New infield configuration shaping up; Trade is still possible

Walk tall and carry a big stick; Photo by Lynn G. for TalkNats

From a source, general manager Mike Rizzo will have Asdrubal Cabrera and Howie Kendrick as key pieces in the infield and as designated hitters as of now. Manager Dave Martinez sees Carter Kieboom as his starting third baseman, Trea Turner at shortstop, Starlin Castro at second base and Eric Thames at first base.

“As of right now, yeah,” Martinez said about Kieboom taking third base. “I anticipate in a 60-game season that he’s going to go out there and play every day.”

Out of that starting infield group, only Thames hits from the left-side. What Asdrubal gives the Nats is a switch-hitting bat to bulk up more symmetry in the lineup with the only other lefties of Thames, Juan Soto and Adam Eaton.

The caveat is that Mike Rizzo will continue to look for trade acquisitions and even the free agent market to patch some holes.

“We’ve got a lot of different options,” Martinez said. “We’re excited about getting these guys out there and playing. We’ll keep an open mind, but I think we’ll be in good shape with the guys we’ve got.”

The teams biggest concern, beyond staying healthy, is who will be the fifth starter after Joe Ross opted-out? It appears that Austin Voth and Erick Fedde will compete for that spot.

“Right now, we’re focusing on using a 5-man rotation,” Martinez said on Friday. “As we get going, we’ll see where we’re at. Without Joe Ross, we feel like we have two guys that can fill in with Fedde and Voth. We also got some younger guys in camp that we’re going to take a look at.”

“But, I got a lot of confidence in both those guys to come in here and win the 5th starter’s job — looking forward to watching them throughout the [summer training camp]. I don’t want to put a burden on our guys to think they got to go out there and pitch after every four days. Who knows what will happen at the end of the season. Right now, my focus is just let them go with a 5-man rotation.”

With Ryan Zimmerman and Adrian Sanchez gone for the season, Wilmer Difo is almost now assured a bench spot. While that is not big news, Difo in Spring Training 1.0 was not looking like a “sure thing” to make the 2020 roster in March. Another player in the mix for a bench spot is non-roster invitee, Emilio Bonifacio.

As far as Kieboom starting at third base, he has been a shortstop in the minors with only 10 games at third base, and back in Spring Training in February and March he had 14 additional games at the hot corner. The 22-year-old was charged with 3 fielding errors and it certainly could have been one or two more if not for the official scorer’s discretion.

“The biggest thing for him, obviously, was his defense,” Martinez said of Kieboom. “We feel like he’s going to hit here. When he left, we talked to him about his footwork. He really honed in on his footwork and getting his feet turned to where he was going to throw it at all times. … I’m looking forward to getting him back out here and getting him in the group and getting him ready.”

The game moves faster on the left side of the infield diamond. They call it the hot corner for a reason. Rizzo and Martinez have other options at third base, but Asdrubal Cabrera fits better in plug-and-play where needed in any particular game and same with Kendrick. Starlin Castro is another possibility to shift to third where he played last year. For now, it is Kieboom’s job to keep.

“There’s a game, and then there’s practice,” Kieboom said in Spring Training. “You have a hitter versus you have a coach hitting you the fungo. … The balls off the bat are different. You’re put in a situation where you’re having to make different plays than you ever have to make in practice. … It’s just different reads, it’s different judgments, it’s game speed.”

While the focus might shift to third base, the fifth starter, and the DH, the health and safety concerns must be adhered to. We learned today that Freddie Freeman is very sick with COVID-19 and his start to the 2020 season which is less than three weeks away is in jeopardy.

On the safety front, Angels manager Joe Maddon stepped up to the mics after his team’s practice and had some very philosophical words on COVID:

“Every organization really needs to tighten up their bubble,’’ Maddon says, “and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re asking [players] to be the best version of yourself and be the best teammate you’ve ever been in your life. We need you to follow the protocols and for you to be the best teammate ever.’’

“Everybody’s talking about high-risk and those kinds of individuals opting-out. To me the person that SHOULD opt-out is the person who does not want to follow the protocols to a T at any age, at any risk. That hasn’t been promoted enough.

“If you in your heart of hearts don’t believe you could do all of this stuff, the way we need you to do all of this stuff, you’re the person who should opt-out.’’

Yesterday, Nats G.M. Mike Rizzo gave his thoughts on opt-outs, courage, and the easy way out.

I don’t necessarily agree with him as reliever Sean Doolittle was a player who is still in camp and made a very tough decision to stay and distance himself from his wife for the foreseeable future as she does not have fully functioning lungs. That is courageous in my book.

The thing is — all the best laid plans of mice and men can be screwed in an instant. There are no guarantees on much during a pandemic as we have learned. Stay safe out there.


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