One of the more interesting (okay, perhaps only interesting) position battles this spring in the Washington Nationals camp centers around second base, considering the guy they traded for to play the spot, Yunel Escobar, hasn’t taken a swing in a game yet due to “general soreness” and back issues since he got here.
Considering the back issues were one of the lingering things that plagued him all season last year, it’s not a good start to his Nats career and could very well be an indication of the value the Nats are going to get for him.
The guys that have been playing the position while Escobar convalesces are incumbent Danny Espinosa, who’s attempting to turn himself into a right-handed only hitter, and Dan Uggla, who was last seen in the bigs hitting .149/.229/.213 last season between Atlanta and 12 appearances for San Francisco.
Uggla, now 35, doesn’t seem to be that worthy of a reclamation project — he hasn’t hit above .233 since 2010. But he did hit 22 homers as recently as 2013, and Nats GM Mike Rizzo loves the guy, so the Nats took a shot.
According to Uggla, he played through an undiagnosed oculomotor dysfunction as a result of getting hit in the head twice and is now fully healthy. His spring results thus far are encouraging: he’s hitting .333 with an OBP over .450 and hit his second homer Saturday against the Marlins.
The Nats are playing with found money with regards to Uggla, as the Braves are on the hook for his ridiculous salary. If he can prove useful again at the big league level, it’s a double-bonus.
The problem is that if Uggla isn’t playing every day, his value is limited. Uggla has only played second base his entire career. He’s not a good defender or runner, so if he’s relegated to the bench, it’s almost exclusively as a right-handed pinch-hitter, effectively limiting manager Matt Williams to a three-man bench. He could probably serve at first base in an emergency basis.
Escobar is right-handed. Tyler Moore is out of options. If they don’t trade him, he’s a right-handed pinch-hitter. Kevin Frandsen is a right-handed pinch-hitter. Espinosa is now a right-handed pinch-hitter. You get where I’m going with this.
Espinosa is not out of options. Perhaps the most sensible thing — if Uggla’s hitting seems sustainable — is to send Espinosa to Syracuse to concentrate on hitting right-handed, and go with a bench of Moore, Escobar, Frandsen and Tony Gwynn Jr, at least until Denard Span or Jayson Werth is healthy to play again.
Of course, all this is dependent on Anthony Rendon getting healthy and getting back in the lineup at third base. If he’s not ready to start the season on the active roster, all bets are off.