The Nationals’ first priority this offseason will be adding a leadoff hitter who can get on base with a high frequency, the lack of which has been an obvious liability. Over the last two seasons, the first hitter in the Nationals’ lineup has a .312 on-base percentage, 24th in the majors over that span.
That’s one way to look at it. On the other hand, the Nationals have also have, in Ian Desmond, a 26-year-old who hit .305/.342/.437 as a leadoff man over the final 41 games of this season. Desmond had a .298 on-base percentage overall this season and a .304 on-base percentage over his career, but he thrived in the leadoff spot, when he felt more part of the game with more frequent at-bats.
Manager Davey Johnson used the final month and a half to find in-house solutions to open questions. In that vein, Desmond entrenched himself as a candidate to hit leadoff if the Nationals cannot find a leadoff hitter, much like Jayson Werth proved he could play center field if the Nationals do not acquire a long-term answer there.
But, in an ideal situation, the Nationals would prefer to move Desmond to a different spot in the lineup. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman provided one argument why.
“Desi has been doing a job lately, but I think if you put Desi in the leadoff spot, it kind of hinders – I think Desi can hit 15, 20 home runs,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “Obviously, in the leadoff spot, you got to take a little different of an approach. You have to be a little more passive. It’s not that I don’t think he can handle it. But if we put him somewhere else in the lineup, we might get a little more out of him.”
The Nationals would be best served by acquiring a frontline leadoff hitter from outside the organization. If they can’t, Desmond at least gives them an option, and perhaps helps ensure they won’t be held over a barrell trying to trade for a leadoff man.