Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Presumed Plan :  Anthony Rendon will continue to serve as the Nats second baseman. Seems likely at this juncture that Steve Lombardozzi will be kept and serve as the MI back-up.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Anthony Rendon performed adequately at second base (.265 / .329 / .396) after taking the reins. While that's not a great line it would put him squarely in the middle for 2nd base production. He's also a decent to good fielder, whose current issues lie with errors, something potentially correctable. He was a top prospect putting up a .319 / .461 / .603 line in AA this year. Everything seems to suggest that he has upside to grow into a star at the position.

There aren't really any good alternatives. The former second baseman Danny Espinosa, along with the Nationals organization, is having a problem perceiving reality. While common sense tells even the dullest of dullards that a player who put up remarkably consistent numbers for almost 4 years, through minors and majors, who suddenly became a different hitter right after he got injured is probably suffering from injury related issues, the Nats and/or Danny refuse to admit it. Instead he gets his swing tinkered with and continues to not hit in AAA. What a surprise. Great. I mean we should all be REALLY REALLY mad at this. Even if you didn't like Danny because you take offense to be 99% of a player's value, and take batting average and strikeouts to be 99% of offensive value*, he was still a commodity. He was something somebody would have given the Nats something for. The Nats basically burnt a $20 bill in front of your eyes.

Steve Lombardozzi has his moments. But moments are like fish in the sea. There is a lot more water out there and the water says no patience, no power, not all that fast, average at best in the field. That's not a starter. But he can do other things. He plays adequately at SS and 3B, hits for .265 or so, and rarely strikes out. He's not all that slow so he can pinch run and he can bunt. Not quite a "jack of all trades", maybe an "8 of clubs of all trades", a smart manager can use a player like Lombo. 

Problems with Presumed Plan :  A potential issue is that Rendon didn't really perform adequately. He performed great (.330 in June) then terrible (.187 in July) then ok (~.280 from then on out). So if the real Rendon is closer to July than anything else, the Nats will have a problem. He didn't hit all that well in AAA remember.

The real problem though is that Rendon isn't Danny in the field. He can't run like Danny which is a small minus and he can't field like Danny which is a bigger one. Danny helped out the defense as a whole, especially, it seems, the aging LaRoche. Of course you can't bring Danny back if he's not hitting so it's something you just have to swallow.

Another issue is that Rendon is a known injury risk. Bad ankles cost him time in college then most of his first year in the pros. Lombardozzi isn't a full-time player so do the Nats need someone better as a back-up? 

My take : Rendon is an easy call. His prospect status and his performance, especially the good enough last couple months, earned him a long leash for 2014.  Maybe he can't be put in pen as the starter all year, but he'd have to slump all the way to the All-Star break to make me suggest a change. I don't think July Rendon is the real one (any more than I think June Rendon is) that's just something you have to accept when starting someone with little major league experience. The fielding issue? If he's good enough and LaRoche isn't the problem really isn't with Rendon, now is it?As for the injury risk, he's young enough I'm willing to take that chance.

I really do like Lombo as the last guy on the bench. He can make contact and you need that kind of bat sometimes just like you need one that can put it over the fence. Granted you need the latter far more than the former, and you hope the former can be done by someone that can do the latter  but you still need the former.

Cano? It's an interesting idea in theory but I'm not sure how to make it work in practice. He's not going to get 10 years or 30 million per. We all saw what happened since Pujols, at about the same age, got a 10 year 24 million dollar deal. No one is doing that for Cano. But the Yanks need him back and if the Dodgers don't win it all they might be clamoring for that one more player to put them over the top. He'll get a lot. 8 years 200 mill? Do you want the Nats to do that?

It's a dilemma. They need an offensive bump and because they don't have obvious holes they need a really good player to do that. But really good players cost money. Right now I'm saying this is a non-starter. With ZNN, Desmond need contract extensions soon (not to mention Clippard). Ramos and Strasburg right after that at a point where they will still have almost 50 mill committed to Werth, Zimm, and Gio (probably), I just don't think the money is there to do something like this.Or more accurately, the money is there, I just don't trust the Lerners to spend it. Sign Cano and sign all these guys is Plan A1.  Plan A2 is just sign all these guys.

Outside the Box Suggestion :

Move Rendon to 3rd, put Zimmerman at second. Hey! I said "outside the box".  Zimm's issues are routine plays where he has to think about it. Shorter time frame to throw it means less time to think about it. Problem solved! As Zimm's offensive skills diminish it won't be as problematic since his comparitives are 2nd baseman rather than slugging 3rd basemen. If he keeps hitting maybe he goes to 1st next year. Meanwhile Rendon gets to be as comfortable as possible in a position with a lot less running (save those ankles), as he tries to become a star hitter in the majors.

*99% chance you have brain damage.


Donald said...

I agree with the presumed plan. I really think a long, expensive contract for Cano would be a bad plan. The one dilemma the Nats may have will be if Espinosa has a decent spring training. While I think they really like Lombo, if Espinosa could hit half-way decently, he's better than Lombo in almost all regards (faster, better D, more power). I don't think Espinosa beats out Rendon for the starting job regardless, however, but we'll see.

John C. said...

Rendon for 2b, Lombardozzi for utility guy on the bench, Espinosa to play SS at Syracuse. I really like the potential of a Syracuse IF of Skole (1b), Kobernus (2b), Walters (3b) and Espinosa (SS).

