Ian Desmond has been a big part of the Washington Nationals’ success this season. The highly-criticized shortstop has found his power stroke, slugging 17 home runs already. But after struggling with an oblique injury for a few weeks, Desmond was finally put on the disabled list. With Desmond out, the Nationals will have to shift some players around to compensate for the loss. Their tinkering could have a strong impact on some fantasy players.
The main beneficiary of the move is Danny Espinosa. Espinosa has struggled this season, hitting just .244/.315/.391 thus far, but he’s shown some very small improvements recently. With Desmond out, Espinosa will become the full-time shortstop for the Nationals. He’s already played six games there while Desmond missed time, so he should get eligibility at shortstop in most leagues very soon. Espinosa still hasn’t been a strong offensive player this season, but moving to short does give him some added value. If you recently lost Jed Lowrie — or Desmond — Espinosa could be a solid fill-in until your regular shortstop gets healthy.
The boost in value couldn’t come at a better time for Espinosa. After really struggling through the first two months of the season, he’s slowly starting to hit. While his .236/.296/.358 line in June is hardly impressive, he was able to cut his strikeout rate back to 22.6%. Through the first two months of the year, Espinosa was striking out nearly 30% of the time. He’s been a complete hacker in July, but he’s finally shown some signs of life. He’s still unlikely to hit above .250, and he doesn’t really walk enough to compensate for the lack of average, so he’ll need to see his power come back if he’s going to be anything more than an injury replacement. Still, he’ll make for a nice option on your bench if you need help in the middle infield. And since those two spots are some of the weakest in fantasy baseball, Espinosa becomes a useful piece.
Steve Lombardozzi should take over at second base. Lombardozzi entered the season with second base eligibility in most leagues, so he doesn’t gain anything other than playing time with the move. Unfortunately, Lombardozzi won’t offer much help in fantasy leagues. He’s capable of hitting for a decent average, but offers no help with walks or power. He’s unlikely to do much with the extra playing time, and probably shouldn’t be used as an injury replacement unless you are really desperate. There are going to be other players on the wire that contribute in more categories than Lombardozzi.
Desmond will rest for two weeks before trying to make a comeback. Oblique injuries are tough, however. Desmond’s teammate, Mark DeRosa, missed 50 games earlier this season with a similar injury. But Desmond is younger, and was already playing through the injury, so perhaps he could return sooner. Clearly, he has a high tolerance for pain. Still, there’s a good chance he misses about a month. Players who suffer oblique injuries typically miss about 26 games according to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ senior director of medical services Stan Conte. James Wagner mentioned that study in his Washington Post article about Desmond.
It will be tough to replace Desmond’s production for 26 games, especially at such a weak position. Espinosa could be a useful fill-in, but he hasn’t proven to be a guy you want to rely on for much longer than that. The Nationals are well-equipped to deal with Desmond’s loss. Fantasy owners may have a more difficult time finding an adequate replacement.