Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Monday, October 20, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Presumed Plan : Ummm.  Well.   Hmmm.

I guess if the season were to start again on November 1st, Danny Espinosa would be the second baseman. Backing him up would be... I don't know. Frandsen? Kobernus? Probably Frandsen.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : It's hard to figure what the Nats want to do at 2nd base. It's tough to believe that they really want Danny Espinosa to be the starter. They didn't want him to be the starter at the beginning of 2014. Rendon was at 2nd base then and was forced over to third by Zimm's injury. They didn't want him to be the starter at the end of 2014. Cabrera was brought in by trade to play 2nd base for the stretch run.

At the same time right now Danny Espinosa is the best 2nd baseman on the Nats roster. Cabrera is a free agent. Rendon is not going to be moved back. Danny is clearly better in the field than Frandsen and Kobernus and as bad as he was at the plate, he was better there too. He's super cheap, thanks to the minor league re-visit he won't be a FA until after 2017. Therefore right now he's the presumed starter.

As for the back-ups, the Nats love Frandsen. He doesn't cost much and... did I mention they love him? The Nats are pretty devoid of upper level minor league MI talent so Kobernus is mentioned as an alternative by default. If you want to push for the seasoned failure Emmanuel Burriss or the walking organizational filler, Cutter Dykstra, be my guest. The Nats are big on Wilmer Difo who looks to be at least an acceptable level major leaguer in the making so you could say they will let Espy play this year with the hopes that Difo will come into play during 2016.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Danny can't hit.  Or more precisely he can't hit left-handed.  His splits are telling

LHB : .183 / .241 / .291
RHB : .301 / .374 / .485

Now Danny isn't .300 good, but he has always been better hitting righty. He does lose his homer pop, but the increase in average is dramatic enough to make that up and then some. So why not just platoon Danny? Well, it's easy enough to say "Oh well then Danny only bats versus LHP" but if you are going for a platoon here you just made Danny the smaller part of the platoon and forced yourself to go out and get the better part.  Maybe you can find a lefty-masher but a righty-masher? Those usually are called "starters" because there are a lot more RHP out there.

Danny also has a big strikeout problem.  It's an issue right-handed (22% K). It's a career-killer left-handed (39%)  If you are forced to start Danny and he bats as normal - you are looking at a below average bat. At 28 in April there's little chance he will get back to the level he was. 

The back-ups meanwhile, not only can't unseat the below average Danny, but you don't even consider it. They are bad back-ups creating a "true hole" for the Nats positionally. Frandsen is a contact hitter but that's it and he can't field. You can't trust any minor leaguer to hit even to Frandsen/Danny level.

The Difo plan is interesting but you'd be throwing away 2015 as there is little chance he'd see the light of day this next season. I'll remind you that this is a win now team. Plus he is a SS, making him Desmond insurance in case the Nats let Ian walk. He can't replace both. (I'll add I'm not nearly as high on this guy as other people). 

My take : Danny Danny Danny.  Should have gotten that surgery.

It wouldn't be the worst thing if Danny started for the Nats. He can field and he can hit lefties. The issues is what to do with a righty on the mound. On that I agree with the Red Porch Report. Force Danny to give up switch-hitting. It may not work, but he hits so poorly from the left side of the plate that it's difficult to imagine it being worse. If it is worse - if he puts up a completely empty .120 or something - he can always go back to hitting .180 with pop. But you have to try.

Still I have the Nats in win-now mode and in that mode you don't settle for "wouldn't be the worst thing".  To me, Danny starting with no switch hitting, that's the barely acceptable back-up plan. Plan A should be going after Ben Zobrist.  Zobrist is old, but he's a good fielder, has patience (his 75 walks would easily rank 3rd on the Nats), and is a better contact hitter than almost every Nats hitter. He's old (34 in May) and his power is going fast but the Nats are only concerned with 2015 and given his performance has been down from his peak for two years and he's close to FA the deal shouldn't be overly costly for the Nats unless competition forces it up.

Why no one else? As per usual in this modern age of locking everyone up young (why the youngsters are going for this is beyond me - you're selling yourselves short boys for security) there isn't much out there for the Nats to go after. Free agent wise there REALLY isn't anything (unless the Rays just don't sign Zobrist and that would be stupid). Trade wise the Nats are in a bit of a disadvantage. There are 3 decent targets who will be up for FA after next year, but two are in the Nats own division. Assuming Murphy and Utley won't be traded to the Nats that leaves Zobrist.

Usually the Nats might eye a decent cheap player with more than just a year left but there isn't any.  Altuve and Dozier fit the bill but have contracts too reasonable to imagine they'd be dealt for anything but a big return. Everyone else is either on a team that can't afford to give them away or too expensive to think the Nats would deal for them. I suppose that maybe Howie Kendrick could be dealt. The Angels are looking for young pitching and he is a FA after 2015 but I'll hold off on believing that until I hear something about that because it would be an odd move for the win-now Angels.

So I say trade for Zobrist. Make Danny the Back-up.

