With regards to the Washington Nationals right now the rumor mill is a lot hotter than the hot stove and boy is it churning out some doozies. First are the reports that Storen, Clippard, and Espinosa are all drawing interest. Mike Rizzo hasn’t denied talking about those players. He has chosen his words carefully in order to both push aside the rumors and to build up the players value. The talks of Espinosa seem to be the ones gaining the most ground with the rumor last night that Mike Rizzo and his good buddy Billy Beane have been discussing a swap of Espinosa for a lefty reliever. An underperforming position player that can play multiple positions is the perfect Oakland A’s trade target.
For the first two seasons of his career Danny Espinosa was a 3.0+ fWAR player. He played elite defense at second and could do the same at short all while displaying 20 homer power in the batter’s box. He swung and missed a lot, but this is Oakland we’re talking about and if any team is going to understand the value of a strikeout vs. any other out it is them. Espinosa’s OPS floated right around the .715 mark after his first two seasons in the majors which made him an average to above hitting second baseman (positional scarcity is also something Oakland would understand). Then came 2013 a rotator cuff injury and a wrist injury. Danny Espinosa stopped being able to hit for any power. It was painful to watch as his offense spiraled lower and lower, but a GM like Billy Beane is going to understand that sometimes good players have bad seasons and that may be what happened with Espinosa, and any time a reliever can be traded for a potential 3.0 fWAR position player then they should be.
This would be a sell low trade for the Washington Nationals, but right now Danny Espinosa is the utility infielder and while the very best of those (Martin Prado, Omar Infante, Ben Zobrist) have gone on to be very valuable for teams winning teams don’t need a great one and can survive with a pure defensive replacement level utility infielder like John McDonald. Espinosa’s value to the Washington Nationals is currently as something that can be replaced quite easily, and Oakland has something that the Nationals need very badly and can’t be found on the free agent market: an elite left handed reliever.
While there are plenty of left handed relievers on the free agent market most of them are of the specialist variety. Look at Boone Logan’s .855 OPS against right handed batters. That isn’t good and it means he should never face a right handed hitter. Having a 1/3 of an inning reliever on the team is going to create more problems than it solves. Consider the inning of Heyward, Upton, Freeman. Do you let the lefty that can’t get righties out face Upton and try for the entire inning or do you bring them in to get Heyward and then a right handed reliever for Upton and Freeman or do you hope the right hander can get Heyward and Upton out and then bring in the left hander for Freeman or do you go full Dusty Baker and have two left handers and use one reliever per out? None of these are great options and if there were some reliever that could get both left handers and right handers out and take advantage of the left handed batters negative splits then that would be ideal, and that is also the difference between a left handed reliever and a LOOGY.
Sean Doolittle is one of the players the Nats are rumored in being interested in adding, and check out these splits. Right handed batters actually hit worse against Doolittle than left handed batters and he has an OPS against left handed batters of .634. Against right handed batters that drops to .564. Sean Doolittle wouldn’t just be a match-up guy out of the bullpen he would be a second set-up man for those innings where more than one left handed hitter is scheduled to bat. The Heyward/Freeman and Utley/Howard innings are now far less of a problem because there is one reliever that can take advantage of the batter’s splits as well as get out whatever right handed hitter is stuck between them. Sean Doolittle’s left handedness would satisfy the casual fan while his awesomeness (career 1.006 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9) would satisfy the more stats inclined crowd.
The other Nationals rumor of interest also involved a left handed baseball player, but this time a batter. In Nate McLouth the Nationals have found a replacement for Roger Bernadina but they are still in need of one for Chad Tracy. Eric Chavez could be that guy. His career path is that of the typical bench player. He started out with a promising career and was even compared to MVP level players like Miguel Tejada and Alex Rodriguez but injuries derailed that, and since then he has found his role as a back-up corner infielder. His career batting line of .268/.342/.476 is starting position player quality but his injury history is not. Eric Chavez is not a player to be trusted with a full load of playing time, but he can still get the job done in a part time role. To add to his value for the Nationals his career slash line against right handed pitchers is .279/.357/.510. He would be the perfect complement for Scott Hairston off the bench and would be able to spell both Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche when they need days off.
I don’t know if there is a measurement for how much of an upgrade over Chad Tracy, Eric Chavez would be. The only downside is it means the construction of the Nats bench would be unchanged from the Davey Johnson era into the Matt Williams era and there would be no platoon partner for Adam LaRoche unless the Nationals decided to dump Scott Hairston in favor of a right handed bat that can play first base, but that is also a move that can be made in season if the need arises. As far as the basic construction of the bench goes there isn’t a problem with having a right handed pinch hitter, left handed pinch hitter, fourth outfielder, utility infielder, and back-up catcher. Those are the roles it looks like the Nationals are trying to fill on their bench and as far as left handed pinch hitters go Eric Chavez would be an excellent one.
The additions of Sean Doolittle and Eric Chavez would put the Nationals off-season at a near end with only a back-up catcher being needed. Mike Rizzo has said he is satisfied with Leon or Solano as the back-up and they can both fill that role as long as Wilson Ramos can stay healthy, but Ramos hasn’t done that yet and Mike Rizzo expressing his lack of a need for a back-up catcher sounds like posturing to get a back-up catcher to come down to their price level. Once those three remaining pieces, and utility infielder should Espinosa be traded, are added the Nationals off-season is at an end, and it will be time to stare out the window waiting for Spring.