"We're big fans of Danny Espinosa," Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told the MLB Network's hosts in a tv appearance from the Winter Meetings in December. "He's a guy who's hit 20 HRs in the big leagues in a season before. He's stolen 20 bases in a season before, plays Gold Glove-caliber defense at shortstop and at second base. He runs well. He throws well. He's got a lot of skills and has proven it on the big league level. He had a down-year last year. We expect him to come to Spring Training ready to compete for a position on the club."
A "down" year is a polite way of explaining what Espinosa, the 26-year-old, '08 Nats' 3rd Round pick, experienced in 2013, when he posted a .158/.193/.272 line with nine doubles and three home runs over 44 games and 167 plate appearances before he was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse. Espinosa's struggles continued with the Nationals' top affiliate as he put up a .216/.280/.286 line with 12 doubles and two home runs in 75 games and 313 PAs.
The Nats' General Manager expressed confidence in Espinosa's abilities to fill the utility role in 2014 when he spoke to reporters, including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, at the Winter Meetings, however.
"'I think Danny Espinosa could go and play third base extremely well,'" Rizzo said. "'A guy who can play shortstop the way he plays shortstop, 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.'"
In an appearance on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. with Grant Paulen and Danny Rouhier this morning, Rizzo provided an update on the Nationals' offseason plans and hinted that there might be more small moves to come. "There's always moves that we have in mind," Rizzo said. "Now, for every deal that you make, there's ten deals that you don't make and they all take about the same amount of work, effort and time. So we're still pounding away on some ideas that we have. They're usually smaller, more intricate moves at this point of the offseason after you've taken care of your big ticket items like we have.
"We felt that coming into the offseason that we wanted to add a very capable front of the rotation starting pitcher. We feel that we did that with Doug Fister. We wanted to add to our bench strength and we believe that we've done that with Nate McLouth [this] offseason and [Scott] Hairston at the Trade Deadline last year. So we feel comfortable both right-handed and left-handed off the bench that we can come up and have a guy that can play extended periods of time if we need to if there's an injury and a guy that can come off the bench and drive in a couple of runs with the long ball. We think we've got that. We think we've added to the bench with versatility, speed, base stealing ability with Nate. We attacked our bullpen shortage, especially from the left side, when we made the trade for [Jerry] Blevins. And we feel good about that. We feel good about our depth in the starting rotation, in the bullpen and guys that we feel that can fill other positions if need be due to injury."
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Within a few hours of Rizzo's comments on the Nationals' flagship station, there were reports of two "smaller, more intricate" moves:
The Nats added some competition for Espinosa, signing utility infielders Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot on minor league deals. Carroll, 39, has a .272/.349/.348 career line with a .339/.417/.397 line as a pinch hitter over his 12 seasons in the majors. Carroll, a right-handed hitting and throwing Montreal Expos' draft pick who played in D.C. in 2005, put up a .211/.267/.251 line in 73 games and 249 PAs for the Twins and Royals in 2013.
Fontenot, 33, last played in the majors in 2012, when he put up a .289/.343/.340 line in 47 games and 105 PAs for the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2013, the left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing infielder spent the year at Triple-A Durham in the Tampa Bay Rays' system, putting up a .264/.335/.379 line with 32 doubles and four home runs in 120 games and 472 PAs.
Confident as the Nationals may be in Espinosa's ability to bounce back from his "down" year last season, they are bringing in some competition to push the 2013 Opening Day second baseman for the utility role on the 2014 Nationals' bench.
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