What Do Washington Nationals Do With Danny Espinosa?

Ed Szczepanski – USA TODAY Sports

Though the Washington Nationals did not have many, second base was a mild question mark entering 2013. Incumbent Danny Espinosa struggled for a spell in 2012, striking out a lot and coming up small in big moments. During Washington’s preseason fan fest, Espinosa also admitted he had been battling a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder, but with rehab, he could avoid surgery and would be ready for the 2013 season.

Well, he was ready for 2013, but that was just about where good things ended this year for Espinosa. Espinosa was hit by a pitch early on, breaking his wrist, which was pointed to as the reason for his struggles, as he was placed on the DL in June after posting a .158/.193/.272 slash line with three home runs and 12 RBIs, striking out 47 times versus walking only four times. After the DL stint, Espinosa was sent down to Triple-A Syracuse and got off to a slow start, but he has picked things up recently, pushing his average over the Mendoza line, to .208, after a few hot weeks.

Espinosa was replaced on the big league club by Anthony Rendon, and he has filled in admirably, going .287/.341/.439 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in his rookie season. Rendon has shown an eye Espinosa has never shown, walking 14 times and only striking out 33 times, while batting in multiple spots in Washington’s order. Rendon has made the transition from third base to second base look easy, especially with his strong arm.

Rendon was Washington’s first pick in the 2011 MLB Draft and was slated to perhaps take over for Ryan Zimmerman at third base, whereas Zimmerman would move across the diamond to first because of lingering shoulder problems and a growing issue making routine throws. That day, obviously, is far off, with Adam LaRoche locked in for the next couple years, so Rendon will be at second for Washington for the foreseeable future.

With Espinosa starting to heat up and Rendon’s emergence at the Major League level, a decision has come to light for Washington. That decision is what to do with Espinosa. Rendon probably would have to see his slash line drop exponentially to be sent down, especially with his veteran approach offensively, something Espinosa will probably never have, being much more of a free swinger. It’s easy to say Espinosa does not have a spot to come back up to, and he would be too much of a liability coming off the bench to strike out.

Espinosa is most likely on his way, granted he continues to hit at Triple-A, to being packaged in a trade, most likely as the centerpiece. Espinosa has shown he is a solid major league player, who can hit major league pitching when healthy. Of course, Espinosa has his warts: he doesn’t walk and strikes out a lot. Espinosa does have defensive versatility, being drafted as a shortstop, so the versatility makes him an interesting trade chip. The fact that he is a switch hitter definitely helps as well.

Could Espinosa return to Washington? Sure, probably as an injury replacement or something along those lines. But sadly, he probably is not coming back to start every day and may have seen his final pitch in a Nationals uniform.

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