I sometimes forget that not all of you have been reading my every word for a decade so a quick refresher on these posts.
Presumed Plan : What I think the Nats are going to do
Reasoning for Presumed Plan : Why I think they Nats are going to do it. Basically why it makes sense for them. A lot of it is "Why it could go right" but not all. Sometimes your hand is forced.
Problems with the Presumed Plan : Why it could go wrong.
My take : Basically more talk with an eye on if I think the Nats are making a mistake, with a little "if I were GM" thrown in.
Outside the Box Suggestion : Something just reasonable enough to suggest that almost assuredly won't happen. Not the best plan, maybe not even a good one. Just coming up with something different.
Ok moving on
Last Year's Discussion
So at the time last year it didn't look like the Nats were going to do anything. They had Yunel Escobar, who hit above expectations; Danny Espinosa, who hit perfectly acceptably for a defense first guy; and Anthony Rendon, who we all assumed would start hitting when healthy. They didn't need to make a move. They just needed to figure out where to put people. Personally I was advocating selling high on Yuney and starting Trea (also noting that I expected Stephen Drew to be a bench player), while hoping the Nats would sign Zobrist. However I expected to see Rendon at 3B, Yuney at SS, and Danny at 2B. It was on hand and it would work just fine.
Lo and behold the Nats DID sell high on Yuney. They shipped him off to literally Anaheim, figuratively LA, for Trevor Gott. That left the Nats with a hole that they did try to fill with Zobrist, who chose timely payment for services rendered and signed with Cubs, and then Brandon Phillips, who only wanted to move if he got more money in the deal*. So the Nats went with Plan C signing the underrated competence of Daniel Murphy to play second.
Daniel Murphy, who flipped a switch in the 2015 playoffs, ended up making that a life change. He put up MVP type numbers for the Nats last year hitting .347 / .390 / .595 for the year and carrying the Nats to first place. I always liked Daniel Murphy...no really! Keep reading, you'll see where I'm going. I always liked Murphy. I had him in fantasy for years. I had pretty good knowledge of Met players from the combination of Nats games, WFAN, and general baseball following. I knew he would hit decently and I felt his defense and baserunning issues were slightly overrated and WAY overrated, respectively. Sorry Gary Cohen. But even then I didn't see this coming. I had him giving value to the Nats for the contract, but nothing more. Certainly nothing like last year. I'm not sure anyone saw it coming. Murphy surely didn't or he wouldn't have signed that deal. The Nats surely didn't or else they wouldn't have bothered going after Zobrist and Phillips. Nope last year was a complete and utter surprise** in the best way and the Nats are reaping the benefits
My OOB plan - Trade for Longoria, move Rendon to 2B - would have worked too. But pretty much because the Mets couldn't stay healthy and mount a good challenge. Obviously in hindsight the Murphy signing was the best possible decision
Murphy starts at 2nd
Reasoning for Presumed Plan
...ok that's a bit reductive, but only a bit. Murphy can make the routine plays at 2nd. If someone can do that and hit like Murphy does, that's a big plus. 2nd basemen don't hit like that. So you keep him at 2nd.
Problems with Presumed Plan
Murphy cannot play 2nd well. You can argue that. You are wrong. His career defensive stats agree with the scouting reports which agree with pretty much everyone's eyes. At best he's below average. So you're losing something by putting him at 2nd instead of hiding him in LF or 1B of something. Do you think an Espinosa would have been this far from a normal-hit GB? Or watch Toles' single in the 5th of Game 5. It didn't amount to anything - Max would K Ethier - but at first Murphy moved laterally instead of laterally & back and then got caught somewhat flat footed on his jump. It's not that a normal 2nd baseman would make these plays, but a normal 2nd baseman would have a shot at them. Murphy does not.
The other "problem" is that Murphy may not hit like this again. It was a surprise. So if you play him all year at 2B, he has a particuarly bad year in the field, and hits more like he did before 2016, your value from Murphy is severely diminished.
Well even in that worst case you are probably getting close to what you paid for, so I'm not too worried about it. At least in terms of what to do at second. To me it's pretty simple, while Murphy ideally should be playing somewhere else, he has sure hands and is acceptable enough at 2B that you can stick him there. And sticking him there gives the Nats an advantage other teams don't have.
If you can stomach sitting Zimm though, I'd kick the tires on any above average 2B (or CF! or 1B!) that may be available. That would either give you the most value (shifting Murphy) or take best advantage of a great hitting second baseman (if you sign a 1B that can hit).
Out of the Box Suggestion
This isn't a 2B idea. At least not a 2017 2B idea. Extend Murphy. Yes the Nats have a great deal on hand - why ruin it? Well here's my thinking. Even if last year is a fluke, Murphy has always hit. I mean seriously look at his career stats. I'd be willing to bet he's got at least 4 more years of above average hitting left. So I find it doubtful that even if you are giving him say... 2 more years at 18 per, that you'd end up with no value from it, especially if he shifts position. The Nats don't have a 1B in the minors they love. Their first baseman right now can't hit. So it's likely they'll need one. At the same time, like we said, Murphy shouldn't be playing 2nd. It's a pretty good fit. And if last year wasn't a fluke then you can probably grab a couple more years at what ends up being a bargain price. If we play out the second scenario and Murphy comes up with another MVP type year in 2017 you aren't going to be able to just tack on 2-3 more years and under 20 per. He'll have a 4+ year 80+ million contract waiting for him if 2018 is anything close to 2016/17. So go for it. The relationship is on a high right now You might be able right now to grab those extra years.
*He left money on the table to re-sign with Cincinnati. He felt if he were to be traded, that he needed to recoup that money since he was no longer getting the "stay at home" benefits. Of course no team with interest in him wanted to pay that money. He wasn't worth it anymore. And the Reds weren't going to do it either, they're cheap.
**While no one expected this pretty much everyone in the comments was fine with the deal, too. Hooray! We're not dumb!