Presumed Plan : Ian Desmond will play shortstop. As noted in the 2nd base analysis, Lombo will likely back-up the MI positions.
Reasoning on Presumed Plan : After two seasons of disappointing both at the plate and the field Ian Desmond put everything together in 2012. His .292 / .335 / .511 line and superior defense made him an All-Star. While last season wasn't quite as good, it was still and elite year for a shortstop. He's put himself in the conversation for best shortstop in the majors. True the conversation begins with "Are there any challengers to Tulowitzki's spot at best SS in baseball?" but that's still very very good. At 28 and cheap there is really no reason to look elsewhere.
We talked about Lombo when we discussed 2nd. Same things apply. Good enough to be back-up given that he does a bunch of stuff at an average major league level.
Problems with Presumed Plan : I suppose that Desmond could regress a bit more. He did run hot and cold last year. He also packed a lot of pop into one month. (9 homers of 20 in July). He's not immune to injury, playing only 130 games in 2012.
Lombo : Again imperfect back-up if he needs to play more than a fill-in roll. I suspect it would be even worse at SS than 2B, because I think Lombo's range might be exposed. No power or patience.
My take : This was really easy wasn't it? You could be afraid Ian would regress but two straight years of good offensive and defensive production and an optimal age for 2014 make it silly to worry about. Injuries are always a concern but outside of 2012 he has played 3 full seasons as a starter. Not quite an iron man as he gets nicked and bruised here and there but close enough.
Lombo is fine if his role is limited to last guy off the bench. Basically, the CI, OF and maybe even C back-ups need to provide power and have at least one guy that would be ok playing full time, if not 2. It's probably easier to find that type of player in those positions (maybe not C) than in MI, thus why it's ok to keep the Nationals unofficial mascot.
Outside the Box Suggestion : Like we talked about with Ramos, you don't move young, cheap and good off a premium position. So the only outside the box idea is to trade. Like to the Cardinals. What!?! Make your enemy stronger? Listen, you all might hate the Cards but the truth is they are LOADED. Not just this year but in the minors. They have OFs, Ps, CIs out the wazoo who could be impact players BUT they don't have a SS. Daniel Descalso hasn't been able to get over the hump and recreate his minor leagues success. Pete Kozma makes Lombardozzi look like Eckstein at the plate. So they actually could use Desmond. And in return the Nats could get young players but players ready to contribute now. Prospects are fine, but trading Desmond for prospects 2-3 years down the road only creates a "not quite good enough team in this way" that will morph into a "not quite good enough team in that way" down the line.
So how about Desmond and junk for Matt Adams, Carlos Martinez, and Descalso? Adams gives the Nats the masher at 1st they are dying for to replace LaRoche (the Cards don't need him with Craig at 1st and options behind that). Martinez gives them a fantastic arm for the pen and possibly a future closer to help replace the will be gone Soriano, the aging Clippard (29 and closing in on FA) and the headcase Storen. (Cards smart enough to know relievers are fungible. Have Rosenthal in late innings for youth. Plenty of arms to replace). Descalso is merely a throw in that the Cards don't need anymore to give the Nats someone to play SS. No he's not very good, but he's had suspiciously low BABIP years that make me think there's a league average hitter in there. I guess if you like Greg Garcia better he could fit here.
Any other plan won't work. If the Nats try to work a three team trade and get a decent SS back, why wouldn't the Cards just kick the Nats out of the deal and get that SS for themselves for a lot cheaper? The Cardinals have a lot of SP arms but I have a hard time seeing a team trade a major league ready power hitter and a major league ready starter, even if they can afford to do it. And the Nats, like I said, don't want help later. They want help now. Plus, in a crazy lucky world, Espy could get surgery now, be back for the start of the season, hitting like he always has and playing SS as good or better than Desmond.
No, I don't endorse this plan, but you come up with a better one. No one else needs a SS and has enough decent young players to give back immediately to the Nats.