WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A text message rocked Clint Robinson’s world Monday afternoon. It was his agent informing him that the Washington Nationals had agreed to sign Adam Lind, another left-handed hitting first baseman, to a major league contract to take Robinson’s job the day before pitchers and catchers reported. Robinson immediately wondered if the Nationals would designate him for assignment, because he doesn’t have any minor league options remaining. Then he thought about his family. Then he thought about the money he had paid up front to rent an apartment through Airbnb for 45 days in pricey West Palm Beach.
“It’s unexpected,” Robinson said Thursday, his 32nd birthday. “But that’s part of the business.”
Robinson has not been designated for assignment. He’s still a member of the Nationals and will be at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches when position players officially report for spring training Friday. His status in the organization is undoubtedly different than it was just a few days ago after a disappointing 2016 season, but he is also that same guy who was drafted in the 25th round, didn’t make his major league debut until he was 27, despite winning a Texas League Triple Crown, and didn’t make an Opening Day roster until he was 30.
“You can’t afford to be angry about it,” Robinson said. “It’s part of the game. The front office has a job to do as well as the players. Their job is to try to do what they think is best for this team to go forward winning ballgames. My way of thinking has always just been, ‘As long as there’s jersey in my locker, put it on and let whatever happens happen.’ Whether it be competing for a job on this team or getting an audition for other teams if it weren’t to work out in my favor to be here.”
Robinson finally found a major league home with the Nationals after emerging to claim a spot on Washington’s bench two springs ago. He capitalized on his first opportunity with regular playing time when Ryan Zimmerman was injured in 2015, batting .272 with a .782 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 10 home runs in 252 plate appearances. He played first base and both corner outfield positions, appearing in 126 games and starting 109.
Last season was different. He played in just 104 games and made 39 starts, including only two in the outfield. His production at the plate also dwindled, to a .235 batting average and .637 OPS. On the other hand, Lind, whose signing became official Wednesday night, tallied his sixth career 20 home run campaign last season with the Seattle Mariners and posted a .717 OPS.
“I think last year was still a learning experience as far as being a bench player 100 percent of the time,” said Robinson, who added he is ready and willing to play more outfield this season. “And I think even though the success that I wanted and the organization wanted wasn’t there, I think I’m going to take it as a learning experience. And now I feel more confident going forward as a bench player. There’s a lot of ups and downs in this game and it’s how you deal with the failure that’s going to define you. So I think last year, even though it wasn’t exactly the year I wanted to have, and it could’ve hurt me as far as going in this year having a spot, I think in my career going forward it could help me.”
Robinson said he spoke to Manager Dusty Baker on Wednesday. The two exchanged the typical spring training pleasantries but did not dodge the uncomfortable conversation about Robinson’s future. Baker provided some advice.
“He told me the same thing that I was telling myself: Just go out and play,” Robinson said. “You can play in this league, it’s just a matter of fighting for it. They say that for a lot of guys. A lot of guys can play in the big leagues, but there’s only so many spots. Don’t worry about who’s got this spot, who’s signed this. All this kind of stuff. Just go play and let it work itself out.”