Corey Brown Was the Wrong Player to Call Up

When Ian Desmond went on the DL with a torn oblique muscle, the Nationals appeared not to miss a beat by shifting Danny Espinosa to shortstop and making Steve Lombardozzi the starting second baseman. Espinosa knows the shortstop position, having played it all through college. Lombardozzi’s natural position is second base. To replace Ian Desmond on the active 25 man roster, the Nats called up outfielder Corey Brown.

Brown has been hitting extremely well at AAA Syracuse this year, producing a .300 average, 21 home runs, and a slugging percentage of .559. Those numbers got Corey a callup to the majors, at least for the time being. For the Nationals, Brown had the additional advantage of already being on their 40 man roster, so the Nats did not need to cut a player from the 40 man roster to put Brown on the active roster.

Washington recalled outfielder Corey Brown, but should they have found a way to bring in another infielder instead? (Image Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE)

The Nats made a mistake with this move that hopefully will not come back to haunt them. To avoid making a necessary cut of a player from the 40 man roster, the Nationals have left the team desperately short of an infielder.

The Nationals did not need another outfielder on the team. The Nats just designated Rick Ankiel for assignment because they no longer needed him. Tyler Moore spends most of his time these days riding the bench and only getting the occasional pinch hitting appearance because Roger Bernadina has been on a hot hitting streak and playing center field. That has shifted Bryce Harper to right field and Michael Morse to left. If one of the starting outfielders needs a day off, Moore is available to get a start. What are the Nationals supposed to do with Corey Brown? If Brown gets the occasional start, then Moore doesn’t get to play. The Nats have just put themselves back in the same box they were in when they were carrying Ankiel. Now they have two young guys on the bench who are not going to get much playing time.

Look at the Nationals current 25 man roster. Who is going to play shortstop or second base in an emergency if Espinosa or Lombardozzi gets hurt during a game? Mark DeRosa? Yes, Mark DeRosa is the team’s current “utility infielder”. DeRosa hasn’t played a game at shortstop since 2008, when he played one inning at the position. In 2007 he played one game at short, and in 2006 he played seven games there. The last time DeRosa saw significant time at second base was in 2008. DeRosa hasn’t really played either position for at least four years and he hasn’t played either position with the Nationals this year.

Michael Morse broke into the big leagues as a shortstop with the Mariners in 2005, when he played 55 games at the position. He played one inning at short in 2006 and two innings in 2007 and hasn’t played shortstop since then. Michael Morse has very little major league experience at the position and hasn’t played there in seven years.

The Nationals current 40 man roster has 42 players listed on it, three of whom do not count because they are on the 60 day DL – Jayson Werth, Cole Kimball and Wilson Ramos. The Nationals have only one position open on the 40 man, which is being saved for the imminent return of Werth. The Nationals have the following infielders on the 40 man roster:

Espinosa, Lombardozzi, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Desmond (15 day DL), Chris Marrero (injured), Anthony Rendon (injured), Chad Tracy (15 day DL and can’t play short or second) and Carlos Rivero.

Who is Carlos Rivero? He is an infielder that the Nationals claimed off waivers from the Phillies in December. Rivero has been in the minors six years, a Latin American player who signed when he was sixteen. He has made steady progression up the minor league chain, from rookie league to AAA. He played shortstop from 2006 to 2010. In 2011 while in the Phillies organization he was converted to a third baseman. In AAA Syracuse, he has played first, third and short. His batting average this year at Syracuse is .295, with 41 RBI and 4 home runs. Problem is, he is in his seventh year of service and he is out of options. If the Nationals add him to the 25 man roster, they can’t send him back to the minors without him clearing waivers or taking the chance that he will request free agency and leave.

The Nationals needed to bite the bullet and clear a space on the 40 man roster to add a minor league player with options who could be sent back down when Desmond is ready to return to the club. This could have been done by releasing DeRosa (which may happen anyway when Chad Tracy is ready to return), releasing Henry Rodriguez (which is probably coming), or releasing Yunesky Maya (who is useless as a 40 man roster member and who will probably never pitch another major league inning for the team again). Who to add? Jeff Kobernus is a name that comes to mind, as does Jim Negrych. I am sure there are others that the readers will comment on as being options to be called up.

The point is, the Nationals needed a utility infielder. They should have called up Carlos Rivero and taken their chances with losing him after his time on the major league team was done (probably no great loss) or cleared a roster space and placed one of their good minor league prospects on the 40 man roster to give the team some flexibility and options to cover the infield in the event that another starter goes down. It is nice that Corey Brown has hit 21 home runs in the minors, but he can’t play short.

Topics: Carlos Rivero, Corey Brown, Mark DeRosa, Nationals, Washington Nationals

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  • Steve

    Have to disagree with you on this one, Darlene – though great article! If Espinosa or Lombo go down, the healthy one will slide to SS while DeRosa mans second. In a pinch, Zimmerman can play SS like he did at UVA.

    Rivero is more a corner IF and poor in the field. Negrych has never played in the majors and doesn’t field any better than DeRosa.

    I think the Nats will trade for a low cost utility IF veteran like Jamie Carroll to fill the need you point out. I do, however, like the thought of Kobernus up when rosters expand in Sept. He has a good glove, is a great base stealer, and can help the Nats win a key game with his speed and bunting ability.

    Overall, I think the Nats will make a trade if the cost is low or just muddle through until Desmond recovers and rosters expand in September.

    Great article though on a key issue the mainstream guys and gals have overlooked!

    • Brian McKeever

      Yeah, I don’t see what the big deal is. If Espi gets hurt, Zim slides over to SS for the remainder of the game and then a move is made before the next game. Much ado about nothing.

  • Darlene Langley

    I didn’t particularly like some of my suggestions for replacements either LOL. I agree that Rivero is not the greatest fielder, but I would rather have him than DeRosa playing short for a week of two if that became necessary. Rivero won’t make the major league roster with this team on a permanent basis–he is expendable. Call him up and then let him go. What have the Nats lost? If the Nats won’t use him, why is he clogging up the 40 man roster? He’s got seven years of service and can refuse a minor league assignment next year–and then he becomes a free agent. He won’t make the team next year because he’s not better than Lombardozzi as a utility guy. We are going to lose him after this year anyway.

  • Sec314

    I don’t like any of the options either. To me this is a problem Rizzo should have addressed in the Spring by adding another veteran Middle Infielder at Syracuse. Rivero, with the options issue, was the wrong guy. But I suppose the pickings were slim.

  • Darlene Langley

    I agree Sec314. This is what flirting with washed up veterans, and then not releasing them when they don’t produce, gets you. Tracy has been OK when healthy, but Nady and DeRosa should have been cut ages ago and their roster spots filled with another utility infielder. The Nats seem to have trouble cutting veterans when it is clear they are past it. Remember how long it took Rizzo to finally cut Matt Stairs last year? He was taking up a spot the team could have used for someone else for half the year.

  • Darlene Langley

    Brian McKeever–if Zim plays short, who takes over third in the middle of the game? You wanna see DeRosa playing the hot corner? Since the 40 man roster is full, who do you bring up and who do you cut off in an emergency? My point is that the Nats should not be in this situation in the first place. They have known Desmond’s oblique has been a problem for weeks and have done nothing to anticipate him going on the DL.

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