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.
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:
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.