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Rizzo talks up Espinosa amid trade rumors

Dec 9, 2013, 6:02 PM EDT

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Danny Espinosa’s future with the Nationals has been in question since the struggling second baseman was demoted last summer and never returned to the big-league roster.

But would the Nats prefer to trade Espinosa now, despite his relatively low value, or do they still believe he can play an important role on the club moving forward?

General manager Mike Rizzo talked up Espinosa on Monday during his first media session of the Winter Meetings, this only minutes before Yahoo! Sports reported the Nationals are “shopping” the 26-year-old infielder.

Upon trading away utilityman Steve Lombardozzi as part of last week’s acquisition of right-hander Doug Fister, Rizzo said Espinosa would come to spring training and compete for a roster spot, potentially as a backup at both second base and shortstop.

Rizzo expanded on that Monday, suggesting Espinosa could also back up Ryan Zimmerman at third base.

“I think Danny Espinosa could go and play third base extremely well,” Rizzo said. “A guy who can play shortstop the way he plays shortstop, and a guy who can play second base the way he plays second, I have all the confidence in the world that he can go to third and handle the position defensively.”

Originally drafted and developed as a shortstop, Espinosa switched to second base shortly before making his big-league debut in Sept. 2010, with Ian Desmond already entrenched on the left side of the infield. He remains a gifted defensive player at either position and could find his ticket back to the majors as a backup at all three infield spots.

If the season began today, Espinosa likely would make the club over Zach Walters and back up Desmond, Zimmerman and second baseman Anthony Rendon. The Nationals still may sign a veteran who could come into camp and compete for the job, but Rizzo appears to like the idea of Espinosa making the roster.

Which isn’t to suggest Rizzo wouldn’t deal Espinosa if the right offer was made.

“You can never be close-minded about a trade,” the GM said, speaking generically, not about any specific player. “Teams ask for different guys all the time. We’re open-minded, and we certainly listen to all ideas and weigh all options. If something makes sense for us, we’re certainly not afraid to make a trade.”

  1. Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:13 PM

    That fills in a lot Mark on Espi with 3rd and what I hoped. Glad you got that quote.

  2. Mcross - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:26 PM

    I don’t mind him competing for the backup infield job with a late signed veteran not would I be heart broken if Rizo traded him for a decent minor league player of decent value. Just don’t trade him for nothing like some people seen resigned to.

  3. Section 222 - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:30 PM

    I have no doubt that Espi could play third. He could probably play the outfield too if he had to. He certainly is faster and has a better arm than TyMo or Lombo.

    The question is, and always has been since the All Star Break of 2012, can he hit? If not, I do NOT want him on our bench. We don’t have a need for a late inning glove guy. We don’t even really need a backup third baseman since Rendon can slide over there if the utility guy can play 2nd. We need someone who can pinch hit, and play the middle infield positions adequately so that the regulars can get the days off or injury recovery time they need without sacrificing too much offense. If Desi goes the DL, ok fine, bring up Espi to play SS for two weeks. But if he has a bad toe and needs two or three games off, have someone who can really hit and can make the routine plays ready to step in.

    Lombo wasn’t great, but he delivered key singles or sac flies in high leverage situations where Espi would have struck out. That’s the difference.

    • NatsLady - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:48 PM

      Danny was worth -.6 WAR, Lombo was worth -.7 WAR, so I’d say it was a wash. Same for WPA (win probability -added). Danny -1.16, Lombo -1.18.

      In 118 games, Lombo had 3 sac flies. In 44 games, Danny had 1.
      Danny had 12 RBI, Lombo had 22 (in almost three times as many games).

      Danny’s batting average was damaged not only by his strikeouts, but also by a .202 BABIP, which is freakishly low, especially for a speedy guy. Lombo’s was a more normal .284.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=8&season=2013&month=0&season1=2013&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=9219,5422

      From a contribution standpoint, they were exactly the same player except–Danny was injured and Lombo wasn’t. Lombo is unlikely to improve, whereas Danny can, if he has rested and healed over the off=season, and if he adjusts his approach.

