The hot stove is burning, and winter meetings start this week. There will be endless rumors of who is signing where and what player is available to be moved. One guy that seems to be on the block, according to multiple sources, is Nats second baseman Danny Espinosa. I’m not so sure he should be.
Espinosa certainly comes with his share of problems. Primarily, he led the National League in strikeouts in 2012, which is the last place you want your second baseman to be in the rankings. While that’s a big issue, he has many redeeming qualities in the lineup and on the field.
While Espinosa struck out an exorbitant 189 times last season, that’s going to matter less in 2013. The Nationals traded for center fielder Denard Span last week, who will automatically be put in the leadoff spot. That probably slides Jayson Werth down to the number two slot and Bryce Harper into the four or five spot. That’s all a fancy way of saying Espinosa will still hit seventh or eighth this year, unchanged from last season. He’s not going to be counted on as a significant part of the offense.
Since the top of the lineup got way better, what does it hurt to allow Espinosa to remain in the bottom part of the order? The answer: it doesn’t. In fact, it may help the Nats a whole lot. Espinosa is quickly becoming among the best defensive second basemen in the NL, meanwhile he provides the Nats great wins above replacement (WAR), even with his extraordinary strikeouts.
For the MLB-best Nationals, Danny Espinosa provided the fourth-most WAR of all players. The only Nats who had higher WAR than Espi: Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman. That’s not terrible company. Espinosa was also tied in WAR with Adam LaRoche, who was widely considered the Nats MVP last year.
WAR isn’t a tell-all stat, but it’s certainly a good gauge of quality. Espinosa also provides much better defense than the guy who would inevitably replace him, Steve Lombardozzi. I’m a fan of Lombo’s, personally. However, he doesn’t have nearly as much range, his glove work isn’t as good, and his arm isn’t as strong as Espinosa.
The bottom line is the Nats wouldn’t gain much, if anything, on offense, and they would lose on defense with Lombardozzi compared to Espinosa. With Span in the lineup, both Espinosa and Lombardozzi will sit at the very bottom of the Nats batting order, so why would you want to get rid of Espinosa’s defense and ability to hit for power?
The only reason is more pitching. If the Nats were able to trade Espinosa for a quality starter, likely from the Tampa Bay Rays organization, then it may be a smart move. Otherwise, the Nats would be giving up a bottom of the order power threat with plus defensive ability for very little reason.
If Espinosa is moved this week, or this offseason, it will be for something huge, not for a marginal improvement. With the shrewd moves that GM Mike Rizzo has made in the last couple seasons, I’m not worried that he’ll make the wrong move.