In the span of a week, the Washington Nationals have seen their backup infielder competition go from a non-story to what could be one of the more compelling ones when Spring Training begins. The front-runner after the trade of Steve Lombardozzi was Danny Espinosa, who spent the lion’s share of 2013 in Syracuse after a slow start to the season that saw him demoted.
Now, Espinosa has the opportunity to make the roster as a backup infielder. Of course, that was until the team decided to sign veteran Jamey Carroll and veteran infielder Mike Fontenot to minor league deals with invitations to Spring Training.
Carroll, of course, will be 40 next month, but has fantastic career numbers as a pinch-hitter and has a proficiency for getting on base, as illustrated by his career .349 OBP. Fontenot, who will be 34 midway through 2014, does not have the same pinch-hitting numbers as Carroll, but he is considerably younger, and could be a smart signing for the Nationals if he does work out.
So, with these two signings, combined with Zach Walters also being a factor after hitting 29 homers in Triple-A in 2013, could the Nationals be preparing to trade Espinosa?
It’s not completely out of the question since Espinosa does still have a shoulder problem, and did not hit much better following his demotion. For a team that is expected to leapfrog the Atlanta Braves in 2014 and win back the National League East pennant, they absolutely cannot have holes on their roster, especially ones than can be filled easily.
If Espinosa does not hit in Spring Training, there is no real incentive to keep him within the organization, especially with Anthony Rendon manning the position and names like Walters also on the roster. It just doesn’t pay to keep Espinosa stowed away in the minors, blocking other players with more upside.
This also has all of the makings of a Joel Hanrahan/Henry Rodriguez situation, though they are pitchers and this is a position player. Both Rodriguez and Hanrahan were abysmal in Washington with control issues, but their ability to throw hard kept them on the roster way too long.
After Hanrahan was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates and was able to turn his career around, it made GM Mike Rizzo hold onto Rodriguez far too long, which is something that simply cannot be done on a winning franchise, which is what Washington now is. Espinosa’s power potential and ability to play strong defense at multiple positions is probably what has kept him on the roster, as well as the patient combination of Davey Johnson and Rizzo.
It should not come as a huge shock if Espinosa is unable to make the roster as a reserve because of lingering shoulder injuries; regardless of rehab, it could rear its ugly head at any time, especially with him coming off of the bench. Secondly, if the names previously mentioned have strong springs, there is no incentive to keep Espinosa as one or two of the three could end up stowed away at Triple-A.
Needless to say, this is a make-or-break spring for Espinosa, and the deck could be stacked against him.