      • Section 222 - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:56 PM

        That was an impressively quick, and pretty convincing rebuttal to my tangential point that Lombo was better because he made contact when it counted rather than strike out. Of course, Lombo was a lousy bench player too, so it doesn’t really address my main point which is that we need hitters on our bench, not brilliant fielders. If Espi heals and improves, I will welcome him back. But if he is still a K machine who plays great defense, no thanks.

      • JamesFan - Dec 9, 2013 at 7:06 PM

        Lombo made things happen. Danny didn’t. Danny was an attitude case; Lombo wasn’t.

      • cayucosbaseballconservancy - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:54 PM

        Probably because Espinosa still is one of the best athletes and one of the most talented of all the players in the National’s inventory bar none when he is injury free. Positional value of 0.8 compared to Lombo’s -0.2. The guy could play CF if he had to not just third base. But its at shortstop and second up the middle that creates his value. That and the fact that he still is only 26.

  4. David Proctor - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:39 PM

    The thing is: Espinosa doesn’t have to hit a lot to be valuable. He has to hit better than he did in 2013, obviously. But in 2011, he hit .236 and was worth 3.2 WAR. In 2012, he hit .247 and was worth 3.4 WAR.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:43 PM

      Exactly. And, as I tried to post on the previous thread, one way for him to reinvent himself and add value (both to the Nats and to his personal future in baseball) is go the super-utility-player route. There’s no reason he couldn’t play 2B, 3B, and SS, and perhaps even be available to play the OF. Do that (i.e., get some reps in at those positions) and with his defense and is arm he becomes an asset to any team so long as his hitting isn’t an albatross around his neck (which it was, of course, last season).

      • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:46 PM

        Correction: ‘his’ arm.

    • Section 222 - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:51 PM

      I assume you mean to be valuable to another team where he can start. Correct me if I’m wrong, but WAR is a cumulative stat. So he’s not a 3.2 WAR player for us if he gets 200 ABs, many of which will be PH ABs, so he doesn’t won’t play the field enough for his defense to increase his value.

      But fine, if he can hit like he did in 2011 or 2012 (at least before his shoulder injury), I’d be ok with him on the bench. So far, we’ve seen nothing to suggest he can, nor do I think a good ST will be proof enough. Let him start at Syracuse and tear up the league. Then I’ll be convinced he can help us.

      • David Proctor - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:54 PM

        Correct, but even if you adjust for his playing time (say he gets 200 ABs), he’s still a 1 win player. For a bench player, that’s quite good.

  5. Faraz Shaikh - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:54 PM

    Why the [insert your favorite word] he has not fixed his arm is beyond me? It may not solve his hitting issues or anything else but broken piece has less value.

    • NatsLady - Dec 9, 2013 at 7:00 PM

      His arm? His wrist or his shoulder? I assume his wrist healed over time.

      There was a detailed article in the Washington Post a few weeks ago about treating torn rotator cuffs. The decision is complicated and it’s not at all clear Danny, Rizzo, and Boras made the wrong one.

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

      • Hiram Hover - Dec 9, 2013 at 7:22 PM

        My take away from that article several weeks ago was that the timing is complicated, but eventually it does require surgery. There were reasons for not doing it during the season, but they didn’t give any good reason for not doing it in the off-season.

        It would heal him physically, and maybe hit the psychic reset button as well.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Dec 9, 2013 at 7:41 PM

        I meant shoulder. thanks for the link.

  6. David Proctor - Dec 9, 2013 at 7:08 PM

    New post.

  7. dgourds - Dec 9, 2013 at 7:10 PM

    Nobody, and I mean nobody was more negative about Espinosa than I was last year. The guy was me first–lying about his injury to keep his spot on the team and refusing to get fixed. But he is a special infielder and could probably play 2b, ss and 3rd better than the starters. I think we do have a need for that kind of defensive player. If he heals and improves his hitting, it’s a huge bonus. His trade value is so low right now, why get rid of him. Walters will have to light it up this Spring to beat him out imo.

    • natsjackinfl - Dec 9, 2013 at 7:22 PM

      Wait a minute. You mean you were more negative than my “Espinosa stinks” chant?

      • dgourds - Dec 9, 2013 at 8:24 PM

        I was the guy drowning you out with my ” Espinosa #&5!ing sucks and should be demoted to rookie league” chant last year.

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