Yesterday, the Washington Nationals extended a contract to Danny Espinosa ahead of the non-tender deadline. Let the speculation commence!
The presumption earlier in the week was that if the Washington Nationals were going to complete a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates for centerfielder Andrew McCutchen, then they would non-tender Danny Espinosa, clearing the way for Trea Turner to become their starting shortstop. As of Saturday morning, the McCutchen trade stands in limbo and Espinosa is still on the team.
Does this mean Washington is no longer pursuing Pittsburgh’s center fielder? How does this impact other moves the Nationals will be making in the coming week and beyond?
While retaining the cannon-armed shortstop could be perceived as a shift away from the pursuit of the Pirates power-hitting centerfielder, the move doesn’t predict a close to the trade opportunity as some have suspected.
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The Nationals are projected by many to be one of the most aggressive teams in the offseason in hopes of upgrading their roster on many fronts for a push finally past the NLDS in 2017. If they can’t secure a deal with Pittsburgh for McCutchen, it is highly unlikely that Rizzo stands pat with the center field/shortstop pairing he has on the team right now.
There are other upgrade options out there, ironically including former Nationals shortstop-turned-Rangers center fielder Ian Desmond. His resurgent season in Texas (.285/.335/.446 with 22 HR and 86 RBI) could be a sign of things to come for Desmond, and provide the Nationals with a dependable bat and strong arm in the outfield, who could come in to sub in the infield if needed.
And regardless of Espinosa’s standout defensive capabilities, one can hardly see how he would be able to keep Turner from overtaking him in the upcoming as the Nationals’ everyday shortstop. The infield slot is Turner’s natural position, and after his electrifying rookie season, it would be hard to keep him locked in a position limits his full potential – both offensively and defensively.
Beyond a starting position, Espinosa would give the Nationals a serviceable bench option in the coming season as well. While he has a penchant for striking out (tied for 7th most strikeouts in 2016), he can also deliver in pivotal moments with his bat (career-high 24 home runs last season). That alone is potentially worth retaining the club-veteran.
There is also the possibility that Washington kept Espinosa on the team simply for the prospect of trading him. As with Gio Gonzalez, his retention doesn’t guarantee he is on the Nationals roster on Opening Day.
Both he and Gonzalez could very well become trade pieces as part of larger efforts to upgrade the team’s immediate needs on the mound, behind the plate (though the Derek Norris acquisition answers part of that), and in the field – as well as restocking the system if current prospects are dealt as trade pieces for the likes of McCutchen, possibly White Sox pitcher Chris Sale, and others.
Hot stove season is now in full swing. Retaining Espinosa could be mean big things for a potential McCutchen deal – or it could be one small piece of the bigger Washington Nationals roster puzzle that will make sense when the full picture presents itself next spring.