Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Monday, October 19, 2015

Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Presumed Plan : It's not 100% clear but the likelihood right now is the Danny Espinosa will play second.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : To break it down, the Nats have three guys for three positions.  Yunel is sneaky bad in the field, with quickly disappearing range. He played SS before last year, but covered 3B this year when Rendon went down. Rendon is a natural 3B and prefers to play there, but can play 2B and has for most of his young career. Espinosa went through the minors as a SS, but has played 2B for most of his career, and as the best fielder of the three, is good enough to play 3B.

You could stick Yunel at 3B again, but they'd really prefer to get Rendon back there since that is where they expect him to play into the future. Give his range issues you'd think that SS would be the worst place for Yunel but with Danny over at 2B and Rendon at 3B Yunel would have some help on either side of him. Plus, Yunel played SS for a long time so he wouldn't have to learn anything new, something that he would have to do at 2B. So SS may actually the the best option.

Another reason to stick Yunel at SS is that he is only going to be here for a season more (he's a FA after next year) and there is a SS waiting in the wings in Trea Turner. Turner could conceivably force his way into the line-up in Spring, but more likely they will put him in AAA to get everyday at bats and let his performance there dictate when he gets called up. By putting Yuney at short you set up 2017's infield.

So Yunel plays shortstop, which means Danny plays second. Probably.

With the bat, Danny had a minor renaissance last year, getting back to his low average, fair patience,  decent pop days from 2010-2012. That combination, along with his good defense, makes him a fringy starter and a good deal given he's still in arbitration. If he puts up a year like 2015 he's going to help the Nats more than he would hurt them. Plus Danny has been a healthy player, reliable to play a full season which is something the Nats need. "Securely ok" has more value for a team with a lot of "hopefully very good" on it.

Problems with Presumed Plan : In the field, you put your best fielder at SS. That's the position that gets the most work. So putting Danny at 2B is wasting him. And if Zimmerman's foot is better you'd probably have the same good defense on either side of Yunel as you'd have with him at SS, at a less critical position. Putting Yunel at SS might be overthinking it. You'd normally stick him at 3B or failing that 2B so maybe you should just do that?

As for Danny playing everyday, last season was really a tale of two halves. For the first half of the year Danny was resurgent. He was hitting as well as .272 / .356 / .471 on June 19th. That's Top 5 2B material. But he did nothing the rest of the year putting up a .205 / .259 / .341 line that's like worst 2B material and similar to what he did in 2013-2014. If he's that Danny, then he's a net negative for this team regardless of how he fields.

Also, while Trea Turner struggled initially he hit ok down the stretch and he fielded well. He hit .314 / .353 / .431 in 48 games in Syracuse last year. Is there really a point to putting him back in the minors?  Do we really think Espinosa/Escobar is that much better?

My take : This is a tough situation and will roll into our SS discussion. If you are committed to playing Danny and Yunel to start the year there is a question : are the Nats better off with Danny at SS and Yuney at 2B or vice versa? The arguments can be made either way. Frankly I don't think it'll matter too much so stick Yunel where he feels comfortable so maybe you can get another good offensive year out of him, because if you don't he has no value. Plus I don't know what'll happen to Ryan and Clint will certainly not have good range at 1B so Danny can help with that too. That way you aren't gambling with a million singles through the 1B hole.

So Danny at 2B is the starting point for me. Then the concerns about the offense kick in. Is Danny capable of a full season of good hitting now several years removed from his injury? Is he really 2010-2012 Danny? Or is he 2013-2014 Danny?  The difference is between a hidden gem, a nice player to have around, and an lineup anchor.  Given that the totality of 2015 was "2010-2012 Danny" you do start there as well, but with far less certainty in that than that he'll be a good fielding 2B. The Nats have to have a plan in place in case Danny starts out the year struggling to hit .200 and striking out every 3rd at bat.