We disagree somewhat on Espinosa, if only because I am less confident of my ability to diagnose Espinosa's medical condition from media reports. I don't analyze Espinosa's game based on batting average or solely on offense. It's his defense that gives him any shot at being a major league player; at his best he was a league average hitter with a lot of strikeouts and crappy OBP, and he hasn't really been that guy very often. He sucked most of last season before his shoulder got hurt; in 2012 he had one good month (July), which was fluffed by a fluky .403 BABIP. Hurting his shoulder had nothing to do with his inability to identify pitches - he swings and misses like a 40+ HR power hitter, packaged in a middle infielder with 20 HR pop.

That said, he's still inexpensive and has some value to the Nats as a good field, no hit backup SS in case Desmond gets hurt. But he can work on his game in Syracuse; the Nats can't afford to have him sulking around the dugout.

blovy8 said...

I think the thing to look for is a little bit more patience and some power development from Rendon now that he's gotten at bats and has a job. It might be a while before he earns the close calls and he'll probably bat low in the order so he might not get too many fastballs, but his high line drive rate of 25.5 percent tells you he can already square up the ball really well, and that he probably should have had a higher batting average with the usual breaks.

Harper said...

Donald - I doubt they put Espy on the bench even if he seems better than Lombo in Spring. They'd probably want him to play everyday in AAA as a showcase. Since he has performed at the major league level he might bring a little more than our B-level guys who haven't if we need to package him in a deal.

John C -
We're not guessing at the diagnosis. It is a torn rotator cuff. That's confirmed. And It's not true he sucked before his shoulder got hurt. Both May and August were perfectly good months, especially for a 2nd baseman. The pop (4 and 5 homers respectively) is what did it. One horrible month, one bad one, two good ones, one very good one.

I agree he swings and misses like a 40+ guy, but here's the thing about being a 20HR pop MI, there are only a handful of them. Add in "play great D" and you're down to 3 or 4. That gives him value. A team needs power and can get it through him in a position that doesn't usually generate it.

blovy8 - I'd like some cutting down on the Es as well. I'd be happy with any moderate improvement offensively.

Anonymous said...

In the out of the box category I think Omar Infante might be a good pickup. Good though not great hitter, decent glove and can play multiple positions so it provides a decent backup plan if someone in the infield goes down. Money might be a bit steep.

Froggy said...

Torn rotator cuff or SLAP tear. Huh, just like I said in the fall of 2012. I guess when you've had one, you know what the symptoms are and you can't gut through a bad wing. He either gets it debrided or repaired or he can start coaching somewhere.

I agree with you Harper that a 2B with great D, and 20Hr pop puts him in the top 5 to 10 at least. He should just get it done like next week and be ready for the second half of the season.

Chaz R said...

Totally agree, Rendon has earned his shot at starting at 2B. He was learning all year at the major league level and did ok. Once he gets more confidence and experience, I would like to think not only his defense, but also hitting will continue to improve. I really like Danny, he was an unusual MI with real pop, awesome D, great on the bases, and in the clubhouse. I just hope he can get fixed... would love to see him back.

Clip&Store said...

Am I the only one that likes the outside the box idea?

blovy8 said...

Seems to be a common Nats theme, switching guys to 2nd, Espinosa was a SS after all. They did it with Guzman too. Look out Walters, you'll be at second in 2015.

Anonymous said...

Is there anything more confusing than the question "once Espinosa was terrible and demoted why didn't he get his shoulder fixed?" It boggles my mind that he would let this issue ruin two seasons instead of one.

Anonymous said...

Espi wasn't just bad in 2013-he was horrendous. Even if can be a .650 OPS guy that would make him an elite backup INF- which would be great insurance for Zim and Rendon injuries.

At this point Harper- should Espi get the surgery just as a way of trying to use it as an excuse for sucking? Cos' now they're saying it's not the injury- he's just a crap player now.

Donald said...

It's possible that he changed his swing to compensate for the injury which has since healed on its own. If that's the case, there's no point in getting surgery now. He just has to un-learn his compensating behavior which would take a lot of repetitions. Just a thought, but it could explain why he isn't having surgery at this point.

Jeff Stein said...

This is from left field but I gotta say it: I love your analysis and read it day in-day out, year 'round, but you really need to spend some time in the Winter League working on your grammar and punctuation. Nobody forced you to be a writer, but since you've chosen the craft, you might as well do it right.
Respect the game.

Anonymous said...

Let's remember that Rendon was a 1/6 pick whom many thought would have gone 1/1 if not for injuries. He also had very little time in the minors. He still has significant potential, and all in all, he acquitted himself well in MLB with so little experience in the minors. Davey--a pretty fair judge of 2Bs--wanted him up as soon as possible. Rendon could become a regular .300 hitter with 20+ HR power.

Lombo is a gamer and a fine bench guy, but he hits with too little pop to be an everyday player. That's well established. That said, Kobernus can fly and might ultimately be the better utility option.

All we can do with Espy is wait and hope. He's back to being a "prospect" again, a great-fielding middle infielder with 25+ HR potential. Those don't grow on trees. However, the Nats do have another powerful infielder in Walters, albeit one with a disturbingly low OBP. He would be the 2B version of T-Mo.

So right now, Rendon's the guy. The big questions are whether he shows enough power to be considered at 3B in the future, and of course if Espy bounces back to be a viable option somewhere.

Cano? NO. Spend the money on Zmnn and Desi.