The Milwaukee Brewers have stolen all the Washington Nationals’ left-handed relievers. After the Nationals non-tendered Tom Gorzelanny last month, Milwaukee signed him to a two-year deal. On Friday, after weeks during which Washington seemed the leading candidate for the services of Mike Gonzalez, the Brewers nabbed him instead. Sean Burnett (a 2012 Nationals stalwart) is now an Angel. Randy Choate landed in St. Louis. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo needs a left-handed reliever, and he needs one yesterday.

Enter the Chicago Cubs. They just signed Hisanori Takahashi to a minor-league deal; have signed so many starters that Travis Wood seems sure to be relegated to relief; and have marginal lefty starters Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley if they really need a lefty to fill out the bullpen. Yet, they also have James Russell, son of ex-Major Leaguer Jeff, a big, smart southpaw who has held lefty batters to a .306 career wOBA (think on the scale of on-base percentage, but wOBA properly weights the run values of every offensive event).

The Cubs also have a glut of utility infielders in the organization, led by incumbent starting second baseman Darwin Barney, but not one sure-fire, bona fide starting second baseman for a good team down the line.

I think you see where I’m going here.

The Nationals have a backup second baseman right now. Wrap your mind around that. A back-up second baseman in 2013 is a vestigial apparatus. At best, it adds a pound or two of dead weight to a healthy roster. At worst, it attacks like an overripe appendix. The Nationals’ appendix is Steve Lombardozzi. Yes, technically, it’s Steve Lombardozzi, Jr., son of former big-leaguer Steve Lombardozzi. Steve the Younger was a college draftee in 2008, made his way up the chain quickly and got 426 plate appearances as a utility guy for Washington last year, playing second base, left field and a few games at each position on the left side of the infield.

Prior to that, he compiled a .298/.369/.411 in 2,001 minor-league plate appearances through 2011. He turned 24 in September. He’s certainly promising. Unfortunately, he’s stuck, because Danny Espinosa (in addition to hitting for power) is a marvelous defensive second baseman, and isn’t going anywhere. Worse, Lombardozzi isn’t a utility infielder, not really. He pretty much has to play second base. He’s a poor shortstop. In the modern game, with bullpen expansion shortening benches across the league, Lombardozzi isn’t much use if he doesn’t hit enough to play every day, and on this team, he won’t play every day. He’s good enough to be the everyday guy elsewhere, but not in Washington.

Meanwhile, Barney is a true utility player. He’s a sparkling defender, the Fielding Bible Award winner at second in 2012, more than capable of sticking at short if he had to do so. He’s far from the hitter Lombardozzi is. In addition to his .298 OBP in 2012, we have a .287/.335/.376 batting line in over 1,700 minor-league plate appearances to support that conclusion. He’s also 27. Again, though, he’s a good enough fielder to have more value off the bench.

Russell and Barney would complete the puzzle for the Nats. They could add to the bullpen if they wanted, but with this trade, they would enter 2013 with the following 25-man roster:

Lineup
1. Denard Span CF
2. Jayson Werth RF
3. Bryce Harper LF
4. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
5. Adam LaRoche (probably) 1B
6. Ian Desmond SS
7. Wilson Ramos C
8. Danny Espinosa 2B

Rotation
1. Stephen Strasburg
2. Gio Gonzalez
3. Jordan Zimmermann
4. Dan Haren
5. Ross Detwiler

Bullpen
1. Drew Storen
2. Tyler Clippard
3. Craig Stammen
4. Henry Rodriguez
5. James Russell
6. Ryan Mattheus

Bench
1. Kurt Suzuki C
2. Darwin Barney IF
3. Tyler Moore IF
4. Roger Bernadina OF
5. Chad Tracy IF
6. Mike Morse BAT

Meanwhile, the Cubs would get a switch-hitter with real offensive ability who can settle in at second base for them. They could easily fade the loss of a lefty specialist and a fringe infield talent, but those players (perhaps perversely) would put a capstone on the Nats’ already-impressive 2013 roster. It probably won’t happen, but it says here that it should.

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