The Nationals traded frustrated infielder Danny Espinosa to the Angels for two minor-league pitchers Saturday night. The move came after the Nationals acquired outfielder Adam Eaton on Wednesday, a deal that shifted Trea Turner from center field to shortstop and would have relegated Espinosa, Washington’s starting shortstop last season, to the bench. In response, Espinosa backed out of attending the club’s annual Winterfest at Walter E. Washington Convention Center this weekend.
Washington and Los Angeles struck a similar deal — a starting infielder for two right-handed pitchers — exactly a year earlier; last Dec. 10, the Nationals traded starting infielder Yunel Escobar for right-handers Trevor Gott and Michael Brady. In that trade, the Nationals were selling high on Escobar’s best offensive season. They had less leverage Saturday with Espinosa, who played a good shortstop and was boom-or-bust at the plate. He cracked 24 home runs (fourth most among shortstops), but batted .209 with a .684 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 174 strikeouts.
The switch-hitter posted a 1.7 FanGraphs WAR in 157 games, good for 11th among National League shortstops, and his strikeout rate was second highest in the National League. The lack of contact didn’t mesh with the rest of the Nationals, whose offense accumulated the fourth-fewest strikeouts in the NL, but Manager Dusty Baker stuck with him through the postseason. Espinosa went 2 for 14 with eight strikeouts and three hit by pitches in the NL Division Series against the Dodgers.
The pitchers coming to the Nationals are Austin Adams and Kyle McGowin, both 25-year-old right-handers who weren’t considered among the Angels’ top prospects. Adams spent nearly all of 2016 pitching for Class AA Arkansas and was added to the Angels’ 40-man roster last month. He posted a 3.05 ERA and 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 32 appearances out of the bullpen. McGowin, a starter, had a 6.65 ERA in 22 starts at Class AAA Salt Lake after tallying a 4.68 ERA for Arkansas.
Trading Espinosa, who turns 30 in April, was a possibility that Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo acknowledged last month at the GM Meetings in Arizona, over a month before trading for Eaton. The chances seemingly improved following Eaton’s addition, but the Nationals were also leaving the door open, at least publicly, to keeping Espinosa two months from spring training.
“Well, it leaves us with a lot of options,” Rizzo said this week at the winter meetings regarding Espinosa, the Nationals’ third-round pick in 2008. “We have positional flexibility, or we continue to have positional flexibility, and we will make those decisions down the road as we see fit.”
An Orange County native, Espinosa grew up attending Angels games and lives in California during the offseason. The Angels have defensive dynamo Andrelton Simmons at shortstop, so Espinosa is expected to play second base. He was Washington’s primary second baseman in 2011 and 2012 and has played 522 games at second base since breaking into the majors in 2010.
The Nationals accrued some payroll flexibility by trading Espinosa, who MLB Trade Rumors projects would make $5.3 million in 2017 if he goes through arbitration. He is slated to become a free agent after next season.