As we get closer to Spring Training, most of the Nationals’ position players are already set. However, there is one spot that still remains a question mark for Matt Williams and company. That is second base.
Last season, Danny Espinosa struggled to find consistency at the plate. In 114 games, the 27-year old hit .219 with eight home runs and 27 RBI’s. While he is under Washington’s control till 2018, when he is a free agent, MLB Trade Rumors projected in their offseason outlook that Espinosa will most likely make $2.3 million in arbitration. The question for Mike Rizzo right now is whether or not he could find a way to upgrade that position now that Asdrubal Cabrera signed a one-year deal with the Rays?
Well, the Rays have a player that could be another piece in the Nationals’ championship puzzle. 33-year old Ben Zobrist has one year remaining on his deal worth about $7.5 million. For Tampa last year, Zobrist hit .262 with ten home runs and 52 RBI’s.
When you look at Zobrist’s numbers, one of the things I like about his game is his ability to work the count and get on base. He had a .354 on-base percentage, which was third amongst all second baseman behind Robinson Cano and Jose Altuve. He also drew 75 walks last season, which was sixth in the American League and second amongst second baseman behind the Twins’ Brian Dozier (89).
Another factor that gives Zobrist the edge over Espinosa is that Zobrist can hit right-handed pitching. Last season, Espinosa hit a mere .183 vs. righties in 230 AB’s while Zobrist hit .246. Yes, Zobrist had almost 200 more AB’s in those situations, but it’s still a good factor that a possible platoon could be in order for those two if a trade occurs.
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While Washington does have an infielder on the bench in Kevin Frandsen that has position flexibility (13 games at second base last year), Zobrist can also play multiple positions on the diamond, but the strength of his game is at second. In 79 games at that position, he made six errors.
Now, the Nationals did sign Dan Uggla to a minor-league deal last week and it will be interesting to see what the veteran has left after struggling mightily with the Atlanta Braves.
I didn’t mind the Uggla signing because it is only a minor-league contract with an invite to spring training and Rizzo is very familiar with Uggla from when he was a scouting director in Arizona back in 2001. Plus, you have to take into account what Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote about in terms of the 34-year-old playing with an undetected concussion last season. If the health can check out, maybe Uggla contributes some to the team.
So, what could the Rays ask for in return for Zobrist? I talked to Robbie Knopf, the editor over at Rays Colored Glasses, to ask about what Tampa would want from the Nationals’ farm system:
"“The Rays would first ask for Lucas Giolito, but a package built around A.J. Cole could also work. The most I could see the Nats giving up would be say Cole and Brian Goodwin, but the funny thing is that the Rays could easily say no.”"
We’ve already seen one trade involving the Nationals and Rays this offseason during that three-team Wil Myers deal that sent Steven Souza Jr. to the Rays. Could we potentially see another one? This deal might not happen right away, but if the Rays are not in the playoff mix in July, it could be a trade deadline upgrade possibility for the Nats as well. While Tampa will likely ask for a lot back for Zobrist, this is a move that could make the Nationals even better towards their quest at a World Series.