Ian Desmond‘s walk year has not gone quite as well as the Washington Nationals’ shortstop would have hoped. The three-time defending National League Silver Slugger is having the worst offensive season of his major league career. Never one for patience at the plate, Desmond has seen his on-base percentage fall below .300 for the first time in his career. His slugging percentage of .351 is well below his career value of .425. Throw in the fact that Desmond has played below replacement level defense, and it’s no wonder former Nationals’ General Manager Jim Bowden had some very interesting things to say Monday while talking on Sirius XM’s MLB Network Radio.
“Trea Turner, I’m going to make this bold prediction — you know I’ve done it before — will be the everyday shortstop for the Nationals by August 1st, okay?” Bowden said. “I’m going out there to say it. This kid’s got range to both sides, he’s got speed, he’s hitting .341 in the minors with like a 41 percent [on-base percentage]. He is a guy to definitely watch.”
Turner was finally acquired this week to complete the Wil Myers–Steven Souza swap and debuted for the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate on Wednesday. In his second game with the Harrisburg Senators, Turner went 3-for-5 with two runs batted in. The 2014 first-round pick has batted .322/.383/.470 this year with 13 stolen bases. He has made only seven errors, good for a .974 fielding percentage. Turner was selected out of North Carolina State, and is already a polished hitter and defender. His status as a college player has him very well prepared to ascend to the Major Leagues rather quickly.
There is no denying that Desmond has been a disaster both offensively and defensively, but has he been bad enough for the Nationals to give up on him in the middle of a playoff dogfight? The Nationals were expected to run away with the N.L. East title, but thanks to inconsistent offense, defense, and starting pitching, everyone’s preseason World Series favorites are currently a game-and-a-half behind the upstart New York Mets.
The Nationals have played very uninspired baseball, and the injection of Turner into the lineup may very well be the shot in the arm the team needs to get itself pointed in the right direction. The fact that he poses a very real threat to Desmond’s job could also serve to drive Desmond to begin performing as expected. After a career-best walk rate in 2014, Desmond is back to his free-swinging ways, and is leading the National League in outs made as a result. His defense, which has always been suspect, is costing the Nationals runs this season, just as it has in nearly every other season of his tenure with the club. Turner is breathing down Desmond’s neck from Double-A, and the only way Desmond can reasonably expect to fend off the prospect is to begin hitting. It is not his defense that will keep him in the lineup.
The way things are shaking out this season, it appears very unlikely the Nationals would be willing to commit to Desmond long-term in the offseason. Yes, he provides power from a premium position, but he does not do much else. Desmond strikes out a lot, and does not walk. His batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage have fallen every year since his best season in 2012. He has cost the Nationals runs defensively his entire career. Without better options in the minor leagues, the Nationals may have been forced to pony up for Desmond, but the presence of Turner gives them the freedom to allow Desmond to walk.
The best option for the Nationals is to allow Desmond a few more months to figure himself out at the plate. If he has not righted the ship by the trade deadline, there is good reason to believe the Nationals will pull the plug and summon Turner. A move is also likely dependent on the Mets’ continuing to contend. If the Mets begin to fizzle out, the Nationals may be more willing to ride Desmond out. A sure sign that a move could be coming would be a quick promotion to Triple-A for Turner. If that happens, it may only be a quick stop before the big jump to the Major Leagues and the starting lineup for Trea Turner.