UPDATE, 3:05 p.m.: The Nationals announced they optioned Espinosa to Class AAA Syracuse after the Chief’s game this afternoon. He went 0 for 4 with four strikeouts, making him 2 for 21 with 14 strikeouts during his tenure in the minors.
The Nationals will officially option second baseman Danny Espinosa to Class AAA Syracuse, an expected procedural move that, in a technical sense, makes him a healthy minor leaguer as opposed to a rehabbing major leaguer. General Manager Mike Rizzo confirmed the move on his weekly radio show on 106.7 The Fan.
After Espinosa played through a fractured wrist for two months, the Nationals placed him on the disabled list June 4. The Nationals apparently considered sending Espinosa to the minors then – one teammate said he received a text message from Espinosa that he had been demoted – before allowing him to stay on the 25-man roster. Rizzo, though, said at the time planned to make Espinosa adjust his swing and timing in the minors before he came back to the majors.
In 167 plate appearances as he played through his wrist injury and a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, Espinosa hit .158/.193/.272, a struggle his excellent defense could only offset so much. Despite an optimistic outlook, Espinosa is 2 for 17 with 10 strikeouts at Class AAA Syracuse. Meanwhile, rookie Anthony Rendon has entrenched himself as the Nationals’ everyday second baseman.
Espinosa’s plunge has altered the Nationals’ present and future outlook at second base. When Espinosa arrived in the majors as a call-up in 2010, the Nationals believed they had found their permanent second baseman. He hit 15 homers before the 2011 all-star break and made a strong case for the All-Star Game. Between his debut and the start of 2013, Espinosa played in 346 out of a possible 352 games.
His offensive production steadily dwindled. In 2012, he led the National League with 189 strikeouts. His occasional power and excellent defense still made him a valuable player, but his offense continued to crater. Since the second half of 2011, Espinosa has hit .218/.285/.369.
For now, Espinosa has lost his position and his status as a major leaguer. He will stop collecting service time, but he has likely already accumulated enough to qualify for arbitration after this season, even if he does not return to the major leagues.
Espinosa is confident he will find his swing again. The Nationals have to hope he will, that a player who once appeared to be a surefire piece of their foundation will not remain adrift.