Outside the Box Suggestion

Move Rendon back. I could come up with several different scenarios involving trades and position switching and the like but let's get down to brass tacks here. It is harder to find a decent 2B than a decent 3B. This is true in FA. It's true in the minor leagues. Anthony Rendon played 2B just fine. There's no way around it. What's best for the Nats is that Rendon moves back to 2nd base.

What happens at third? I don't know this is a 2nd base post.  Trade for Beltre. Sign Sandoval.  Throw a (small) busload of stuff at the A's for Donaldson. See if you can get Ramirez cheap, if he goes to market, or Headley super cheap. All I know is you have a great hitter who can play 2nd base and you're moving him to third because that's his 'natural position'. That's all well and good but it's not giving you the best team on the field.


karl kolchak said...

The fascination with Frandsen is baffling given that he put up a -0.5 bWar for 2014. At least Danny was a perfectly replaceable 0.0. Surprising as well to see that Cabrera came in at -0.3 during his Nats' tenure, meaning that they should not re-sign him unless it for a VERY reasonable cost.

One guy you didn't mention was Gordon Beckham, who's likely to be DFA'ed by the Angels so they won't have to pay him the $6 million or so he'll get in arbitration. Beckham bats righty and at least has put up positive WARs his whole career. If the Nats could get Beckham on a cheap one year deal and platoon him with Danny that might a slight improvement over going with Danny alone.

DezoPenguin said...

If I'm Rizzo, I'm pursuing everything simultaneously. Kick the tires on Donaldson, Beltre, Zobrist, Altuve. See what Sandoval or Headley takes to sign as a FA. Pick whichever one is the best option, with an eye on immediate return because, as noted, the team's in "WIN NOW" mode. Teams in "WIN NOW" mode do not have Danny Espinosa, post-September 2012 edition, in their starting lineups.

I'd prefer to have Rendon at 3B because he's a better fielder there, all else being equal, but all else is not equal and the important thing is to have the best team on the field.

Wally said...

I think that there may be a few other options.

Trades: (i) Turnaround guys (I assume it takes a belief in them and mostly assume the contract): Kipnis, Gyorko, Ackley
(ii) young MI with no place to play (also hedges SS): Taylor/Miller (SEA); Gregorius, Ahmed, Owings (ARI); I am sure there are others

Also, FA could be Lowrie.

Personally, I'd move Rendon back to 2B for the reasons you suggest, and Sign Hanley to a 3 yr deal, if he'd sign, to play 3rd. Would he take 3/$50m? We'd be super RH but I'd like to see that line up.

Anonymous said...

I have to think, tying back into the 1st base discussion, we should throw Zimm at 1st, pick up Span, stick Rendon at 2nd where he's serviceable defensively and I expect he would get better with time (only -8 defensive runs saved this season projecting a full season), then sign a big name at 3rd. I like Panda if Rizzo can get him to lose another 20 lbs, he's a surprisingly good fielder and would only get better and more agile with a little less of a gut.

Anonymous said...

I think Wally is on the right track with the controllable, blocked youngsters. That seems to be a Rizzo thing. You might also look at Texas with Profar (if he's ever healthy), Odor, and Sardinas. And, I think they could use a young OF. Seattle's need for hitting could could also be a fit.

John C. said...

Beckham doesn't work well as a platoon with Espinosa, since he bats from the side (RH) that Espinosa actually hits decently from. And while Beckham doesn't have much of a platoon split for his career, last year he was dreadful against RHP (.560 OPS).

I'm in the "shift Rendon to second for now, get a good third baseman, keep Espinosa as a cheap, glove-first utility guy and a lottery ticket in case giving up switch-hitting is a panacea" camp. The problem with trading is that most of the trade targets discussed (Beltre or Donaldson at 3b, Zobrist at 2b) are playing for teams that are also more or less in "win now" mode and so aren't likely to just let these guys go. They would have to have an excellent backup option before trading their starter. On the plus side, that might make them more willing to take a player that is nearing free agency, like Detwiler, if it meets a need.

As for the free agents, HanRam has a reputation as a clubhouse cancer and has trouble staying on the field. Sandoval's body type does not tend to age well, so is a very risky long term investment. Chase Headley might be a good option if he's willing to sign a one year deal to build his market value back up. He's a very good glove and a switch hitter who has done better against RHP for his career (though not in 2014). He can also play first. I'm not sure I'd go 3+ years with Headley for anything close to what he made last year ($10.5M), though. Too risky given his declining bat and having just turned 30.

blovy8 said...

I'm talking myself out of options, except that Espinosa isn't one of them. I can't argue with your reasoning, but I don't conclude that Zobrist will be available to the Nats - even for Tampa, his 7.5m option really should be affordable. He's too valuable even for just the one year of service, because unless he falls apart, they can assume the gamble that they'd get a pick after next season since he would be nuts to settle for a one year qualifying deal even at his age. They have a ton of pitching, which is the Nats' asset, and are the Nats willing to trade position players to get him? That depletes the farm depth, and still leaves you with the same infield questions in 2016. If the Rays even imagine they can compete (and they should) and they take prospects, how do they replace a 5 WAR everyday player in 2015 with their budget? Lots of little upgrades? Rizzo probably wouldn't do a the rental deal that deprives the club of a major future piece, because the budget is getting pinched here too. I don't think the Rays will get that much dumber post-Friedman, but maybe you're right and we have a Smyly face for them.

