Danny Espinosa: Inching Towards a Solution

By now everyone knows there is a problem with Danny Espinosa. Major league
baseball players don’t perform to a .212 wOBA unless there is something wrong,
and before the season Espinosa told everyone what was wrong. Sometime last
September he completely tore the rotator cuff off the bone. Instead of going
for a surgery that would have held him out until June he opted to try and
strengthen the muscles around it and play through it. It hasn’t worked, but
Danny Espinosa isn’t going to admit that it is a problem with his shoulder, and
there is a chance that their isn’t, but when a player is pulling off of
fastballs down the middle and can’t ever get the barrel to the ball there are
physical issues.

The bigger issue is the reason Espinosa
is playing through this injury. He is doing it in order to keep his job, but
instead he has played himself into a position to lose his job.  This
situation isn’t without solutions and some of them are even within the organization.

Steve
Lombardozzi hasn’t played that much better than Danny Espinosa this season and
his career and minor league numbers suggest a player that isn’t much more than
a utility infielder and not a long time solution. The Nationals aren’t looking
for a long time solution. They are looking to get production from the position
for the 2013 season or until a better solution presents itself. Lombardozzi had
a three hit day yesterday against the Padres which should earn him another
chance to play today, and whether it is in left field or at second tonight if
Lombardozzi keeps hitting he should get an extended look at second base when
Jayson Werth returns. Lombardozzi over Espinosa doesn’t help the Nats offense
much when the line-up is healthy it is replacing simply replacing the number
seven hitter.  

It may be asking the Nationals too much
to try and kill two birds with one stone by both upgrading the second base
offense and fixing the overall offense. Second basemen aren’t known for their
bats and most second basemen on second division clubs aren’t much better than
Espinosa or Lombardozzi. The three impact offensive second basemen in baseball
are Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, and Ian Kinsler. Two of those aren’t going
anywhere and the third could be moved to first or left by his team to make room
for top prospect Jurkison Profar, and a trade is going to cost something, and
while trading the future for the present isn’t always a bad idea the costs have
to be weighed and while Kinsler may be worth Goodwin, Karns, and Giolito
someone like Howie Kendrick isn’t worth Detwiler and Rendon.

That last name mentioned brings us to
another solution. It is unknown how Rendon would be defensively around the bag.
It will be worse than Espinosa and likely worse than Lombardozzi, but the
offensive upgrade should be more than enough to outweigh it. At AA this season
Rendon is hitting .350/.484/.650. If he isn’t major league ready he is
certainly ready for a higher level, at least with the bat. The big issue is
that since going back to the minors Rendon has played two games at second. It
is unknown if he is drilling at the position between games and if the issue
with him getting in game action is the Nats being cautious with him learning to
turn the double play. That is the one skill a third baseman moving to second
wouldn’t have and not being able to avoid the runner trying to break up the
double play can cause serious injury, especially to someone with a history of
lower leg injuries.

The final solution is the most baseball
solution of all, patience. It is also often the hardest solution. Danny
Espinosa is the best defensive second baseman in the system and second base is
a defensive position. Few major league players have been this bad over the
course of an entire season. 2012’s worst hitter was Drew Stubbs with a .271
wOBA, in 2011 it was Alex Rios at .267, and in 2010 it was Cesar Izturis at
.249. If Espinosa continues to produce at such a poor level he will be
replaced, but all signs point to it being close to impossible for him to
continue at this level. If he does it is because the shoulder is worse than he
expected and he is going to have to get it fixed. Once that happens the Nats
have the choice of playing Lombardozzi until Rendon is ready or a trade can be
made before the July 31 deadline or bring up Rendon and let him learn on the
fly.  

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3 comments

  1. I think Kobernus at least gets a look if/when Espi heads to the hospital (or Syracuse, same difference). Certainly his super 2 date is 2 weeks earlier so you get a free look without risking an additional payday for Rendon.I’m more and more dubious that the organization views Rendon as a legitimate option at 2B, if they ARE drilling him at 2B to get him ready then they are doing a much better job keeping the secret then they have with anything else in the past. (ok except for trades, but this is something that necessarily involves a huge number of people not locked in Rizzo’s office.)

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  2. The biggest problem isn’t second base, it’s shortstop. Lombo/Kobernus/Rendon can play second. None of them is even passable at short if Desmond gets hurt. So DL-ing him for surgery that puts him out the rest of the year means the Nats need a backup shortstop, probably on the 25-man roster. Barring a trade, I think that means Zach Walters.

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    1. Short is a bit of a problem but Lombo has played 18 major league innings at the position. He could finish out a game if needed and would be passable for a day are two if that is all it requires. If it is a 15 day or longer (fingers crossed) DL trip then a call-up can be made. It is an issue but I don’t think it is a deal breaking issue.

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