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Hot Stove League firing up earlier than usual

Nov 14, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

Associated Press Associated Press

If you’ve ventured outside the last couple of days and felt the shock of a cold, sustained wind strike your face, you know we’ve been getting a early taste of winter here in the D.C. area.

And if you’ve been following news out of the baseball world the last week or so, you also know we’ve been getting an early taste of the Hot Stove League. A surprisingly early taste.

Three free agents have already officially signed contracts with new clubs: Marlon Byrd (Phillies), Brayan Pena (Reds) and Nick Punto (Athletics). Others have engaged in advanced talks with teams and are moving closer to signing. And there have been no shortage of trade rumors circulating.

Is there anything to read into all of this? Perhaps not, but perhaps this is a sign that this offseason will be progressing more rapidly than previous ones.

The trend over the last decade has seen very little movement during November, certainly during the first half of the month. Things typically haven’t begun to heat up until after Thanksgiving and really haven’t taken off until the annual Winter Meetings in early December. Or, sometimes, not even then.

That trend could be changing somewhat this offseason. Free agency officially began five days after conclusion of the World Series, and while there hasn’t been a mad rush for players, there has been more serious discussion (and a few actual signings) already.

Perhaps the dearth of quality talent on the open market — owing in part to teams placing more emphasis on re-signing their own stars before they ever reach free agency — is putting pressure on general managers to swoop in early and get something done before they miss their chance.

So, what does this mean for the Nationals? Mike Rizzo might be wise to pare down his wish list to his top choices and make an aggressive effort to lock something down sooner rather than later, not wanting to take a chance on another club gobbling somebody up first.

That’s not to suggest Rizzo should overpay for someone. Any move still needs to be on his terms, not the player’s (re: his agent’s) terms.

But if Rizzo assumed he could just lay some basic groundwork right now and not turn serious until December, he might want to re-consider that strategy.

Shopping season may be coming earlier than anticipated this winter.

  1. David Proctor - Nov 14, 2013 at 6:14 AM

    Interesting stuff from Kilgore’s latest article:

    “Depending how the offseason unfolds, the Nationals could count a former starter among their reserves. Once a stalwart at second base, Danny Espinosa will be asked to compete in order to work his way back after a dismal offensive year and midseason demotion. Rizzo has no plans to deal Espinosa now, while his value has sunk.

    Espinosa will have a chance to challenge Anthony Rendon at second. The Nationals also need a backup behind shortstop Ian Desmond, and Espinosa’s strong defense would allow him to perform that role if the Nationals cannot find one elsewhere.

    Other teams “know about him and like him, and he’s got the ability to play shortstop, so that’s attractive to a lot of people,” Rizzo said. “People mention his name. But at this point, you’re selling low. We think too much of the player to sell after the offensive season that he had, because he’s better than that.””

    I absolutely believe that teams are legitimately interested in him because despite the vitriol he gets here for his awful 2013, he does still have the raw tools. And I find it interesting that Rizzo basically said, reading between the lines, that Espinosa would be traded if he had any value at all. It’s not worth trading him at this point–particularly with no suitable backup for Desmond

    Espinosa might “have a chance” to challenge Rendon, but let’s be real: it’s not happening. Best case scenario for Danny is a spot on the bench and I struggle to see us keeping both Lombardozzi and Espinosa when they basically fill the same role: backup infielder. Lombardozzi has proven he can pinch hit and he’s much better at making contact, so I think that gives him the edge despite Espinosa’s better defense and speed.

    I also don’t know that I want Espinosa’s attitude on the bench. I remember a lot of games he sat where he looked visibly pissed off, like he was pouting.

    In the end, I think he goes to AAA. If he hits well, he may get a callup as a bench player or traded. I just don’t see a spot for him on Opening Day though. I really wish he would figure it out though. I think 2012 Espinosa was a very valuable player, despite the strikeouts and mediocre average. He was a 3.5 win player in both 2011 and 2012, with the upside to be even better. Those don’t just grow on trees.

    • nats128 - Nov 14, 2013 at 6:34 AM

      David, is that a copy and paste of Kilgore or did you write most of that. We had a similar discussion here a few weeks ago on Espy.

      I agree he needs to show he can hit and also play some 3rd base to take Lombo’s spot. As weak as Lombo is, that shouldnt be tough however Espy’s mendoza numbers arent MLB quality. I think he needs to go to AAA and show he can hit.

      “I also don’t know that I want Espinosa’s attitude on the bench. I remember a lot of games he sat where he looked visibly pissed off, like he was pouting.”

      That is most troubling to me. I dont think his behavior is good for team chemistry.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Nov 14, 2013 at 7:38 AM

        You think Kilgore will say ‘I also don’t know that…’ ? LOL

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 14, 2013 at 8:23 AM

        Yes, I think it was last week that I wrote my thoughts on Espi that he would compete for Lombo’s job if he wasn’t traded. Of course he has to prove he can hit which is always difficult to assess in Spring Training.