What is that plan B? Probably Trea Turner. I don't think they'll have him start the year in the majors and I think he'll hit in AAA enough that he'd be ready for a call-up any time. (We'll talk about it more in a few days but I think the Nats best bet is to sell high on Yuney and let Turner start, but that has no bearing on 2B as it is expected to play out).  That does leave a question of who will be the bench 2B. Difo was unimpressive and then got injured, it won't be him.  The Nats don't really have any one to bring up. Dan Uggla is a non-starter and Mike Rizzo should be run out of town on a rail if Uggla is back. I don't know, it feels pretty fait accompli to me that Stephen Drew will be on this team as a back up, Rizzo draft pick from the Diamondbacks and all. He has legit power and can still field so the Nats could do worse.

Oh, what would I do? I'd sign Zobrist. Just like I would have traded for him before 2014 and before 2015. He admittedly had an off-year defensively and a slow start but he still ended up hitting like he has his entire career and his positional flexibility makes him a perfect fit for a team that's likely to go into 2016 with a injury risk late 30s LF and a CF that couldn't hit in 2015. But at this point saying "get Zobrist" is like screaming into an abyss. No one is hearing that.

Outside the Box Suggestion : I'd say gambling on a year of Howie Kendrick wouldn't be an interesting take but chances are at 32 he'll get a decent multi-year contract from someone. It might be just 2 years but it'll be something. And Daniel Murphy is going to get something more than that. As much as it would be fun to screw with the Mets like that, he really is only a good player who's having a great series.

So FA is pretty much out, those 2 and Zobrist are easily the best, so now we're talking trade. An obvious trade target would be Ian Kinsler, who would labor for one-year a Tigers team that probably won't compete in 2016 but would be looking for a fast re-tool to make something out Miggy's contract before he either starts to decline or can't get on the field anymore. While the Nats should be an ideal trade partner - they should be trying to win in 2016 before the rest of the exodus happens and the Nats potentially revert to a .500 type team - trading away actual good talent has never been Rizzo's way so I can't see them making a deal with the Tigers, who'd probably want Turner or Ross.

So how about we stick Rendon at 2B and trade for a 3B? That makes the most sense to me. Rendon can play 2B, has played 2B, and if he hits he's an All-Star at the position. At 3B he's very good but far less impactful given the number of 3B that can hit. Tell Rendon he's a 2B from now on so get used to it and trade for a 3B instead. Todd Frazier is an interesting name - like Kinsler he'll be a FA after next year and plays for a team that will be out of the playoffs. Unlike Frazier though his team is in more of a long-term rebuild so might match up with the Nats. But that's not out of the box.

Trade for Evan Longoria. His contract is long and high but actually reasonable for a guy that hits ok and fields ok. He's played every game for 3 straight years, giving the Nats needed security and just might have a few years like his better ones left in him. Perhaps being on a team that's not looking at a big uphill climb every year and plays infront of some fans would rejuvenate him. The Nats may have to give up a lot in the deal but he would immediately make the Nats line-up better and provide a 3rd core bat going forward for the next wave of competitive Nats teams. That's something we can't rely on from Zimmerman, Werth, Espinosa, or Taylor - starters likely to be here in 2017. Even Turner is a rookie who may or may not catch on right away. The Nats need another reliable bat heading beyond 2016. Hell they need another reliable bat IN 2016. This would work.


Donald said...

I think the decision on where to play Espinosa and Escobar is going to be based on where they see Turner fitting best. That's presumably at short, but some have questioned his arm strength for that position. But when Turner gets the call up after just enough time to add a year to his clock, they'll put Danny back on the bench. If they see Turner at short, which is my guess, then Escobar starts at 2b so he doesn't get jerked around too much. Also, for all the talk about selling high on Escobar, the Nats have enough health concerns that I don't see them reducing their infield depth. Not sure what you could get for Escobar anyway.

The issue with your out-of-the-box suggestion is that I don't see Rizzo parting with enough to get Longoria. What do you think that would take? Giolitto, plus more?

Chas R said...

