Thursday, August 18, 2005

Turning two

The word is first round draft pick Ryan Zimmerman is getting an on-the-fly organizational trial at shortstop. This straight dope comes from none other than Nats' general manager Jim Bowden:

In what will appear as a desperate move, but really shouldn't be, I have ordered our Player Development Department to begin playing June's first-round pick Ryan Zimmerman at shortstop. [. . .]
There are several reasons a GM does not want to make such a promotion, including but not limited to service time, future option restrictions, earlier eligibility to arbitration and free agency and stifling a player's development when they aren't quite ready. However, at the end of the day we are only a half game out of the wild-card race, and if bringing him up in September will help us make the postseason, then I have to do it.

Needless to say, the story is quite provocative. In just a few short hours, it has inspired much comment---some of it derisive, some of it praiseful, and much of it admittedly confused.

As for us know-thing bloggers, here's summaries of the returns from precincts of the Natosphere that have reported in at press time:

---> Capitol Punishment: Right for the wrong reasons. An amazing defensive third baseman, as Zimmerman is billed, can handle shortstop adequately. His bat could carry the position as it's currently filled, at least. But the move shouldn't be done in mid-August.

---> Nasty Nats: No problem with Zimmerman switching to shortstop in principle. If it worked for Ripken . . . ; in addition, an anonymous scout projected him as a big league shortstop. But it smacks of desperation and a cyncial CYA maneuver by Bodes.

---> Nationals Farm Report: Calculated risk; Zimmerman did play a game or two at short in college, and the coach liked him there. Defense might not be a problem, but Zimmerman isn't ready offensively, especially concerning plate discipline.

---> Nationals Interest: Bodes is taking a tremendous risk for his own short-term interests; he's setting up Zimmerman for failure to cover up for an inability to provide for a shortstop alternative to Cristian Guzman.

I'm sure there will be opinions to follow.

My take is that this won't happen; Zimmerman won't start a single game at shortstop this season for the Washington Nationals. The whole story sounds like one of Jim Bowden's grandiose chimeras, if you ask me. It's little different than Brandon Watson representing that speed demon the team needs to turn the corner. That vision lasted all of four games.

I don't even think Zimmerman-to-short will last that long---not because Dutch can't pick it there, mind you. I've never seen the guy play, and I'm no scout, either. But I see no reason to doubt the opinions of those---including one actual scout, at least---who've seen him play short and claim he can handle it at the highest level. Even granting that, I still doubt Bowden's directive will be realized at the big league level. It's a rushed plan, a back-covering plan, one derived in a hasty sweat. Too many things can happen in the meantime to thwart it:

---> Guzman could "start hitting" again and, for the thousandth time, convince the team that he's about to turn the corner.
---> Guzman could continue as he is but solidify his defense again, thus convincing the team to stick with a veteran in (hopefully) a playoff race.
---> Jamey Carroll could get some starts, play well, and claim the starting job the rest of the season.
---> Zimmerman could make two errors tonight at short, thus ending the experiment.
---> Zimmerman could slump offensively and give the team pause that he's this ready to contribute in the majors.
---> Someone could persuade Bodes that this scrawled-in-the-sand plan is a bit nutty.

I will say that it's a shame Zimmerman can't play both third and short simultaneously; otherwise, Dutch could ride in on his white horse and rescue the Nats from the atrophy of Vinny Castilla and the atrociousness of Cristian Guzman, thus enabling Jim Bowden to claim credit for drafting the savior to the problems he would never admit he caused.

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