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Posted at 4:36 PM ET, 02/20/2011

Nationals need Alberto Gonzalez to accept his role

By Adam Kilgore

Alberto Gonzalez's chances to make the Nationals' roster this spring may have more to do with his attitude than his ability. Manager Jim Riggleman could tell that a lack of playing time among a crowded middle-infield situation rankled Gonzalez last year, and this year, Riggleman said, he needs to accept that role in order to secure a spot on the team.

"When you're a young guy, you feel that those days of being a utility player come later in your career, not now," Riggleman said. "That's what we had for Alberto last year. That's what we anticipate having for him this year. It's a role that he's got to get comfortable with."

Gonzalez will compete with Alex Cora, who was signed to a minor-league deal this offseason, for the utility infield spot. (Riggleman also mentioned Brian Bixler, but he seems to be a long shot.) Or the Nationals could potentially go with Matt Stairs as a power bat off the bench and use Jerry Hairston as a middle infielder. Either way, the Nationals want to avoid the logjam they had last year at middle infield.

As Riggleman tried to split playing time between Ian Desmond, Adam Kennedy, Cristian Guzman, Gonzalez and, in September, Danny Espinosa, it created a difficult atmosphere. Kennedy was upset with his role, as was Gonzalez.

"I think it was bothersome to him last year, his playing time," Riggleman said. "Obviously, it was bothersome. We had four middle infielders last year. It really was not a good scenario for us to be the most productive. Willie Harris could play second base. We had a lot of guys who could play the middle infield. Too many of those guys ended up on the bench, not seeing any daylight. They're going, 'What am I doing?' We can't have that."

gonzalez dp.jpg

Gonzalez has the skills to be a valuable contributor. One National League scout last year called him the best defensive utility infielder in baseball. At the end of the season, when Ryan Zimmerman missed the final 10 games with an injury, Gonzalez substituted and played "Gold Glove defense," Riggleman said.

Even then, though, his displeasure with his role bubbled up. He went 6 for 38 with a double and no walks during his stint as the starter, possibly an effect from his stewing rather than staying ready.

"We had a lot of conversations last year," Riggleman said. "I know his feelings about it. He knows my feelings about it. The playing time just wasn't there. You never know when that opportunity is going to arise. I think it bothered him to the point where he really got down about the whole season. The last 10 days of the season, he played Gold Glove third base for us. But he wasn't ready to hit. The feeling he had about how miserable the season was for him personally, I think it took him three or four days to get back in the swing of things offensively."

By Adam Kilgore  | February 20, 2011; 4:36 PM ET
 
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Next: Mike Rizzo on the effects of the Nationals' offseason

Comments

WOW, sounds like the general is being sent a very public message. And wasn't he the last to appear for ST beyond Cora, HRod, and ERamirez?

Posted by: periculum | February 20, 2011 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Re: Last post--was very surprised to see Adam comment in response to a post, among other things saying he wanted to interact more with NJ'ers "if that's alright with everyone." Yeah, that would be great!

Posted by: NatsFly | February 20, 2011 5:17 PM | Report abuse

If he has options maybe he could play full time in Syracuse unless he was needed due to injury. Might appreciate the being in the show a little more.

Posted by: utec | February 20, 2011 5:27 PM | Report abuse

I suspect they trade Gonzo before the end of ST.

Posted by: periculum | February 20, 2011 5:28 PM | Report abuse

They should either move him now or let him play every day in Cuse, because they are not going to help the kid's career (or help the club get anything for him in trade) by having him be a 27 yr old seldom used utility player. The club is standing on its head to give Espinosa and Desmond AB's yet only having Gonzalez find the field in an emergency batting in the 8 hole or as a late inning defensive replacement. Less than 200 PA's in 114 games last year. Hard to show that you can hit when you don't get on the field consistently.

Posted by: dfh21 | February 20, 2011 8:05 PM | Report abuse

They probably brought in Cora because he would be more comfortable with being the utility guy, i think Gonzalez is a keeper but given the fact that he feels he could start ahead of either Desmond or Espinosa might make the clubhouse atmosphere a little edgy and with that being stated it might be best foe Rizzo to move Alberto.

Posted by: dargregmag | February 20, 2011 9:22 PM | Report abuse

I like Alberto, happy to have him on the team, love his glove. But when the Nats signed Hairston, Gonzo dropped another spot down the hierarchy. The only way he gets regular playing time is through injury, and now he needs two injuries, or at least 1 total fail (Espinosa) and an injury (another infielder).
Not sure trading him would do him any good. Is there an MLB team where he'd be a starter? Doubt it, but that's not to say he couldn't deliver if given the chance.

Posted by: Sunderland | February 20, 2011 10:59 PM | Report abuse

You can't send him to 'Cuse at this point. He's a good enough glove and versatile enough that he might have some trade value, but not a lot. His hitting hasn't been consistent enough, and Riggs' comments don't help build the case for him being able to come off the bench offensively.

Posted by: nats24 | February 20, 2011 11:40 PM | Report abuse

However, looking at Hardballtimes fantasy picks of top shortstops? They put Espinosa there ... and Desmond at second base?

There is going to be another trade ... you can almost smell it 900 miles away from ST 2011. Would they package AGonz along with one of those two MI. (And right now I would guess Desmond.) to an AL club for starting pitching? Along with relievers? No one knows for sure (not even Rizzo) but things seem to be moving in that direction ...

Posted by: periculum | February 20, 2011 11:46 PM | Report abuse

So, by Riggleman's speaking out about Gonzo's comfort level on the bench, he's supposed to become more comfortable? Not sure how that works, but good luck to Gonzo.

(And comment away, AK. :-)).

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 21, 2011 8:57 AM | Report abuse

1a, I don't think Riggleman means "comfortable" in a self-esteemy kind of way, more of a "you'll take a seat and like it" way.

Posted by: Section3mysofa | February 21, 2011 11:08 AM | Report abuse

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