On Thursday, as the Washington Redskins swore in their new head coach, the Washington Nationals inked a pair of infielders to minor league contracts. Mike Rizzo and the Nationals agreed to terms with Mike Fontenot and Jamey Carroll and has created a little bit of infield competition come Spring Training.
Carroll, who will turn 40 years old in February, was a charter member of the Nationals when they moved to D.C. back in 2005. In 2012, Carroll played second base, third base and shortstop for the Minnesota Twins while batting a solid .268/.343/.317 slash line. However, his play at the plate dropped off in 2013 when he bat a low .211/.267/.251 slash line for the Kansas City Royals and Twins. Carroll is likely on his last leg in the MLB, so his invite to Spring Training is likely for competition purposes.
Fontenot is a much younger utility infielder at 33 years old. Originally a first round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 2001, Fontenot made his MLB debut in 2005 with the Chicago Cubs. The last time Fontenot made an appearance in the majors was with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012. In 105 plate appearances, he bat .289 with a .343 on-base percentage. He spent the 2013 season with Tampa Bay Rays‘ triple A affiliate.
Both Carroll and Fontenot have been brought in to try to replace utility man Steve Lombardozzi, who was traded to the Detroit Tigers for Doug Fister. Lombardozzi was a solid utility man for the Nationals. He played consistently average ball, but did what ever the coaches asked of him. He could play nearly every position on the diamond and he did.
Simply by looking at their ages, you can give Fontenot the advantage heading into Spring Training. However, Carroll has been in the MLB more recently and there is something to be said for that. By no means, however, can we expect either of these two to become key players for the Nationals. They are simply above average minor leaguers that could fall into a reserve role with the Nationals.
What this does create is a sense of competition in Spring Training. Once you get past Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon, there is a significant drop off in talent. By signing Carroll and Fontenot, Rizzo is sending a message to those three that their positions aren’t exactly safe and they are still subject to evaluation.
Competition in Spring Training is a great thing, as it forces players to continue to elevate their game and work harder to get better. For Rizzo, he’s doing just that and is making sure his team is ready to hit the ground running this April.