        With the new re-emphasis on defense, Espi has a big advantage over Lombo especially if Espi can handle some D at the hot corner.

    • tcostant - Nov 14, 2013 at 10:16 AM

      David –

      I posted a few weeks ago where I thought this was heading and this just confirms it (with me reading between the lines).

      I think Espinosa will make the team as a backup IF who can offer defense, pinch runner and non-stress pitch hitting (until he proves he can hit; like when you pinch hit for a pitcher with the lead in the 7th more dure to pitch count).

      I also think Lombardozzi, will be trade because he has more value than Espinosa and you don’t need to bakup IF’s. I think Rizzo still thinks that Espinosa has more talent than Lombo, so it makes sence he would trade Lombo if this is the case.

  2. nats128 - Nov 14, 2013 at 6:21 AM

    http://www.sportsnet.ca/baseball/mlb/former-blue-jay-derosa-joins-mlb-network/

    DeRosa joins MLB Network. Oh well, was hoping Rizzo could coax him into coaching.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 14, 2013 at 8:57 AM

      I’m sure Rizzo tried. DeRosa is a smart and personable guy and TV will certainly work for him and I’m sure coaching is an avenue open to him in the future if he desires.

  3. nats128 - Nov 14, 2013 at 6:28 AM

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2013/11/13/scott-boras-mlb-gm-meetings-mets-cubs/3520551/

    The Boras article is to funny. Boras is trying to call out teams he thinks need to spend more by publicly naming them and I guess he thinks public embarrassment will get them to bid up his clients!

    The tactics of Boras! Theres almost no limits to this guy.

  4. ArVAFan - Nov 14, 2013 at 9:47 AM

    Completely off topic, but I found myself in Phoenix last night, and went to the Arizona Fall League game (Rafters vs. Scorpions. I would have had to miss my own speech to catch the Solar Sox playing at noon). The pitching did not impress: the score was 8-5, and I lost track of how many times they successfully stole second. Steve Piscotty, the right fielder for the Cards was impressive: he made an Ankiel-like throw to the plate to save a run. Good arm, needs some work on his routes.

    But I would recommend taking in a game if you happen to be in the area. Very family friendly. That stadium (Scottsdale) is almost a clone of the Space Coast Stadium in Viera. And the price is right: $6 or $7 for general admission.

  5. philipd763 - Nov 14, 2013 at 10:17 AM

    Shopping season seems to come earlier every year and the low hanging fruit gets taken quickly. Buying now sure beats dumpster-dipping in Jan and Feb.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 14, 2013 at 3:00 PM

      I’ve always felt that way too on the mid-priced bench guys. The high priced stars aren’t committing this early but take a Mike Morse now.

  6. Section 222 - Nov 14, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    DP, can you post the link to the Kilgore story on Espi? There’s a new post up by Wagner on his shoulder issues:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/wp/2013/11/14/on-danny-espinosas-torn-rotator-cuff/

    I will summarize my view on Espi since we had a long back and forth on this several days ago: No room for him on the 25 man unless his hitting is markedly improved this spring. I simply don’t care if we don’t have a real backup for Desi on the bench, as long as we have one in AAA in case he gets injured.

    I love how the stove is already hot. Any day could bring a big move for the Nats. Fun to watch.

  7. sjm308 - Nov 14, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    Couple of thoughts. Lets say Espinoza has a good spring hitting wise. Didn’t he hit well last year in March? How can you gamble that its different than last year? I love his defense and I actually thought if he could cut down on the strikeouts he was on his way to being a perenial all-star, but he obviously failed at that. I understand he was upset last year as things tumbled and I honestly don’t blame him for pouting and I don’t think he would bring a bad attitude into the clubhouse because I did not hear one word on that while he was here. I kind of like that he was not happy and I don’t think he was upset at anyone but himself and he probably saw the writing on the wall. So, its a tough call on Danny vs. Lombardozzi. I just have so many memories of Danny leaving a runner on 3rd with less than two outs or a runner on 2nd with no outs. I don’t have stats on that but its my memory so I don’t care if you prove me wrong. At least Lombo makes contact and actually tries to move a runner over if it is called for. So in a close call, I go with Lombo. I agree with 222 that you honestly don’t need a defensive replacement for Desmond late in the game and if he needs a day off, Rendon has the range and arm to play SS for a game. I am also assuming we keep Walters in AAA so if there is an injury (god forbid) he is my choice to play for mulitple games at SS.

    Staying with the bench, and the infield – lets say Walters cuts down on his errors this spring & shows the same pop he did last year. Do you think about him as that bench guy instead of either Lombo or Espinoza? Or, do you keep him at Syracuse, getting more innings and more experience?

