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Adam Kennedy's rough season and Jim Riggleman's regret

It's pretty easy for Adam Kennedy to summarize his first, and most likely only, season with the Nationals. "Not very fun," he said. "I know that."

Kennedy started barely half of the Nationals' games. Discounting 2007, when Kennedy missed more than a month on the disabled list, Kennedy set career-lows in batting average (.250), on-base percentage (.322) and slugging percentage (.329). He had never played on a team that won fewer than 75 games; the Nationals will win 70 at best.

"You're not really an everyday player," Kennedy said. "Your team's not winning. It's two bad ends of the spectrum."

Late this winter, Kennedy signed a one-year contract with a team option for a second season. Kennedy has not spoken with General Manager Mike Rizzo about his future and expressed uncertainty about 2011 - "I have no idea," Kennedy said.

But it would come as a huge surprise if Kennedy returns next season. The Nationals have Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa in place up the middle, and Manager Jim Riggleman said today he would feel comfortable next season with only Alberto Gonzalez as a utility infield backup.

"Alberto certainly could be the guy in the middle there," Riggleman said. "If we're carrying two extra middle infielders, and Espinosa can go over and play short if Desi needed a day off, that second middle infielder is just probably never going to play."

This year, Kennedy ran into that kind of playing-time crunch, one that Riggleman blames himself for. On May 23, Cristian Guzman was hitting .345, and Riggleman could not justify not playing Guzman. The victim was Kennedy, and when Guzman cooled off and Riggleman wanted to move back to a rotation in the middle infield, Kennedy had gathered rust.

"The one regret I have of the season is I kind of fell into the trap of how hot Guzman was early in the year," Riggleman said. "I sat Kennedy quite a bit there. When I back to Kennedy to get him more involved, Kennedy was rusty. It took him a little while to get it going again. That whole thing didn't work."

By Adam Kilgore  | October 2, 2010; 12:23 PM ET
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What a load of BS...Kennedy dogged it many times this year...he booted tons of balls in the field and jogged down to 1B on balls hit on the ground and even into DB's. Just crap to say he was rusty or that it is anyone's fault but his own. He will be out of baseball like Harris by June 2011.

Posted by: JayBeee | October 2, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Rizzo might want to keep his options open - If Espinosa goes into Spring Training & hits .180, what are his internal options? AGonz or maybe Lombardozzi.

You should always have a backup plan, but Rizzo seems to often be working without one, outside of hope & prayers (ex. the RF snafu this year with Dukes, or Marquis & Livo as SP's).

Posted by: BinM | October 2, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

The Nats might as well show Adam Kennedy the door because he would be once again gathering rust in 2011 behind Danny Espinosa.

Posted by: 4U2Know | October 2, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Funny, because the "Dukes Snafu" has worked out to the Nats benefit in the long run... Dukes hasn't re-surfaced in professional baseball all year, and who knows if he ever will again... the guy everyone was clamoring for, Jermaine Dye, didn't show his face in professional baseball in 2010, either...

meanwhile, Michael Morse has become the everyday RF and has taken off... I realize that wasn't the plan, really, because if it was Morse would have been the starting RF out of spring training... but, that is one thing that actually worked out real well for the Nats this year...

As for Kennedy, uhhh... I don't think the problem is that he didn't get enough at bats... the problem is he got too many at bats! It would always crack me up when he would steal a base... yes, he has good SB numbers, a good success rate at stealing for a part time guy... but, to me, it seemed like he was always stealing bases when the score was like 8 to 2 in the 8th inning and no one gave a crap... wasn't like he was stealing that base in the bottom of the 9th in a 3 to 2 game...

Agreed having a backup plan in 2011 at 2b going into spring training would be wise just in case Espinosa doesn't hit... but, I am ok with him being the default starting 2b guy going into next year... he is a plus in the field, he can move over to SS if needed, he can run the bases, he has great power for a middle infielder... biggest fault I see with him right now is his patience at the plate, and hopefully that will come... and you gotta love his energy on the field, that is something sorely lacking with a lot of the Nats players over the last, oh, 5 or so years... my gut feeling is he is the kind of guy that wants to win and will do what it takes to try and make that happen as much as possible...

