was suspended.
Greenville 6, Hagerstown 4:Robbie Ray allowed no earned runs in four innings on one hit and three walks, striking out six. Adrian Sanchez went 2 for 4 with two doubles.
Auburn 8, Lowell 2: Hendry Jimenez went 1 for 4 with a triple and a walk. Caleb Ramsey and Justin Miller both went 2 for 5 with a walk.