April 23, 2014

Washington Nationals better off with Rendon AND healthy Espinosa

Since his recall from the minors, Anthony Rendon has been hitting the cover off the ball for the Washington Nationals. The second baseman — for now — was 10-for-27 (.370/.414/.519) since June 5. Overall as a big leaguer, after Saturday’s 3-for-5 with his first MLB home run, the 23-year-old rookie is hitting .333/.406/.491 in 64 plate appearances. Granted, that’s about as small a sample size as allowed by law, but the kid has gotten off to a good start.

He’s kinda living high on the BABiP right now, but his OBP numbers are in line with what he’s done in the minors, while his SLG is a little down. But his six doubles give promise that he’s going to provide some pop to go along with his excellent plate discipline.

He’s done so well so far that many fans are clinging to his performance as something akin to a new savior, especially with Bryce Harper out for a month now and still out for the foreseeable future with the knee injury. In fact, many are publicly renouncing Danny Espinosa altogether, hoping the injured player remains in the minors in perpetuity.

It wasn’t all that long ago when the same fans were clamoring for Espinosa to move over to shortstop and have the team jettison the then-struggling Ian Desmond. After an All-Star berth and perhaps being the Nats most complete player thus far this season, Desmond is now walking sacred grounds in NatsTown and Espinosa is being lined up for the firing squad.

But the truth is, the Nats would be better off if Espinosa can prove his health, get back in the lineup, and provide his 20-20 power/speed combo and typical Gold Glove caliber defense in addition to, not instead of, Rendon’s production.

I’m skeptical that Espinosa will ever be entirely healthy all season — that he needs to have a surgical procedure to remove the nagging bone chips in his wrist. For that matter, he should also get his balky left shoulder fixed as well, rehab over the winter, and come back in the spring finally fully healthy to compete to win his job back. Maybe this conversation is all a moot point.

But if he can show during his current rehab stint (so far: 2-for-7, 0 XBH, 3 K, 1 BB) that he’s healthy enough to contribute successfully, and not the miserable .158/.193/.272 he put up through June 2 when the Nats finally disabled him, but more along the lines of the .240/.320/.410 that he put up in ’11 and ’12, Espinosa can be a valuable contributor to the Nats offense. He’s not an All-Star, but can provide pop, speed and defense from down in the order.

Does Espinosa walk right back in and claim his starting spot? Does Rendon stay at second, making Espinosa the utility infielder, which puts Steve Lombardozzi’s job in jeopardy? Could Davey Johnson get enough at bats between second, short, third, left field and the occasional DH availability to keep Rendon in the batting order? Surely it’s not ideal for Rendon defensively. But you’ve already asked the kid to play a spot he hasn’t since little league, and so far, so good.

Does the team work out some sort of trade to open up a full-time position?

One thing is fairly certain at this point. Rendon can hit. And he pretty much has to stay in the big leagues now, with the offense he’s providing on a daily basis. It will be fascinating to see what the team does when Espinosa proclaims himself healthy enough to return to the big leagues this year — and rest assured, he will try to return.

The Nats aren’t going to “Wally Pipp” Espinosa, as much as a segment of the fan base would like. This team is better off in the long run with Espinosa healthy. Switch-hitting middle infielders with 20/20 power speed don’t grow on trees. He just has to prove his health first, and we can go from there.

Comments

  1. I was a big Espinosa fan prior to this year, but I will come unglued if he is inserted back into the starting lineup over Rendon. I don’t know what he was thinking not getting his shoulder repaired immediately after last season, but it is pretty apparent that he is damaged goods until it gets fixed. His best value to the big club for the rest of this year would be as a late inning defensive replacement, but if he plays the rest of this year he’ll face the same quandary as last year–namely that rehabbing after shoulder surgery will cost him part of next season.

    As for a trade, I also don’t see him being the one traded as that would be the ultimate sell-low–maybe Kobernus or Lombardozzi instead. Unfortunately, it looks like the Nats are stuck with a weak hitting utility infielder until Espinosa finally agrees to do what he should have done eight months ago.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      completely agree. the shoulder is now going to cost him parts of three seasons. his instance to stay in the lineup is what could very well kill his MLB career.

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