The Nationals are using the winter meetings to put the finishing touches on their bench and bullpen, still looking to add another bat and a left-handed reliever or two. One area that is set, at least judging by General Manager Mike Rizzo’s public statements, is backup infielder.
Rizzo said this afternoon he envisions Danny Espinosa, whose horrendous offensive 2013 season earned him a demotion to Class AAA Syracuse in early June, as the Nationals’ utility infielder. Espinosa has proven himself an elite defensive player at both second base and shortstop. He has never played anywhere else, but Rizzo said Espinosa could also play third base.
“I think we’re covered,” Rizzo said. “I think Danny Espinosa could go and play third base extremely well. A guy who can play shortstop the way he plays shortstop and a guy who can play second base the way he plays second, I have all the confidence in the world that he can go to third and handle the position defensively.”
The Nationals’ infield situation may not even require a backup infielder who can play third. Anthony Rendon, slated as the Nationals’ everyday second baseman, was drafted as a third baseman and played there almost his entire brief minor league career. In the event Ryan Zimmerman goes down, Rendon could shift to third and Espinosa could play second.
Rizzo, though, touted Espinosa’s versatility, suggesting he could even play first base. “I definitely think he could,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo’s glowing endorsement of Espinosa could come off to some as trying to inflate his value. Yahoo! Sports reported that the Nationals are “shopping” Espinosa. One Nationals official did not agree with that classification.
Rizzo surely would be open-minded if a team gives a strong offer for Espinosa. The Pirates, as one speculative example, have a need for a middle infielder and a surplus of relievers that includes left-handers Justin Wilson and Tony Watson.
But the Nationals are determined to not sell low on Espinosa. They have rebuffed several teams, including the Rays and Cardinals, who have tried to pry Espinosa following a dismal season in which he hit .158 with a .454 OPS.
Espinosa also has a major proponent in Rizzo. Even as others within the Nationals’ organization have pushed for the Nationals to seek a deal for Espinosa, Rizzo has stood by his belief in Espinosa.