The case for Danny Espinosa’s call-up

brushback_harperA new wave of Nationals reinforcements will arrive in Philadelphia tonight, and Danny Espinosa will not be among that handful of September call-ups. General Manager Mike Rizzo informed him over the weekend that his season would end Monday with Class AAA Syracuse’s final game. Espinosa’s year has been a disappointment – he started the year as the Nationals’ second baseman, got demoted in early June and barely hit at Class AAA. Whatever struggles Espinosa had this year, the Nationals should still add him to the roster.

The Nationals need every sliver of help they can get if they are going to overcome overwhelming odds and catch the Reds for the second wild card spot, and Espinosa can help even in a small role. He could be a perfect late-inning defensive replacement at second base for rookie Anthony Rendon. He remains one of the best defensive second basemen in the game, and in September the Nationals would have the luxury of carrying his glove without needing to worry about his bat.

Nationals officials have spoken about viewing September call-ups as a reward for minor leaguers who had good seasons. That’s a productive stance, but they should not also use not calling up a player as a punishment. If a player has a specific that fills a need, other blemishes shouldn’t keep the Nationals from adding him to the roster. And Espinosa’s defense is an elite skill. Espinosa knows he had a bad year; he doesn’t need to be hit in the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. He can help them, and that’s what matters.

The Nationals have financial motivation to not call up Espinosa. If he does not play in the majors again this year, he will likely fall short of qualifying for salary arbitration as a Super Two player by a matter of days. Given Espinosa’s play this year, it wouldn’t even be that much money – he would probably make somewhere around $1.5 million in 2014 rather than the $500,000 league minimum if he comes back the minors. Maybe the Nationals view $1 million as too much to pay a defensive replacement for 25 games. Even if they have only a fading glimmer of hope, that much money shouldn’t take precedent over fielding the best roster they can.

Espinosa may have hit .217/.283/.290 at Syracuse, and Manager Davey Johnson may have been disappointed with his ability to make adjustments. Then tell him to leave his bat in Syracuse. He could spell Rendon, who in his first year as a second baseman since Little League has made nine errors in 67 games. Just last night, Rendon dropped a transfer on what could have been a double play.

This is no knock on Rendon – he transitioned to second base out of necessity, when the Nationals could no longer carry Espinosa because of his bat. Well, now the Nationals can put Espinosa on the roster for his glove and his glove alone. There’s no compelling reason not to, other than money, and that’s not a good reason.

If the Nationals are worried about Espinosa’s attitude in the clubhouse as he adjusts to a defense-only role, his comments over the weekend suggest they shouldn’t be.

“I understood that if I came back up, I would be a defensive replacement, maybe come off the bench to sac bunt or pinch run,” Espinosa said. “I understood I didn’t hit well this year. I took responsibility for the reason why I was in AAA. At the end of the day, it’s not about me. I think defensively, I could be a huge help to the team to win a wild card.”

This discussion may be more about principle than an actual effect on the Nationals’ chances. After their brutal loss last night, the Nationals trail the Reds by 7 ½ games with 25 to play. If the Nationals go 20-5, the Reds would need to play .500 in their final 24 games to finish in a tie with them. The easy portion of the Nationals’ schedule is starting to slip away. They have gone 1-3 in their last four games against the Mets and Phillies. They still have another 12 games in a row against the Phillies, Mets and Marlins. But then they conclude with nine of 13 against the Braves, Cardinals and Diamondbacks.

The use of Espinosa as a defensive replacement could make only a marginal difference. But if the Nationals are going to make up all that ground, they need all the marginal differences they can get.

FROM THE POST

As Tyler Clippard had a rare off night, the Nationals suffered a crushing, 3-2 loss in Philadelphia, James Wagner writes.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Harper playing through hip issue

More call-ups coming

Bernadina faces Nats

Davey choosing between Roark and Ohlendorf

Harper’s good bunt

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Buffalo 4, Syracuse 2: Jeff Kobernus went 2 for 4 and finished the season hitting .318. Zach Walters went 1 for 4 and committed his 38th error. Eury Perez went 1 for 3 and finished the season hitting .300. Syracuse finished 66-78.

Harrisburg 1, Richmond 0: The Senators finished 77-65 and clinched their division title on the final day of the season. Their playoff series will start Wednesday at Erie. Robert Gilliam, Richie Mirowski, Pat McCoy, Neil Holland and Tyler Herron combined on a two-hit shutout. Gilliam struck out six and walked four in 4 2/3 innings. Jeff Howell went 3 for 4 with the lone RBI. Steve Souza went 2 for 4 with a double.

Souza, 23, finished the season hitting .300/.396/.548 with 15 homers over 273 at-bats. Brian Goodwin, 22, finished the season hitting .252/.355/.407 with 10 homers and 19 steals over 457 at-bats.

Frederick 16, Potomac 5: The P-Nats finished 84-55 and won their second-half division title. They will start a playoff series Wednesday at home against Lynchburg at 7:05 p.m. Michael Taylor went 2 for 4 with two doubles. Brett Mooneyham allowed eight runs in 3 1/3 innings on eight hits and four walks, striking out two.

Michael Taylor, one of the best defensive outfielders in the minor leagues, finished the year hitting .263/.340/.426. Blake Schwartz went 11-4 with a 2.65 ERA, 80 strikeouts and 26 walks over 132 2/3 innings.

Kannapolis 4, Hagerstown 3: Hagerstown went 80-57 and will begin their playoff series Wednesday at West Virginia. Wander Ramos went 2 for 5 with a double. Kylin Turnbull allowed no runs in five innings on one hit and one walk, striking out three. Dakota Bacus, the pitcher the Nationals acquired for Kurt Suzuki, allowed no runs in 2 1/3 relief innings on one hit and no walks, striking out three.

Tony Renda finished the year hitting .294/.390/.405 with three homers, 43 doubles, 68 walks and 65 strikeouts in 521 at-bats. He also stole 30 bases in 36 attempts.

Auburn was postponed.

Also on Nationals Journal

Bryce Harper receiving treatment on his hip; Davey Johnson unhappy he didn't know