The latest Nats rumor, brought to you by Bill Lasdon, is that the Nationals “are trying to trade Espinosa.” The very same Danny Espinosa who has the distinction of having the lowest batting average of any player in MLB with more than 100 PAs this year that hasn’t been traded. Why wouldn’t people be lining up for him?
Actually, Espinosa is quite possibly a valuable player, and not even in some far-off post-apocalyptic future. There’s no doubt that I’ve been an Espi apologist here, but there’s good reason for it. I’ve often cited his 2012, in between his April slump and his Sept shoulder injury, where he hit .269/.330/.451 in 490 PAs as what the real Danny could be. But let’s forget about that, which would have been the second-best OPS among qualified NL-2Bs.
Let’s just talk for one second about the Danny Espinosa who was in the majors prior to 2013, through the end of his age-25 season
- He hit a combined .239/.319/.411
- He averaged 19 HRs and 18 SBs in his two full seasons, hitting 21 or more once in each
- He played great defense at 2B, backed up by advanced metrics (especially in 2012) – his defense was so good that he was considered by some to have a SS caliber glove
Yeah, he struck out a ton, but at that point, if you wanted to trade him, what were you selling?
Potentially you were selling a SS who you would imagine would hit over .250/.325/.430 or so for the next few years, and have a couple of 20-20 seasons in there.
That imaginary .750 OPS would have ranked him 5th among the 20 shortstops with the most PAs in the NL this year. Even his pre-2013 career number of .730 ranks him 6th. That’s more than just a trade piece, that’s a valuable Major League starter who gets you something in return.
But this was not meant to be with Danny, and his 2013 has been a mess unlike we’ve ever seen with the Nats. I won’t go through the whole story again, but suffice it to say, after hurting his shoulder in September, he hasn’t been the same. No surgery, and despite claiming he didn’t feel any pain, he was terrible this year. He hit .158/.193/.272 in the majors, then only .208/.271/.283 in Syracuse. This is a guy who hit had an .812 OPS his last time in Syracuse – way back in 2010.
It’s hard to imagine he was “figured out” in the majors, suddenly after 1400 or so PAs and coincidentally when he hurt his shoulder. It’s hard to imagine it’s anything BUT his shoulder that’s doing this to him. So why the heck would the Nationals want to trade him now?
If they want to sell some team on Espinosa, they should be selling them on his ability to play SS and hit 20 HRs. Otherwise, they’re selling a decent fielding SS, or a great 2B (which nobody cares about) who can’t hit. There’s no value in that. Espinosa is probably at his career value nadir right now, it’s hard to understand why you’d want to trade him.
Espi is arbitration-eligible this offseason, and he’s currently on the 40 man roster. There’s no need to worry about that roster right now, but there could be some understandable concern next season. However, if he undergoes the rotator cuff surgery and rehab, he’ll be able to go on the 60-day DL, which allows them to exclude him from the 40 man without any penalty. Meanwhile, he has no leverage to get any real money in arbitration.
The Nats and Espinosa need to do what they needed to do back in November – have surgery on that shoulder. Unless he completely refuses to get the surgery, the Nats have no idea what kind of player he can be. If he won’t do it, then there’s a decent chance he’s what he was all 2013. But if he’ll get the surgery, nobody will know what they’ll have with him until for many months.
If he gets trade for peanuts, and has the surgery, all he has to do is be as good as the old Danny, nothing better. That player is – say it with me – a Major League caliber starting SS or 2B. They can’t give that up for a little payroll flexibility and a non-prospect.