Washington Nationals Editorial: Danny Espinosa will be invaluable in 2016

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Danny Espinosa could be the Washington Nationals’ Opening Day shortstop in 2016, but his value to the team goes far beyond that next season.

While the Washington Nationals haven’t made any major acquisitions or trades this offseason, they’ve been involved in almost every rumor imaginable. The Nationals have reportedly gone after all kinds of players — middle infielders, relievers, starting pitchers and even elite outfielders.

Of course, they’ve missed out on almost every player they’ve targeted this offseason, but the interest is certainly there.

Yesterday we found out that the team continues to look for a second baseman — presumably to replace Yunel Escobar — whom they traded to the Angels earlier this offseason. As we wrote yesterday, the Nationals are reportedly interested in Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips and free agent Daniel Murphy. Earlier in the offseason, the team also went hard after infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist, who eventually signed with the Cubs.

Despite all the talk about the Nationals looking for a middle infielder, it’s important to remember that the team already has a few options at shortstop and second base. Star prospect Trea Turner is the team’s shortstop of the future. Danny Espinosa, who experienced an offensive revival in 2015, is also capable of playing everyday for the Nationals next season. But with uncertainty regarding Turner’s ability to be ready for an everyday role right out of the gate in 2016, Espinosa will be even more important for the Nationals.

According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Nationals expect Espinosa to start the season at shortstop, with Turner potentially joining the team mid-season. This, of course, is why the team needs a second baseman. With Escobar gone and Espinosa playing short, the team doesn’t have any clear options to man second until Turner is ready (barring a surprise Opening Day assignment for second base prospect Wilmer Difo, which isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility).

While the hole at second base is certainly concerning, the importance of Espinosa for the Nationals next season cannot be understated. Espinosa is no longer considered the team’s shortstop (or second baseman) of the future, but he’ll be playing the peculiar role of being a bridge to two different prospects — Turner at short and Difo at second.

As mentioned earlier, Espinosa could play a significant part of the year at shortstop — something he’s never done for more than a few games at a time. While most of his career with the Nationals has been at second base, shortstop is Espinosa’s natural position, and his elite defense alone will be a major asset for the Nationals at that position next season.

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Once Turner is ready to take over the everyday job at shortstop, Espinosa can slide over to second base or platoon with whomever the team might be able to acquire this offseason. Again, Espinosa’s defense is his best tool, and no matter where he’s playing, he’ll be an asset for the team. Given the options that the team is reportedly considering for second base right now, it looks like Espinosa will be the best defensive second baseman on the roster regardless, which makes him highly valuable as a platoon or as an everyday player.

The wildcard for Espinosa will be his offense. He’s been mediocre at the plate for much of his career but was far better in 2015. A strong offensive showing early in the season may allow Espinosa to stay in the starting lineup all season long. If there’s no room for him as an everyday player, the team would once again have a valuable option off the bench that can provide them with power, speed and elite defense at any given moment.

Espinosa also has the advantage of being a switch hitter, which should secure him substantial playing time in the Nationals’ chronically right-handed lineup.

Much of the news this offseason has been about players the Nationals have tried and failed to acquire. Fortunately for the team, they already have a valuable middle infielder in Danny Espinosa. He was crucial for the team last season, and there’s a good chance he’ll be even more important in 2016.

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