If they really want to contend in 2016 like Rizzo says, I can't see them putting Yunel at SS. If Danny hits ok in the Spring and Trea hits ok in the Spring, I think Danny starts the year at SS and Trea is the back-up middle infielder. Then, I think they just monitor things and make any necessary adjustments with those three between SS and 2B going forward. They really need to get Rendon back to 3B; he's the Nats' future there.

Chas R said...

Separately- Harper, do you think Escobar has a shot at 3B Silver Slugger?

Anonymous said...

I like your analysis of the Yunel-Danny 2B/SS conundrum, but I think you're missing one issue. I think we have to assume that Turner is going to be the every day SS at SOME point in 2016. This makes the question of who should START 2016 at SS and 2B conditional on knowing that the position isn't permanent. Even though Yunel is probably more comfortable at SS, I think he should be forced to learn 2B because that's very likely to be the open place for him to play once Turner comes up. You force him to put in the work in spring training because (1) it's far easier to have him make the transition then rather than when Turner eventually comes up; and (2) you'd rather have Yunel man 2B than Danny if you can play only one of them because Yunel is the better bat.

Having said all of that, I'm firmly in the sell-high-on-Yunel camp. I'd pencil Turner in at SS on opening day if it was my choice.

Also, re Zobrist: I agree he's a great player and his versatility (and switch hitteredness) jibe perfectly with what the nats need. But do you really want to sign a 34 y.o. for 3 or 4 years?

KW said...

If Escobar stays, he's GOT to play 2B. He's too much of a defensively liability on the left side of the INF. Danny starts the season at SS while the Nats keep Turner at AAA for 45 days or so to reclaim his FA year. Turner will be a starter for the Nats in 2016 at some point. The only question is whether it will be at SS, or at 2B with Danny and his superior defense at SS.

The optimal plan is obviously to sign or trade for an offensive upgrade at 2B or 3B, but that may be harder than it sounds. Escobar is significantly better offensively than most of the 2B options. There are more at 3B, but they would cost more. I still want to cry when I remember that Donaldson was available and we didn't get him.

Harper said...

Donald - I think they see Turner at SS bc Danny may not hit and is only here for 2 more years so it's not like they are counting on him long term either. Put Turner at the Most impt infield position and if he can't hack it - move him then.

Giolito would be the first req, but summarily declined. If Longoria had a cheap contract maybe, but it's gets expensive near the end for some mid 30s years. Takes some value away. I think it would take something like Turner & Ross or say Turner and an emptying of prospects. Honestly I wouldn't mind the latter (essentially you turned Souza into Longoria and Ross) and I like Turner. Maybe an emptying of pitching prospects? That would be harder to stomach though if you aren't re-signing Strasburg. Max, Giolito, sliding Gio, Roark, ?... you kind of need Ross in that mix. Kind of. So even though I like Turner more than Ross I'm thinking they can afford more to trade Turner.

Chaz R - and Yuney is the back-up? He has real malcontent potential. Now trading Yuney.... we'll talk about that later.

No shot - Kris Bryant and Matt Carpetner were both way better, and even though it's Coors inflated Arenando's numbers are most impressive. Yuney won't come close.

Robot said...

I like the idea of selling high on Yuni, as well. No way he repeats last season's offensive numbers, and his fielding leaves much to be desired. I'd say trade for Zobrist, though I live the Longoria suggestion. I don't really see either of those happening at this point, though.

SM said...

Stick Escobar where he feels comfortable?

You're kidding, right?

Jay said...

I say spend the money in free agency and don't lose the prospects. I'm ok with Daniel Murphy or Howie Kendrick. The nice thing is sign one of those guys and significantly upgrade your offense while losing nothing. Then you turn around and trade Yunel and maybe Espinosa too for something of value - like bullpen. Why not sign Greinke and trade either Ross or Roark or both for something of value. There are good things that can happen by signing players. I think neither Escobar or Espinosa hit again like last year. Trade while their value is likely at it's highest.

