Sep 28, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians second basemanZach Walters
(6) rounds the bases after hitting a home run during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
The Washington Nationals entered the offseason with one of the most complete rosters in all of Major League Baseball. The only real hole the team had was second base, but they addressed that need by trading for Yunel Escobar earlier this winter.
While Escobar, a shortstop by trade, probably isn’t the ideal player the Nationals want at second base next season, he’ll certainly be an improvement over the other options the team had – namely Danny Espinosa and Dan Uggla. It’s also important to note that the market for second basemen this offseason was weak, and after Asdrubal Cabrera left via free agency, the Nationals are fortunate to have been able to land Escobar.
But did the team have someone in the farm system who may have been able to step into the everyday second baseman role next season? At the beginning of the offseason, they didn’t. But not long ago, Zach Walters could’ve been the right man from the job.
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Generally, I’m a strong believer in the idea that there’s no point in discussing hypotheticals. But given the question marks currently surrounding the Nationals at second base, many Nationals fans can’t help but ask themselves: What would’ve happened if the team hadn’t traded Walters last summer? Would he have been the team’s everyday second baseman in 2015?
The Nationals, of course, were in desperate need of infield help at the trade deadline last summer after Ryan Zimmerman went on the disabled list with a severe hamstring injury. With Rendon taking Zimmerman’s place at third base, the Nationals did not want to enter the stretch run with Espinosa, Walters and Kevin Frandsen platooning at second base, so they acquired Cabrera from Cleveland. Unfortunately, in order to bring Cabrera to D.C., the team had to give up Walters.
Prior to the trade, Walters had hit .234 in 40 career major league games in parts of two seasons with the Nationals. The infielder had also dominated in the minors last season, hitting .300 with 15 homers, 48 RBIs and a .965 OPS in 60 games with Triple-A Syracuse.
After the trade, however, Walters’ production went steadily down hill and the young infielder became a sort of boom-or-bust hitter; when he was on his game, he hit the ball out of the ballpark. When he wasn’t, he missed it altogether. In 98 plate appearances with the Tribe, Walters hit a mere .170 with seven home runs and 12 RBIs while striking out a whopping 32 times. Walters has always been prone to striking out, but never as bad as he was last season.
That said, Walters has the tools to be a solid infielder at the major league level. If he can continue to hone his power while cutting down on his strikeouts, he could develop into an everyday big league player. But, considering the issues the Nationals have at second base right now, was it a mistake to let him go? I don’t think so.
First and foremost, the Nationals needed to make the trade. They were aiming for nothing less than a World Series title, and having Cabrera in the lineup gave them a better chance of accomplishing that goal. Yes, the Nationals came up short. They didn’t win the World Series, and Cabrera ended up being a “rental” who was only with the team for a few months. But that doesn’t mean that trading for Cabrera was a mistake. The Nationals needed to make a win-now move, and that’s exactly what they did.
Like a lot of people, I’m not entirely sold on Yunel Escobar being the Nationals’ second baseman. I only like the trade because it gives the Nationals insurance incase Ian Desmond were to walk next winter and because Escobar will provide a bridge to the team’s middle infielders of the future, Wilmer Difo and Trea Turner.
But, while Escobar isn’t the ideal second base option, he’ll get the job done. Unless your second baseman is named Robinson Cano, it’s unlikely that he’ll be the deciding factor in your World Series campaign. Walters, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t have even been a starter in 2015. He didn’t see as much progress as he would’ve hoped to see last year, and he struggled to stay healthy late in the season.
As I said before, Walters has plenty of potential. But next season, he may not even make the Indians’ Opening Day roster. And, for the sake of this discussion, had Walters not been traded and instead been forced to compete with the likes of Espinosa and Uggla for the second base job, odds are he wouldn’t have made the Nationals’ Opening Day roster, either.
Yes, second base is a concern for the Nationals heading into 2015. We won’t know for sure if Escobar can get the job done until we see him in action next season. One thing’s for certain, Walters would not have provided the Nationals with a better option. And while it didn’t payoff how the team would’ve liked it to, the trade for Cabrera was certainly not a mistake.