In the same way, I would not expect the Lerners to spend the $$ for Sandoval or Beltre's contracts even with the savings from LaRoche and Soriano moving on since all that will probably be used up in arbitration raises. Sandoval will get a lot of years for a fat guy and cost a pick in the unlikely event SF doesn't find a way to get him back. Texas will think they can get healthy and compete in 2015 with Beltre and their own fat-contracted Fielder. Much as I like the idea of buying low on Kipnis, Cleveland just locked him up in a long deal that still looks pretty good, so it still really isn't buying low, it's going to cost a lot. Taking one of Arizona's young infielders come with a risk, that makes sense if you're not in win-now mode, but it might leave them no better off next year. It's probably better than nothing and the odds on favorite.

Do the Angels have a decent replacement for Kendrick? Detwiler or really any starting pitcher could make sense for them since he's gone after next year.

Wilmer Difo seems a bit overhyped after finally having some success in a full season league and he's been around long enough to need a 40-man roster spot - that seems like a situation where he's worth more to a club who's thin in the minors than to the Nats in win-mode. It's really too bad that Utley is nixing deals, because that might be the start of something. Renda's probably more a Lombo-type player than the Pedroia-type wishful thinking I've heard.

Chinatown Express said...

SIGN DAN UGGLA! (teee hehehe. Sorry. But wouldn't Braves fans' heads explode if Uggla became a restoration project with the Nats and put up good numbers?)

If we somehow landed Altuva, I'd be the first one to buy a jersey, probably in a size too large for him to wear. But I agree that signing a 3B is our obvious solution, with Tex moving back to 2B.

KW said...

The scariest option I have seen is Stephen Drew, mentioned by Kilgore, who has both the D-back and Boras pedigrees. Ugh. Or Uggla, who is a much better hitter, which is saying something. Just say no!

I wouldn't completely dismiss the Kendrick idea, as the Angels are desperate for pitching, and he is only signed for one year. That would be another Cabrera-like stopgap measure, though.

I agree with the consensus that it should be easier to find a higher-impact 3B than 2B. (Zobrist is the only 2B who really interests me, but he's also only signed for one year [if they pick up his option], and as blovy points out, the Rays don't really need pitchers.) Panda will not age well, plus his regular-season stats aren't that great anyway. I'm not sure Hanley would be worth the risk/price. Headley probably won't be available for the discount at which he should come because the Yanks will be in the bidding.

So we're down to trading for Donaldson or Beltre. Despite all the mentions of him, I really don't know why Donaldson would be available. We'll see. It would take quite a package to get him, including Souza, maybe Cole, maybe even Roark. Beltre is old and expensive but still hitting well, and he might come at a bit of a discount trade-wise as the Rangers need to clear slots for their kids to play.

Unknown said...

should have just thrown the bank at cano....

JWLumley said...

Sign Sandoval, with a weight clause in the contract, and platoon him with Danny. Danny can hit lefties, Pablo can't. After all, it's someone else's money.

Other crazy ideas. Michael Morse used to be a SS, why can't he play 3B? He's a FA, sign him and LaRoche. Between Morse, LaRoche and Zim the Nats should be able to get 2 full seasons worth of PA's. Also, teach Souza to play 3B. He seems fairly athletic, why do teams assume you have to be short to play the infield and if you're very tall you're destined for the outfield or 3B?

Finally, trade for other team's B prospects at 2B and 3B. Get enough of them and see which one works out. Trade the remainders for bullpen depth.

Uh, this isn't going to end well.

Ollie said...

Zimmermann, with most of his salary covered, for Zobrist plus a prospect (or two)?

Chinatown Express said...

Ollie: Maybe I'm kidding myself, but isn't that a small return for Z'nn?

KW said...

Desmond, Clippard, Souza, Detwiler, Voth, and maybe Hill to the A's for Donaldson and Jaso, with Beane involving a third (and potentially a fourth) party to give him a good return for Desi, Clip, and maybe Det (all of whom only have one year left before FA). I would think Desi could end up with the Dodgers or the Yankees, but I'd rather have Donaldson than anything those two could offer directly. That might leave the Nats with Espy at SS, but his defense there would compensate more for his bat than it does at 2B.

Now that's outside the box. With any team other than the A's, I would say it could never happen.

Anonymous said...

Roark and AJ cole for Mookie Betts.

Done and done.

Anonymous said...

Sign the Cuban Defector Jose Fernandez (no, not the pitcher...) Lefty hitter, supposedly a good fielder and had a whopping .480 OBP in Cuba. It almost makes TOO much sense...

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