Any thoughts on what Desmond will get on the market? I'm guessing it will be less for less time than what the Nats offered. I know it's a shortstop question, but why not bring him back, sign Murphy, and trade Turner and Ross for Kimbrel. If it were up to me I'd sign Cespedes and Murphy. Then trade Taylor, Escobar, and Espinosa. Will never happen, but that's how the big market teams think.

For what Rizzo was hoping would happen this year with multiple players making their free agent push see Murphy and Cespedes.

Chas R said...

@Jay- good grief; Turner and Ross are the Nats future. Taylor too, to a degree, since he's really just solid 4th OF potential right now.

I think you need to keep Yuni in case Danny and/or Trea don't hit. I think Yuni will regress from last year, but of those three, I think he is most likely to be consistently decent at the plate.

1natsfan said...

why not go after dee gordon-he signed a 1 year contract for 2.5m unless the marlins already locked him up. This would give us a legitimate lead off to replace Span. Then you could move Rendon to 3rd and then have plenty of choices at SS.

Harper said...

1natsfan - that contract was just avoiding arbitration. They have him through 2018.

1natsfan said...

With the Stanton contract, do the Marlins have the ability to sign Gordon to a long term deal especially with their having to do something with Fernandez looming in the future. Has Loria done to the Marlins what the Rangers did when they signed Arod to that monster deal and couldn't afford supporting players. I wonder if the Nationals could put together some sort of package that would get us Gordon.

Flapjack said...

This was a bad, bad season injury wise, and bullpen-wise as well. All of this seems to have taken the patina off of Rizzo's masterplan to field competitive clubs year in and year out, without rebuilding, a la STL/SF. But, hey, I still believe in it.

That's why some of the chatter out there makes me nervous. Werth's we-have-arrived signing in 2011 may have made sense from the standpoint of optics, but his and Zimm's contracts, combined with Scherzer's, could make the Nats look like the future-is-now Phillies, who couldn't stop doubling down. It's okay to do those kinds of signings, but you should stagger them so your key players aren't all aging past their prime together. Cepedes, on the other hand, might be worth a long-term gamble. The Nats have four good middle infielders, possibly five if you include Difo. I'd say replacing Span (assuming he doesn't get a QO, or he does and doesn't take it) is the team's top priority after the bullpen.

John C. said...

Cespedes, Kendrick and probably even Murphy get Qualifying Offers, which means that the Nationals would punt their #1 pick (#18 overall) for signing them. Which hurts extra, because the consensus is that the 2016 draft is much better prospect-wise than the 2015 draft was (which is one of the factors that may have made the Scherzer signing a bit more palatable for Rizzo, even stipulating that it seems to have been an ownership-driven decision).

Overpaying for Cespedes (based on an insanely hot six weeks) or Murphy (based on an insanely hot postseason so far) seems like buying high to me. Cespedes is likely to go back to being the mildly-over-league-average bat (110 OPS+ in 2014; 103 OPS+ in 2013) that he's been for the previous two years. Which is pretty mediocre for a corner outfielder. And one carrying enough baggage to have been moved three times in the last 15 months. Of all the free agents, I think his deal has the most potential to become a serious albatross contract.

Josh Higham said...

The thing about Danny is that he seems to handle moving from one IF position to another really well. Stick Danny at SS, Yunel at 2B. Play those guys there until June-ish and trade Yunel for a good reliever to some team that needs an offensive shot in the arm. Bring Turner up then (bump Danny to 2B) and ride that infield to the end. Or leave Danny at SS and play Turner at 2B, but the point about Turner being part of the future is important, so I'm inclined to say he should stay at SS with the call up.

Harper said...

Anon @10:04 - It is all very loosy-goosey isn't it. I agree that the last thing the Nats want to do is push Yuney to learn 2B in the middle of a season. That could be terrible. But we assume that Turner would come in at SS and that they wouldn't bench Yunel. Neither is a guarantee. I think right now what you say makes sense, but maybe it'll clear up (re: Yunel will get dealt) by the time Turner comes up.

At 34 for 3 years... maybe. In any contract you aren't hoping for great years every year so if he could go very good, good, ok over 3 years it'd be worth it. I'd want 2. make that gamble for 3.

