Any time a team makes a major deal for a big-name player, the first thought that comes to a fan’s mind is, “who did my favorite team give up?” So, when the Washington Nationals acquired Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers early last week, it was easy to fear the loss of some key players, whether they were on Washington’s roster or in their farm system.
The Tigers had a lot of bullpen problems in 2013, as well as some issues with their backstop, so the first few names that came to mind in a possible deal were Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen or Rafael Soriano. Clippard and Storen are both starting to become pricey through baseball’s arbitration system, and with the unpredictability of relievers, it would be easy to see GM Mike Rizzo try to sell high on either of them, as both are still relatively young.
That was surprisingly not the case, as Detroit allowed one of the top-10 pitchers the last three years go to Washington for reliever Ian Krol, pitching prospect Robbie Ray and utility man Steve Lombardozzi, which is pretty much the equivalent of a bucket of baseballs.
Surprisingly, and somewhat hilariously, it was Lombardozzi that caused something of an uproar among Nationals fans. He has grown into a fan favorite, coming off the bench and always managing to get on base somehow, and his mild versatility will certainly be missed on this team.
A second baseman by trade, Lombardozzi was seen as the second baseman of the future to those who were not completely sold on Danny Espinosa. Lombardozzi came up in 2011 and batted .194 in 13 games as a September call-up. In 2012, Lombardozzi was a godsend during Washington’s 98-win campaign, finishing with a .273/.317/.354, hitting adequately and playing average defense wherever he was played, as well as being a piece of one of the best benches in 2012.
2013 was a far cry from 2012 for Lombardozzi and Washington, as the team finished with 12 less wins than 2012 with 86 and missed the playoffs. Lombardozzi also took a step back, posting a .259/.278/.338 slash line, as well as once again being passed over for the everyday second base job in favor of Anthony Rendon.
Lombardozzi again, however, proved his value as a utility player, playing all over the diamond and making some nice plays at third and second. Lombardozzi was perceived as a key element to the Nationals’ 2014 bench, but will now probably back up Ian Kinsler in Detroit.
As we know, fan is short for the term “fanatic,” and most fans are, for the most part, unrealistic in their thought processes. As previously mentioned, many fans were very upset to hear of the loss of the player they affectionately called “Lombo.” He is, after all, the prototypical lunch pail player: he shows up, he does his job and he goes home. He does not do anything on the diamond spectacularly; he does not play sparkling defense, not does he mash home runs all over the yard.
Lombardozzi is a dink-and-dunk slap-hitter who will run into one every so often, but for the most part is a player whose game is relegated on speed and grit. He’s a great kind of player to have on your roster, but, come on, let’s be realistic here: he’s not an x-factor for the Nationals, and was more than expendable as a player.
Sure, grit is great, since Lombardozzi works counts, gets on base and steals every so often. But when there is the potential to improve your infield defense as well as improve your off the bench power in Espinosa, who is going to be given every opportunity to make the Nationals roster, there is no reason not to make that move.
There is a Lombardozzi on every team, but there is not an Espinosa on every team. To say that a guy like Lombardozzi is irreplaceable because he is a gritty player is complete lunacy, because his skill set is completely replaceable.
Lombardozzi is a nice player; he is gritty, a hard worker and an old-fashioned grinder. But he’s no Espinosa. Nationals fans, please listen to reason.