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Royce Clayton Joins Nationals, Glut Of Infielders Paves Way For Trade To Come

[February 2nd] - To some, the signing of Royce Clayton to a minor league contract on Thursday is only "oh buy the way" news.

I see it as perhaps one of the most significant signings of the off season. I know, I know. The Nationals seem to be collecting "has been" or "never was" infielders like cord wood in the winter. But unlike Damian Jackson and Marlon Anderson, Royce Clayton has proven during his career that he has the tools to be a starter at the major league level. He has done it before. If needed, he can do it again.

If nothing else, the signing of Clayton as a free-agent makes the Tomo Ohka trade a little more palatable. Ohka, who won 12 games for the Brewers in 2005, was traded to Milwaukee for Junior Spivey, who played less than a month before going down with a season ending injury. Spivey signed with the Cardinals this winter. Though it's in a round-about fashion, Clayton has replaced Spivey who was traded for Ohka.

And Clayton, today at least, is the better player.

Clayton, 36, begins his 16th major league season. His "average" season looks like this: HITS: 133 -- 2B: 25 -- 3B: 6 -- HR: 8 -- RBI: 52 -- SB: 17 -- OBP:.313 -- SLG: 370 -- AVE: .258. Last season, with the Diamondbacks, he was even better, batting .270-2-44 with 13 stolen bases. Don't get me wrong, he isn't a great hitter, but he is a good hitter for a shortstop, and was a much better hitter last year than Cristian Guzman was.

And he's a defensive shortstop.

Cristian Guzman has a career .973 fielding mark and has averaged one error every 12 putouts. Clayton has a .974 fielding percent and makes an error once every 13 putouts. Last year, Clayton's .982 and 11 errors was 5th best in the league. Guzman, by comparison. had a .973 fielding average having made 15 errors.

So, Guzman has three more years on a $16 million dollar contract, and Royce Clayton is going to be invited to spring training with no guarantee of playing for the Nationals in any capacity come April. Make sense?

I'm surprised that Clayton wasn't signed by another team. There just isn't that many defensive shortstops who can also hit .270. I'm guessing that Clayton's age scared away the other teams. The only reason that he signed with the Nationals was because there was no one else willing to offer him the opportunity to start.

As of now, Royce Clayton is the team's best shortstop. Does Jim Bowden swallow his pride and bench Guzman, or try to trade him in a package to get rid of him? If Ian Desmond continues to improve, he might be ready for the big leagues as soon as 2007 (though 2008 will probably be more likely).

Nationals' GM Jim Bowden must be adding players in anticipation of a trade that will move either Alfonso Soriano or Jose Vidro. Perhaps Bowden is going to force a team to take Guzman as part of the package. Maybe the Matt Clement trade rumors are more fact that fancy.

If that's the case, then the Nats only need a year out of their current shortstop. That is beginning to sound more and more like Royce Clayton.

Regarding Clayton's signing being "significant," you're either very very right or really really wrong.

I'll let you know come September.
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