KW - Don't cry. Other teams passed on trading for him too and it did cost the Blue Jays a ML starting 3B, a couple useful AAAA arms, and a prospect likely to be Top 20 next year.

Robot - nope, which is why my most likely scenario is just shuffling these guys around. If Rendon is back to normal it'll be enough.

SM - What if I mean Miami? Seriously though - you have to try to figure out what is best for the team. If coddling Escobar doesn't bother the clubhouse and makes him hit better, maybe you do it for a year.

Jay - Sign and trade others is a fair idea but you are way too generous in your deals. For example, I bet Turner OR Ross could get Kimbrel. And honestly you'd probably rather have Turner than Desmond, maybe not for 2016 but even for 2016-2018. I think signing a 2B and trading Yunel/Danny is out there. Not sure it'll happen though because of the money. I wouldn't trade Taylor, unless his value is higher than I think. Seems like selling low.

Chaz - I think it depends on what you can get back for Yuney. I'd definitely take anything starting at a reliable, cheap, young middle relief arm and better.

1nats - I can't see the Marlins trading a good player in division, not while they hope to compete in the next couple years

Flapjack - I don't know. Comparing the Nats to those Phillies is a mistake. Amaro bungled by wrapping up Howard, the most likely Philly to crash and give no value, too early which ended up getting him a deal longer and for more $ than he otherwise probably would. Signing Rollins was iffy at best but probably his most sensible deal, because he'd re-sign Utley and Ruiz after the Phillies were clearly declining. Anyway the big point here is that all these guys were older than any of the guys the Nats signed long term. That's important because deals are trade-offs. Good now, for bad later. The Phillies started making deals that would start at an age where bad could easily happen.

Bullpen yes. After that I think what's available could dictate what comes next. The Nats could use a 2b/ss/3b, an OF (any position if you think Bryce can handle CF), a C... so they sign a SP then.

John C - Yoenis is kind of like 2010 Werth, without the patience but 2 years younger. Lack of patience matters a lot but it also says that he is helpful all over the place so a regression to just good at the plate and he'd still be useful. Not that I'd pay him crazy money but the chances he's playable for the next 5-6 years is high. If I were thinking albatross I'd go with Chris Davis - who's offense will likely shut off like a spigot sometime and when it does he's nothing

Josh Highman - Hope Yunel is still hitting at that point. Might be better off dealing now

DezoPenguin said...

I think we need to look back at last offseason and go with what was originally planned here. If Yuney was going to learn 2B then, there's no reason why he can't learn 2B now. Rendon is an excellent fielder at 3B and is more comfortable there than 2B. Jeter-era Yankees aside, it's not a good plan to tell the better player to move off-position for the sake of the ego of the worse player (and Escobar definitely lacks the Legend of Derek to increase his mythic status). If Turner is ready to take over SS full-time, then Espinosa goes into the season as the utility infielder; if Turner isn't ready, the Espi and his glove start at SS.

Unless management believes in Difo much more than he's actually shown so far, though, I wouldn't trade Escobar or Espinosa, though. There's just too much uncertainty there--Rendon's health, Escobar's likelihood of regression with the bat, Espinosa's up-and-down hitting career, Turner's youth.

John C. said...

Harper - yeah, good point on Davis. He's really got Josh Hamilton/Prince Fielder crash & burn potential. So I do put Davis ahead of Cespedes in the "albatross risk" standings. Interestingly, Davis (turns 30 in March) is actually a few months younger than Cespedes (turned 30 on Sunday). Cespedes is certainly the better all around athlete. If Davis's power goes, he's pretty useless (see, e.g., 2014).

The problem with Cespedes is that if he goes back to merely being OK (103-110 OPS+) then while certainly a useful player he's a net negative as a corner outfielder. Think of Ryan Zimmerman, only for an additional $6-8M per year. I'd be surprised if the Mets fall for making a big run at him given that they have multiyear commitments to Granderson and Lagares already, with Conforto ready to take over the third spot.