SAN DIEGO — The Washington Nationals need a second baseman. Actually, they desire an infielder, perhaps a young one who also can play shortstop and maybe hits left-handed. That has been clear since the offseason started. But like anything with this team this winter, the mandate isn’t simply “go out and find one.” Any search for an infielder is a complex consideration intertwined with the rest of the team.
This offseason in particular, no potential move by the Nationals will happen in a vacuum. They have pitchers they have made available — starters Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, relievers Tyler Clippard and Ross Detwiler (all free agents after next season) — that could net them the infielder they seek. Should Zimmermann or shortstop Ian Desmond (another pending 2015 free agent) agree to a contract extension this offseason, the Nationals’ thinking is likely to change.
“Different moves beget other moves,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said at the winter meetings. “It’s a very fluid situation. When one move is made, there’s usually a reciprocal move that falls into place. When we find a deal we like, we’re going to pull the trigger on it, and that may mean more moves. It may mean that the best team we have is by doing very little.”
The Nationals have cast a wide net. They have talked to nearly 20 teams this week and have a long list of infielders and options depending on different scenarios. The trade market is more fruitful than the current free agent class, which includes infielders such as Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera and Stephen Drew.
The Nationals checked in with Cabrera’s agent earlier this winter, but their level of interest doesn’t appear strong.
Some second basemen — Omar Infante and Howie Kendrick — have popped up as trade candidates at different points. The Nationals asked the Texas Rangers about young second baseman Rougned Odor but were rebuffed. They also asked about Ben Zobrist, according to a person familiar with the situation, but it would be a long shot to pry him away from the Tampa Bay Rays. Zobrist, who is making $7.5 million in the final year of his deal, is a switch-hitting veteran who can play all over the field, though second is his primary position.
So much about the Nationals’ second base issue hinges on their pending free agents. After past efforts failed to reach an agreement, the Nationals and Zimmermann’s agent met here Tuesday and had a “good discussion,” Rizzo said. If the Nationals believe they can’t sign Zimmermann or Fister to extensions, they could be moved in a trade for an infielder.
If Desmond also agrees to a long-term deal, the Nationals wouldn’t be as hard-pressed to find an infielder who also can play shortstop. But if the Nationals don’t feel they can reach anything with Desmond — and he rejected their seven-year, $107 million offer last winter — they will need a shortstop for 2016.
“If you use one of those players to acquire your second baseman, it’d fill a need at that position,” Rizzo said. “But it could cause lack of depth or another need somewhere else. I certainly would want to address it whenever we move one of these players, if we move one of these players.”
Throughout the winter, Rizzo has said Anthony Rendon could slide to second base should the team acquire a third baseman. Previously, it felt like lip service — third is Rendon’s natural position, and he excelled there last season. But according to people around the Nationals, they are indeed looking at third basemen, and if a good one is out there to be had, Rendon would move.
“The roster flexibility we have works in our favor,” Rizzo said. “The fact that Rendon can play several positions really makes us a fluid roster that gives us more possibilities.”
Nationals Manager Matt Williams, a former all-star third baseman, liked what he saw from Rendon at second and third base last season, and he would have no issue playing Rendon more at second base if needed.
“He could play both very well,” Williams said. “He adapted to second really well. That could be, with a little bit of time, natural for him, as well.”
Although Williams publicly supported Danny Espinosa, his struggles at the plate mean he likely will be a backup infielder next season. Williams said it’s premature to declare Espinosa will drop switch-hitting but they hope to have him practice hitting right-handed pitching as a right-handed batter in spring training.
The Nationals always could consider the international market. They have scouted and like 19-year-old Cuban second baseman Yoan Moncada, who has not yet been cleared by the U.S. government to sign with a team. But early speculation has pegged Moncada’s signing bonus at $30 million to $40 million, which would incur a penalty. His potential price gives the Nationals pause because they have been judicious about international spending. They also have scouted other Cuban infielders such as Andy Ibanez and Jose Fernandez, the latter a player some within the organization have liked more than Moncada.
Nationals notes: Rizzo said Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper will flip positions next season. Rizzo said the Nationals wanted a “young set of legs” in right field, so Harper will take over there and Werth will man left. . . . Rizzo said opposing teams have asked about Detwiler as a reliever and some as a starter. Detwiler would net more in a trade if he’s viewed as a starter.
Staff writers Adam Kilgore and Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.
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