Are Ian Desmond’s Days In Washington Numbered?

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Washington Nationals have received calls about both middle infielders Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond. While the team would almost certainly not trade Espinosa, who has been arguably the team’s most valuable player this season, the team might welcome a deal to move Desmond in order to clear space for the promotion of several minor league infielders.

“The Nats, if they traded Desmond, would be selling low; his .580 OPS is the worst in the NL. Club officials also are reluctant to give up on Desmond, whom they view as an improving defender, emerging leader and hitter capable of hitting .280 with 12 home runs and 70 RBIs.”

Desmond has had a disappointing sophomore campaign for the Nats at the plate this season. In 88 games he has hit .226/.269/311 with just three home runs and 24 RBI. His strikeout rate has ballooned from 19% to 23.5%, and his wOBA has fallen off the table from a meager .308 in 2010 to .265 in 2011.

His struggles at the plate come in a season in which the club expected him to take strides in the opposite direction. The Nationals have long touted both Desmond’s athleticism and leadership abilities, but without providing even an average bat the team has to consider their more promising options in the minor leagues.

The Nationals have no shortstops in their system who are close to major league ready, but they do have a pair of second baseman who could step up and attempt to fill the void right away. Matt Antonelli, 26, and Steve Lombardozzi, 22, have had very strong showings in the minors this season, and if the Nationals choose to promote either one of them, the team could begin the permanent transition of Danny Espinosa back to shortstop. This move would make sense down the road as the club needs to find an infield position for 2011 top draft pick Anthony Rendon, and as of now second base makes the most sense for the potential future All-Star.

This is all of course contingent on the Nationals finding someone who would like to trade for Desmond, despite his hitting woes, and finding a package in return that makes sense. Washington still has the option to keep Desmond at shortstop or turn him into a utility player, but there is some potential value for him on the trade market.

According to Rosenthal, many of the teams in contention are in need of an average shortstop who can play respectable defense, and there is apparently a surprising shortage of those types of players available. The Nationals are in search of a centerfielder and given the demand for shortstops, Desmond could soon become part of a package to land one.

If this is the final month for Desmond on the Washington Nationals, it will mark the end of one of the franchise’s longest tenured players. Since being drafted by the franchise we saw the now 25-year-old suffer through a painfully slow developmental period only to see him storm to the Major Leagues in 2009. After a horrific defensive season in 2010, Desmond has earned the respect of this blogger by completely turning his reputation around with the glove. Today the shortstop has a UZR/150 of 3.3, far better than his -9.4 mark last season. His hitting may have fallen off the cliff in 2011, but he should be given credit for addressing his biggest weakness in 2010, and turning it into a strength this year.