Danny Espinosa: Inching Towards a Solution

By now everyone knows there is a problem with Danny Espinosa. Major league baseball players don't perform to a .212 wOBA unless there is something wrong, and before the season Espinosa told everyone what was wrong. Sometime last September he completely tore the rotator cuff off the bone. Instead of going for a surgery that would have held him out until June he opted to try and strengthen the muscles around it and play through it. It hasn't worked, but Danny Espinosa isn't going to admit that it is a problem with his shoulder, and there is a chance that their isn't, but when a player is pulling off of fastballs down the middle and can't ever get the barrel to the ball there are physical issues.

The bigger issue is the reason Espinosa is playing through this injury. He is doing it in order to keep his job, but instead he has played himself into a position to lose his job.  This situation isn't without solutions and some of them are even within the organization.

Steve Lombardozzi hasn't played that much better than Danny Espinosa this season and his career and minor league numbers suggest a player that isn't much more than a utility infielder and not a long time solution. The Nationals aren't looking for a long time solution. They are looking to get production from the position for the 2013 season or until a better solution presents itself. Lombardozzi had a three hit day yesterday against the Padres which should earn him another chance to play today, and whether it is in left field or at second tonight if Lombardozzi keeps hitting he should get an extended look at second base when Jayson Werth returns. Lombardozzi over Espinosa doesn't help the Nats offense much when the line-up is healthy it is replacing simply replacing the number seven hitter.  

It may be asking the Nationals too much to try and kill two birds with one stone by both upgrading the second base offense and fixing the overall offense. Second basemen aren't known for their bats and most second basemen on second division clubs aren't much better than Espinosa or Lombardozzi. The three impact offensive second basemen in baseball are Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, and Ian Kinsler. Two of those aren't going anywhere and the third could be moved to first or left by his team to make room for top prospect Jurkison Profar, and a trade is going to cost something, and while trading the future for the present isn't always a bad idea the costs have to be weighed and while Kinsler may be worth Goodwin, Karns, and Giolito someone like Howie Kendrick isn't worth Detwiler and Rendon.

That last name mentioned brings us to another solution. It is unknown how Rendon would be defensively around the bag. It will be worse than Espinosa and likely worse than Lombardozzi, but the offensive upgrade should be more than enough to outweigh it. At AA this season Rendon is hitting .350/.484/.650. If he isn't major league ready he is certainly ready for a higher level, at least with the bat. The big issue is that since going back to the minors Rendon has played two games at second. It is unknown if he is drilling at the position between games and if the issue with him getting in game action is the Nats being cautious with him learning to turn the double play. That is the one skill a third baseman moving to second wouldn't have and not being able to avoid the runner trying to break up the double play can cause serious injury, especially to someone with a history of lower leg injuries.

The final solution is the most baseball solution of all, patience. It is also often the hardest solution. Danny Espinosa is the best defensive second baseman in the system and second base is a defensive position. Few major league players have been this bad over the course of an entire season. 2012's worst hitter was Drew Stubbs with a .271 wOBA, in 2011 it was Alex Rios at .267, and in 2010 it was Cesar Izturis at .249. If Espinosa continues to produce at such a poor level he will be replaced, but all signs point to it being close to impossible for him to continue at this level. If he does it is because the shoulder is worse than he expected and he is going to have to get it fixed. Once that happens the Nats have the choice of playing Lombardozzi until Rendon is ready or a trade can be made before the July 31 deadline or bring up Rendon and let him learn on the fly.  

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