As things stand right now, the Washington Nationals are playing Ryan Zimmerman in left field everyday. That plan works for the time being because Bryce Harper is on the disabled list. Once he returns, the plan is to return Zimmerman to third base full time despite the throwing issues he has dealt with at that spot over the last few seasons.
But is that the best plan, especially for a team that has World Series aspirations and is finally starting to click? Nationals’ officials insist that Span isn’t going anywhere, but Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports thinks that is the move that the Nationals must make:
Zimmerman, in describing his move to left, has used phrases such as “refreshing” and “a new chapter.” A scout who saw him play the position on his minor-league assignment said, “It looked like the weight of the world was off his shoulders.” So, why burden him again?
In this case, there is a way out:
Trade or bench Span.
The other potential odd man out would be first baseman Adam LaRoche. The Nationals could try to move him and free up that spot for Zimmerman. That is unlikely, however, given LaRoche’s steady production this season (.299/.413/.492 thus far). For a contending team, that bat needs to stay in the lineup.
In the meantime, Span is the very definition of an average player. He is a pretty good, though not great hitter (.308 on-base percentage this season). He is a pretty good, likely overrated outfielder defensively. In the end, he is very much replaceable. He might do well as a reserve, even if he would be a well-paid one, but it seems clear that he is the guy who should be bumped from the starting lineup.
If the Nats aren’t willing to make that move, then Zimmerman will return to third base. Maybe that will work out fine, but it seems like a risky proposition. The odds of that going wrong are much higher than the odds that a decision to bench Span will backfire.