Posted by: Ghost7 | October 2, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

The team needs to carry two backup infielders, not one. With a rookie and second year guy at 2B/SS, veteran backup players would be best. Guys who can back up three or even all four of the infield positions would be ideal. $1.5M would not be too much to pay for a versatile veteran backup guy. Adam Kennedy fits this profile, so if he is not brought back Rizzo will be faced with the need to go out and get someone else just like him. (Note that even though Kennedy has a $2M option for next year, he also has a $500K buyout. So if some other guy is signed for $1M, the net cost is $1.5M.) Given that, I expect Rizzo will give Kennedy the choice. Either they pick up his option with the understanding that he'll be a backup guy, or he takes his buyout and takes his chances on finding a starting job somewhere else.

Posted by: nunof1 | October 2, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

"Manager Jim Riggleman said today he would feel comfortable next season with only Alberto Gonzalez as a utility infield backup"

It's comments like this that scare the dickens out of me. Here's a ML manager saying he would be comfortable with going into the season next year with a middle infield comprised of a 2nd year player that led the Majors in errors even if he hit tolerably well, a rookie 2B who hasn't yet demonstrated he can hit ML pitching (and really doesn't have much experience or earth shattering success at the AAA level either) and a light hitting backup with no power at all and who tomorrow will become only the third member in 109 years of a club with 175 ABs and less than 5 RBIs. Yes, I can't see where anything could opossibly go wrong with that plan.

I wonder if the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox or Braves would consider that plan likely to succeed? I don't see them trying it any time soon. Actually, I'm wondering whether there is any thinking person on the planet that would go into a season with that combination and no backup plan. Maybe we can switch Morse over there if someone gets hurt or doesn't pan out. Oh no, we can't because he's already our everyday RF and 1B.

This team flat out needs 4 or 5 real MLB positions players to start/back up and help the young guys mature into everyday roles. Kennedy hasn't been that guy this year, but several guys like him would help. I can't believe that on back to back days the Nationals would talk about standing pat with the worst outfield and the most inexperienced middle infield in baseball. It's one thing to bet heavily on a rookie that's succeeded everywhere when you have a solid core around him, it's another to have high risk players at a third to a half of your starting positions.

Posted by: lesatcsc | October 2, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I disagree totally with your premise, Lesatcsc. Gonzalez will fill the need for a utility player since he can play all of the positions. The second back up will only find himself on the bench, gathering rust. This gives the luxury of finding a true pinch hitter who does not have a fielding position, which is what the real contending clubs have. Remember when we played the American league teams and we had that spare hitting slot--and do you recall all Riggleman had to plug into it? Kennedy or Harris both were the DH at times--ugly!

Posted by: driley | October 2, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

It didn't help in manys observations that for the 1st half of the year that Kennedy didn't want to get his jersey dirty.

He lost at least one game with poor defense and some crazy errors. He stepped up in August which was a little too late.

Seems like a nice guy so good luck to him.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | October 2, 2010 11:10 PM | Report abuse

We will have to agree to disagree then driley. I think your premise is fine if Espinosa is really ready to play 2B everyday. But what if he isn't? There's nothing in the minors to back him up and Gonzalez is definitely not an everyday player. The good teams can afford to carry a pure pinch hitter because they have established, known quantities at most, if not all, positions. The Nats have mostly question marks with potential. In that situation they don't have the luxury of carrying a guy who can only pinch hit, they have to have a plan B in case Espinosa is not ready (And lets be honest, a .216 average over 100 ABs doesn't attest to a guy who is ready to play everyday at the ML level. I would worry that if you don't have a viable alternative at 2B, they could be forced to play Esinosa there until they have so completely undermined his confidence that they've destroyed him as a prospect. There would be no shame in getting a decent middle infielder or keeping Kennedy and letting Espinosa play another half season at Syracuse. Lets bring this kid up for good when he's ready!)

Posted by: lesatcsc | October 3, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Rizzo may yet turn out to be the next coming of Walt Jocketty, however, I'd love to know why the media lets him skate while blaming everyone from Jim Bowden to Ted Lerner for the Nats' problems. Out of four significant signings last year, only Pudge has worked out at all. The only thing Kennedy has done consistently well is keep a softball-size chaw in his mouth; Marquis gave us 2-9/6.60; and, of course, there's the long forgotten Brian Bruney. Just saying...

Posted by: truke | October 3, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

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