Nationals' Infielder Danny Espinosa: A Year In The Life

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The trade that sent Steve Lombardozzi to the Detroit Tigers along with lefties Ian Krol and Robbie Ray for Doug Fister opened up a spot on the Washington Nationals' roster for Danny Espinosa. Is Espinosa the right player for a utility role though?

June 2013: "This guy is a guy who can hit upwards of 20 HRs and have 20 stolen bases and be a good hitter in the big leagues from both sides of the plate and he just wasn't doing it," Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier a few days after sending Danny Espinosa to the DL this past June. "And we believe that although he played through the injuries and they weren't hurting him," the Washington Nationals' GM continued, "they were certainly affecting him in some way, shape or form." After Espinosa's DL stint, the 26-year-old, '08 3rd Round pick was sent to Triple-A Syracuse, returning to the minors for the first time since he made his MLB debut in September 2010.

"We felt it was time to get [Espinosa] healthy," Mike Rizzo said, "Just because he wasn't helping performance-wise the team offensively and he certainly wasn't helping himself..." - Mike Rizzo on Danny Espinosa on MLB Network Radio

Espinosa posted a .158/.193/.272 line with nine doubles, three home runs and 47 strikeouts before he was sent first to the DL and then to the Nats' top affiliate. "He'll get ample at bats down there to kind of work through some things," Rizzo explained in another appearance on his weekly radio show. "And when we feel that he's ready and capable to perform and to contribute on the big league level we will bring him up to the big leagues." There was, however, a lot of work for Espinosa to do.

"It's slow progress and he needs to redo a lot of things in his swing from both sides," Rizzo said. "And he's working extremely well and has got a very positive attitude down there."

July 2013: During a short stretch in which he enjoyed some success at the plate as the All-Star Game approached in July, going 14 for 38 (.368/.419/.658) with three doubles, a triple and two home runs in 10 games, some wondered if Espinosa might not be on his way back up.

"If we can get him back to where he was those times in 2010 for that four and a half month stretch then we've got ourselves what we thought we had..." - - Mike Rizzo on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. on Danny Espinosa

"'The last week or so, he has been awfully good. I check on him every day,'" Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told nationals.com beat reporter Bill Ladson. "'Hopefully he can continue that. I feel good about it.'" At the time, the MLB.com writer predicted that if he Espinosa did get called back up, it probably wouldn't be until September, at which point the Nats' Opening Day second baseman would, "...become a backup middle infielder." Espinosa's agent, Scott Boras, told reporters at the time, including the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, that in light of his client's run of success at the plate, he planned to talk to the Nats' GM about the plans for Espinosa's future.

Asked for his thoughts a few days later, however, Rizzo challenged the notion that a hot streak would change things and earn Espinosa a call back up. "'He’s played well, you’re saying?,'" Rizzo asked reporters including the WaPost's Mr. Kilgore rhetorically. "'Because he’s got some hits? I haven’t seen him play. I don’t go by the box scores, because to me that’s silly, to make an evaluation if a guy belongs in the big leagues by looking at the box score.'" The Nats' General Manager said he'd withhold judgement until he saw Espinosa himself.

August 2013: After a .107/.190/.143 month of June in which Espinosa struck out 32 times in 17 games, he posted a .241/.301/.357 line with 31 Ks in 29 games in July and followed that up with a .243/.306/.288 August in which he K'd 37 times in 28 games. Espinosa finished the year at Triple-A Syracuse with a .216/.280/.286 line, 12 doubles, two home runs, 19 walks and 101 Ks in 75 games and 313 PAs.

Though his name came up in trade rumors again at the end of August, the Nationals decided to hold on to the relatively young, controllable and inexpensive infielder, with the WaPost's Kilgore explaining after the Nationals decided against making Espinosa a September call-up, that, "In trade talks, the Nationals still value Espinosa as an athletic, strong second baseman, not as a scuffling minor leaguer," so they were unwilling to trade him while his value was low. Espinosa was told at the time that the Nationals still thought he was a big part of the Nats' plans and he would come to Spring Training and compete for a spot on the roster.

"'Let’s not forget about Danny Espinosa, who hit 20 home runs and stole 20 bases in the big leagues already and is a stalwart defensive player...'" - Nats' GM Mike Rizzo on Espinosa to NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman

September 2013: Mike Rizzo reiterated in a season-ending conversation with reporters that nothing changed as far as their plans for second base in 2014. Anthony Rendon adjusted to a new position as he learned on the fly in the majors. Steve Lombardozzi came on strong late after a rough first half. And there would be another player in the mix in the infield in 2014.

"'Let’s not forget about Danny Espinosa, who hit 20 home runs and stole 20 bases in the big leagues already and is a stalwart defensive player,'" Rizzo told reporters, including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, in late September in explaining that the three would battle it out for the starting job and role as backup infielder.

December 2013: The trade that sent 25-year-old infielder Steve Lombardozzi and 22-year-old lefties Ian Krol and Robbie Ray to the Detroit Tigers in return for Doug Fister cleared the way for Danny Espinosa's return to the majors.

In Rizzo's mind, as he explained in a conversation with reporters including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman at the recently-concluded Winter Meetings where Espinosa's name once again came up in trade rumors, the Nats' infielder is capable of taking over the role Lombardozzi played in each of the past two seasons and filling in around the infield at every position but first.

"'A guy who can play shortstop the way he plays shortstop,'" the General Manager said, "'and a guy who can play second base the way he plays second, I have all the confidence in the world that he can go to third and handle the position defensively.'"

"I think that we feel good about Anthony Rendon and backup options like Danny Espinosa as our second basemen," Rizzo said in a recent MLB Network Radio interview. "And I think that they're going to come into Spring Training as guys that we're going to count on this year." Scott Boras told reporters at the Winter Meetings, as quoted by the Washington Post's James Wagner, that the infielder was healthy and capable of starting in the majors in spite of the talk that he seemed likely to end up in a utility role:

"'I think Danny Espinosa has proved he can hit in the major leagues,' Boras said. 'He’s hit 20 home runs. He’s one of the better defensive players up the middle in baseball. The Nats have an asset that is very valued and I’m sure there’s a lot of teams talking to them about him. … I don’t think anybody wants to be a backup.'"

Will Espinosa settle for a utility role? When the Nationals decided against calling Espinosa up this past September, now-former Nats' manager Davey Johnson said he still considered the infielder an everyday player and wasn't sure a bench role was right for the former starting second baseman.

"'The situation we’re in right now and the struggles he’s had this year,'" Johnson told the Washington Times, "'I wouldn’t want him to be sitting around here not playing. I don’t think he would’ve been happy with it.'"

Will Espinosa be happy to be back in the majors in 2014 even if it is in a bench role?

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