It was reported today that Ryan Zimmerman will be getting spot starts at first base in 2014. Matt Williams asked him to get a mitt for the job and get used to playing there, at least for a little bit. According to Adam Kilgore:
Let there be no confusion: Zimmerman will remain the Nationals’ everyday third baseman in 2014. But, Zimmerman confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the Nationals’ plans for him next season include spot duty at first base. Zimmerman will take some grounders at first base during spring training, the possible first step in a potential permanent switch in a future season.
This may be news that you think would send me into a tizzy. I’ve noted several times that Zim has the ability to be a top 5 third basemen in all of baseball, whereas his bat just doesn’t compare to the top first basemen. But there is more to the story than just that.
Even I acknowledge that some day Zim may have to move for defensive purposes (although I don’t think that day is as close as others). But more than that is my overwhelming, all-encompassing, nearly-religious conviction that Adam LaRoche can no longer hit left handed pitchers with any amount of effectiveness appropriate for a first basemen, corner infielder, or professional baseball player.
This, to me, is a clear reason to go out and get someone who can. Not to completely replace LaRoche, who can still be quite good against righties and is a strong defensive 1B. Instead, as a platoon partner who can provide a “veteran presence off the bench” or whatever else they need to say to make people happy. A right handed power hitter who can play first and hit HRs off of LHP, like perhaps Jeff Baker, would be a big help.
But in the absence of that, they will be dealing with a first baseman who can’t hit lefties. However, not signing someone doesn’t mean they can’t platoon LaRoche.
It’s a simple exercise, really. Against a tough lefty, you move Zimmerman to first base. Then, you continue to play Anthony Rendon, possibly moving him to third for defensive purposes (both because he is probably a better 3B than 2B and because of that same “training for the future” scenario with Zim). But who do you have left to play second? Hmmm… who could it be?
His name is NOS(a). E-to-the-S-P. Yeah it’s a stretch, and maybe the fill-in is, too. But hear me out. Fresh out the fryin pan into the fire, he used to be the double play’s number 1 supplier.
Danny Espinosa is a much better hitter vs LHP. At second base, his career line of .262/.334/.453 vs LHP is All Star caliber. There is no telling what he’ll be able to do this year, and his numbers are still very much suspect at this point thanks to 2013.
But if he just goes back to his old self, with no improvement, it’s a significantly better lineup versus left handed pitching with Espinosa playing and LaRoche sitting. They could slot LaRoche in at the first sign of a RH reliever, but for the beginning of the game, it could make sense.
Now, I suggested that Espinosa plays 2B, because he’s a plus defender and he’d be moving Rendon, a guy with great hands but less range. That doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do psychologically. It may be better to put Espi at third and let Rendon own 2B. This isn’t the best defensive lineup, but Espinosa certainly has the arm for third, and Rizzo has already said he’d be covering third in a catchall backup infielder role. I’m fine with that, even with the defensive sacrifice, because players are people and Rendon may need to just BE the 2B. Fine.
Either way, this isn’t an ideal scenario. We just don’t know what Espinosa is going to do, and after last year, I might lean towards him continuing to suck. But if LaRoche is gonna have another .566 OPS versus LHP, like in 2013, Espinosa could probably beat that (although he didn’t last season). The ideal scenario would be to go out and get a real platoon partner for LaRoche. Barring that, though, this may be the next best option.
Furthermore, I advise that LaRoche must be in a platoon