The talk this whole winter was of the Washington Nationals' pursuit of a number one starter, or at least it was after they'd dropped a free agent bomb on the eve of the Winter Meetings by announcing their 7-year/$126M dollar deal with Jayson Werth. Zack Grienke and Matt Garza were consistently mentioned as potential targets, though the degree to which the Nats pursued a deal for the Rays' starter is unclear.
According to reports in various publications the Nats went hard after Greinke, offering up a collection of prospects and what was reportedly a 5-year/$90 million extension if he'd agree to a trade to the nation's capital. Greinkie would not approve a deal, however, and he was traded to Milwaukee, and for a short time before Tampa Bay agreed to a deal with Chicago that sent Garza to the Cubs, the Nats and Rays were discussed as possible trade partners.
A month before the Winter Meetings, ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick, in identifying the Nationals as a "sleeper" team in the pitching market, wrote in a November 2010 article entitled, "Nationals lurking in Cliff Lee sweepstakes", that if the Nats missed out on Cliff Lee, they might try, "to swing a deal for a James Shields, Matt Garza or another starter who might be available in trade,":
"One problem is, the Nats have no interest in parting with young middle infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, so GM Mike Rizzo's trade chips are limited."
Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore, in covering the Nats' pursuit of a pitcher wrote in a mid-December article entitled, "Nationals 'aggressively pursuing' trade for Zack Greinke and Matt Garza; but can they make it happen?", that he'd talked to a major league source who explained to him why any such deal was difficult:
"'Here's the problem they have: They're not going to trade Desmond,' one major league source said. 'He's a guy they think is going to be their shortstop for the next 10 years. That's a really tough guy for them [to trade].'"
"'They're not going to move Desmond,'" the Washington Post writer's source concluded. Has Desmond's first-half changed the Nationals' front office's approach? Has the emergence of 22-year-old infielder Stephen Lombardozzi, an '08 19th Round pick out of Fulton, Maryland and St. Petersburg College, convinced the Nationals that they have enough depth up the middle to part with the 25-year-old Desmond a year after he was being discussed as the shortstop of the future. No one's seen what Lombardozzi, whose impressive .326/.376/.461 slash will likely get him a late-season look, can do at the major league level, or for that matter how Espinosa would play at short on a regular basis.
But still the Desmond rumors persist, with MLB.com's Bill Ladson writing today in the latest edition of his, "Inbox: Five-tool Espinosa a complete player", that he, "... think(s) Desmond will be traded by the time [Stephen] Lombardozzi comes to the big leagues. I've heard at least four teams are interested in Desmond. I was told the Rays are one of the teams who wouldn't mind having him." The MLB.com writer once again mentions the Nationals' interest in Tampa Bays' B.J. Upton while responding to questions, though no connection is made between the Nats' SS and the Rays' OF.
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal mentioned three other teams in addition to the Rays for whom the acquisition of Desmond would be an upgrade in his recent article entitled, "The Nats: Ready to Deal?", listing, "... the Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants and Milwaukee Brewers," as teams in need of help at short while also noting elsewhere in the article that, "several contenders are weak at short, and few quality players are available at the position." Mr. Rosenthal also says that when it comes to the Nats' middle infield,"... another dynamic is in play,":
"Some club officials would like to move Espinosa to short and promote Triple-A second baseman Steve Lombardozzi to play second, sources say."
Desmond, in this scenario would be traded or become a "super-utility" player, a possibility that's been discussed before. The reports of a difference opinion on Desmond's future role are nothing new of course, as we examined yesterday, and ESPN.com's Buster Olney reported much the same this past winter in an article about, "Ten players at a career crossroads", in which he wrote that, "Scouts love [Desmond's] athleticism," but,":
"... there is a running debate among rival evaluators about whether Desmond, at age 25, is better suited as a utilityman who plays a lot, or if he can be an everyday shortstop."
So the debate continues. Desmond, shortstop for the next ten years, the next Mark DeRosa...
• One note on Upton: Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore commented on Twitter (@AdamKilgoreWP) about a report he'd posted on the Nats having a scout at the Yankees and Rays series this week by noting that one should not, "mistake the Nats' evaluating Upton for them salivating over him. They think he Ks too often. His OBP is .316. Bernadina's at .319."
MLB.com's Bill Ladson reported earlier this summer that the Nats had scouted Upton as part of normal "routine scouting" but sources told the MLB.com Nats beat writer, as he wrote in a post entitled, "Nats continue to have interest in Upton", that, "Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo believes a change of scenery would help Upton’s career."
Getting out of Tropicana Field might help. It has this year, with Upton putting up a .292/.372/.491 slash away from home and a .255/.319/.575 line at the Trop. Over the course of his career, however, he's only been slightly better on the road (.250/.338/.403 at home to .264/.345/.421) so while it might seem like it this year, the Rays' home field hasn't always been the problem. Are the Nats willing to take the risk that a move out of Florida and back close to his hometown in Virginia can turn the .234/.316/.407 Upton back into '07 or '08 Upton?