    Last thought. I have never been a Boras fan but I do admire what he does for his clients. He seems to actually be feared by some front offices and he certainly has brought results for almost all of his clients. Can anyone here list a player that did not get a good contract under Boras? I am not saying those contracts are fair, but that is not his job. His job is to get the most money he can for his client and as a result more money for himself as well. I don’t like it but its what the sport has turned into. There is no loyalty to a certain team anymore.

    Go Nats

    • Jw - Nov 14, 2013 at 11:47 AM

      Rendon, Lombo and Espi are three guys all with options who will be competing for two jobs in ST. If Espi hits well, the other two guys need to hit better. As they say, these are the kind of problems you like to have.

      • sjm308 - Nov 14, 2013 at 11:53 AM

        Rendon doesn’t have to prove anything. He is a lock. I think you meant Lombo, Espi and Walters (but maybe not).

      • Jw - Nov 14, 2013 at 12:09 PM

        No. The two jobs are starting 2B and backup MI. Rendon, Lombo and Espi. If Rendon is a lock, let him prove it. That’s why they play the games.

      • Section 222 - Nov 14, 2013 at 12:56 PM

        So do Zim, Desi, and Harper have to prove they are locks too? Of course not. They will start for the Nats n Opening Day based on past performance alone. Rendon may not fall quite into that category. But I really don’t think he has to win the job, ie., have a “better spring” than Espi and Lombo in order to be our starting second baseman next year.

        Even if he did have to prove something, I have no doubt he will.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 14, 2013 at 3:07 PM

        Sorry, incumbent starters for position players are set. Rendon has a job. Espinosa can hit .400 in ST and Rizzo may trade him or still send him to AAA to make sure its real.

        I like Espi as a backup if he can play 3rd. We already know he can play SS and 2nd. Still has to hit as that is a prerequisite for any bench player except the backup catcher.

        Rizzo needs alternatives and Espi could fit in.

      • Jw - Nov 14, 2013 at 4:37 PM

        Rendon has done less at this point to deserve having the job handed to him than Espi had done in ST 2012 to deserve being given the job. A competition in spring training will be good for all concerned. If Rendon is as good as people think he is, let him show it. If Espi is truly not washed up, let him show it. No reason to be awarding the job to anyone at this point.

  8. sjm308 - Nov 14, 2013 at 11:56 AM

    One a topic that has nothing to do with any posts lately. I was putting my baseball cards from the past year into books (my add and ocd are helped by this exercise). I don’t read many of the backs but I came to a Strasburg card, #500 and the blurb had a neat stat. He is one of 3 pitchers since 1960 to have 3 games of 10+ strikouts and ZERO walks in their first 37 starts. The scary part of this is that the other two are Rick Ankiel and Mark Prior. Hope there is no omen here.

    Go Nats

  9. Doc - Nov 14, 2013 at 12:00 PM

    Nats finally have some good options for utility infielder with Danny, Zach, and Lombo.

    We know what Lombo can do, and the other two have more potential than Lombo, but it’s still only potential. Either one could/should be able to replace Lombo, Interesting ST is shaping up for those three.

    Barring injury, I don’t see Espi replacing our guy ARen–ever! Rendon puts the ball in play, Danny doesn’t.

    Eventually, Rendon’s defense will catch up to his offense. At that point the guy is an All Star.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 14, 2013 at 3:11 PM

      Doc, Walters is a butcher with a glove. He has to get outfield work and 1st base to make it. Can he improve? Maybe.

  10. Section 222 - Nov 14, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    +1 on Rendon Doc. Espi has to know he’s in a fight for a utility position, and to improve his trade value so Rizzo would consider sending him to a team that would let him play every day. Rendon is only going to get better with more experience. Despite a certain former poster’s view less than a year ago that Espi had the highest ceiling on the team (higher than Harper!), I think most of us would agree that Rendon’s future is much brighter.

  11. sjm308 - Nov 14, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    As much as I love to think outside the box and consider trades and moves to new positions, this team is really set at all 8 positions. I know LaRoche draws a lot of ire here and that Ghost wants him either traded or on the bench but I just think he will be starting at first base on opening day. That is honestly the only ? to me, so unless Rizzo pulls another surprise, which he has done each of the last few years, I think its starting pitching and the bench that will see the most movement.

    Like the others, I am expecting only improvement from Rendon and think he has the biggest upside for our position players. I am sure Williams will say all the right things about no job being safe but I just can’t see much of a competition anywhere on the field.

  12. veejh - Nov 14, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    The Espinosa experiment is over. No way he challenges Rendon for 2nd base. It will be bench players and bullpen that Rizzo will target. He may pull something on starting pitching, but not at the cost of losing Giolito or Rendon.

