Jamey Carroll is back. I wrote a little bit about him during the "WHY DID THE NATS TRADE LOMBO!!!" period of the internet highlighting the fact that as a ball player Jamey Carroll was better than Steve Lombardozzi. Of course I meant that in an overall career arc kind of way. Who would I rather have for 2014 is the more important question and I'm not sure how to answer that.
Carroll turned himself into a better player than he started out as. He could never really hit, but early on he was a mediocre fielder, too. However, by the time 2005 came around, he had turned himself into a pretty decent glove man in the middle infield. Fair range at second with sure hands. That gave him some time to figure out hitting and he kind of did. Nothing great obviously, but he made enough solid contact and was patient enough at the plate that if the BABIP gods were smiling on him he'd have a decent year.
But with a limited skill set eventually things would have to fall apart and in 2012 they did. He stopped hitting anything into the air (flyball percentage was at 18.9% in 2013) and given the BABIP crash (.332 -> .306 -> .253 last three seasons) I imagine stopped hitting anything hard. He ended up with a .211 / .267 / .251 line last year. Given that he turns 40 in February I doubt this is a reversible trend. Seeing his walk rate plummet and the K-rate go up, pitchers are not at all afraid of him. That walk rate was part of what was keeping him decent. This is a career that's over.
The flip side of this is that Lombo has not shown himself to be the fielder Jamey was and is only getting worse at the plate. Lombo does not walk at all meaning if he can't hit singles, he's garbage. He has two things going for him though. He's 14 years younger (14!) and he shouldn't have the combination of a GM who refused to accept he had put together a terrible bench and a manager who decided the best play was to use him in the OF. That killed his defensive worth to the team. Play him just at second, hope you get BABIP lucky or maybe get his career year.
So who'd I'd rather have in 2014? I guess I'd say Lombo. They are both likely to be terrible, but the odds on your Lombo lottery ticket are better than the one on your Jamey one. Used correctly as the last man on your bench Lombo can have some value. Of course this is a moot point because Lombo wasn't dealt for Jamey, he was dealt in part for Doug Fister and you do that deal every time it's offered to you assuming you can see the deal to sign through your tears of joy.
Mike Fontenot? Well on the plus side he did guest star on what might have been the most harmless show of all time "My Boys". That show helped Jim Gaffigan get a little more attention and it had the guy from Veep, so kudos for that. Oh, as a player? About the same as Carroll and Lombo. He's probably more reliable in the field than either of those guys and he's a lefty bat, but he strikes out a ton for a guy who is giving you mediocre pop at best. He's didn't hit so well in AAA last year.
Anyone of these guys could be acceptable as the last guy on the bench. Great. Problem is that would also describe Danny Espinosa or Tyler Moore and possibly Scott Hairston after last year. That wouldn't even cut is as a description for Solano who is worse than that. Setting up a decent bench can be hard work. If you don't luck into having a young guy who can play just waiting his turn, you have to get a couple of borderline starters and fill the rest with guys who you can count on for certain non-overlapping roles. Here is what the Nats have : One borderline starter in McLouth, one guy who can be relied on to possibly hit a homer (but nothing else) against a lefty in Scott Hairston, and one guy who can relied on to be a plus fielder in Danny Espinosa. Solano is a nothing, a guy that can catch without looking terrible at it. Moore has proven reliable at nothing.
There still are gaps. The Nats have no second lefty bat, no good fielding OF, no one that can be relied on to get on base, no decent corner infielder. Carroll and Fontenot are not great fill-ins. Work harder, Rizzo!