  13. letswin3 - Nov 14, 2013 at 3:50 PM

    I propose a question re “upside”. Rendon or Harper? Mr Harper was hitting like 400ish right before he had that unfortunate confrontation with a wall….and opening day he “leaves the confines”, twice. He may really be a beast when healthy….batting average, power numbers, runs scored, rbi’s, bases taken. And he finally started getting a clue re lefties in the final quarter of ’13. Mr Rendon is still learning pitchers, his defense will get there, and he has reason for pride in his rookie year numbers (while being rushed to the bigs). These two guys are going to make 2014 much better just by their presence, but whoa, what upside they have. Any thoughts?

    • David Proctor - Nov 14, 2013 at 3:56 PM

      You’re right. Rendon and Harper has out-of-this-world potential. I see them batting next to each other for a long time. Rendon is a perfect 2-hole hitter and Harper will be a 3-hole hitter. We might even see it that way in 2014, not sure what Matt Williams has in mind.

      Span, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Werth, Desmond, ALR, Ramos, Pitcher? Of course that keeps Ramos in the 8 spot which does him a bad disservice. But who do you move down? Or do you just go with the lineup Davey used at the end of the year with Span, Zim, Werth, Harper, Desi, Ramos, ALR, Rendon, Pitcher?

      Anyway…lots of time discuss possible lineups. The sky is the limit for Harper and Rendon.

      • David Proctor - Nov 14, 2013 at 3:58 PM

        Make that “have” in the first sentence. My grammar isn’t that bad, I promise.

    • trochlis318 - Nov 14, 2013 at 4:44 PM

      okay, technically speaking in terms of the biggest impact on the team, the highest upside has got to Ramos, simply becuase he has the biggest impact. Now between the two Rendon and Harper, its no contest imo it has to be harper. Rendon is great and could be a perennial all star but we will never talk of him having an mvp season. While Bryce can potentially have multiple mvp seasons. Now of course this is assuming that bryce improves and doesn’t stagnant offenseively. Keep in mind that Bryce had in his rookie season a 121 wRC+ or 21% above league average. And Rendon had a 100 wRC+ or a league average hitter. So really while there is great upside in Rendon i can never see him producing the 7-8 WAR season that bryce could.5 is defeinatly reachable but he would need to improve his offense and defense by quite a bit. While bryce is already sitting at 5 based on how he played his previous two seasons, assuming no injuries/missing the first month of the season for being called up. Ultimately i see Rendon as a .300-,310 with 20-25 HR and decent defense (positive but not game changing) now don’t get me wrong these are great numbers, all star numbers in fact. But Bryce has the potential to crush these numbers. I honesly can see if the chips fall right a miguel Cabara type season for Bryce in the next few years. Maybe a .350 with 40+ HR and 7-8 WAR

  14. NatsLady - Nov 14, 2013 at 4:41 PM

    Well, we now know the answer to who would get removed from the 40-man first.

    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/11/14/mauro-gomez-is-headed-to-japan/

    • David Proctor - Nov 14, 2013 at 4:41 PM

      Aww. He was a fan favorite!

      • masterfishkeeper - Nov 14, 2013 at 4:56 PM

        Mauro,

        We barely knew ye.

    • Hiram Hover - Nov 14, 2013 at 4:56 PM

      I don’t know which is bigger – the hole this leaves in the roster, or in my heart.

      • natsfan1a - Nov 15, 2013 at 8:24 AM

        Yeah, well, he was no David DeJesus. I’m just saying.

  15. Section 222 - Nov 14, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    “[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

    ― A. Bartlett Giamatti, Take Time For Paradise: Americans And Their Games

    And then Mauro leaves the country. Oh, the humanity.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 14, 2013 at 7:20 PM

      I always liked that guy.

      Bart Giamatti, I mean. I hardly knew Mauro.

      • Section 222 - Nov 14, 2013 at 11:12 PM

        I’ll break out that quote at least once an off season. It’s just too awesome not to.

  16. NatsLady - Nov 14, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    Mesa defeated Glendale and wins the AFL east Division. Mesa will face Surprise in the championship game Saturday on MLB Network.

    I believe our own Matt Purke will be the starting pitcher.

  17. Theophilus T.S. - Nov 14, 2013 at 6:46 PM

    Does anyone know how many options Purke has left? This (2014) is the last year of his ML contract, I think — which was four years. I believe there are scenarios where injuries over-ride what would have been option years. Don’t know if that has affected Purke. If they are really cornered into holding him on the MLB roster next year (2015) why don’t they consider him as bullpen fodder the way they say they will Solis?

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 14, 2013 at 7:22 PM

      I don’t recall Purke ever being called up. Correct me if I’m wrong, that’s the determining factor, not the MLB contract. Yes?

  18. Theophilus T.S. - Nov 14, 2013 at 8:04 PM

    He has a major league contract; he’s been sent down at the end of three STs. I believe each of those counts as an option.

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