Buster Olney is working in the nation's capital this weekend as part of the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast of the series finale between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets on ESPN2. The telecast begins at 8:05 p.m. EDT on Sunday. The game is also available on ESPN Radio, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Deportes Radio and WatchESPN. Baseball Tonight starts at 7 p.m. to preview the game. Mr. Olney was nice enough to take some time to talk about the Nationals with us in advance of Sunday's game. In the first part of the interview, transcribed below, we touched on some tough evaluations that the Nats will have to make in the future with Danny Espinosa, incumbent third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Tyler Moore and whether or not to hang on to Dan Haren since there's still a chance of making it to the postseason...
Thanks to Mr. Olney and ESPN for the opportunity to have the following conversation.
Federal Baseball: "Davey Johnson talked about this last night, so I wanted to get your opinion. The Nationals stuck with Danny Espinosa through May even though he struggled at the plate in part because he wasn't taking it onto the field and was still strong defensively and in part I think because they didn't have an alternative until Anthony Rendon was ready. What do you think of the way they handled Espinosa and what do they do with him now going forward? His trade value is down, he's still not hitting, do you trade him for what you can get or hold on and hope he increases his value, or maybe use him in a utility role going forward?
ESPN's Buster Olney: "I think that really all depends on what their internal evaluation of him is. I think they handled him right given his past success, given how much they invested in him in terms of the draft pick and in terms of the time that they spent in the big leagues. And there was enough hope there that he was going to at some point climb forward. But I do think it's a mark of really good organizations to make an honest evaluation of guys even if they're really high draft picks. And for example, one team I think has always been really good at that, one general manager has been Kevin Towers [in Arizona]. And an example would be when they drafted Trevor Bauer so high, third overall. But within a year, they clearly made an assessment within the organization of, 'You know what? We made a mistake and we've turned the page.' And I think the organizations that hang on to guys for too long can get into real trouble.
"So, I'd be really curious to see and to hear what some of their minor league evaluators are saying about Danny and what some of the major league coaches are saying about him. Because if they really think that what he was early in this year is closer to what he is going to be, then they need to turn the page and trade him and move him out even if it means taking less than what they believe to be equal."
Federal Baseball: "At third base, I think they have also have an issue where they're going to have to make a similar evaluation. They're going to have to evaluate and take a real look at Ryan Zimmerman. He's taken a little bit longer this season to come back from the shoulder surgery. And taken a little longer to readjust after having to compensate for the shoulder issue the last couple years. Should probably be in his prime years right now but is having kind of a down year. Not a horrible year. He's still strong at the plate and getting better defensively, but do you think he can back to the level they need him to play at to be successful and compete, especially with the 6-year/$100M deal they gave him this winter?"
ESPN's Buster Olney: "I think that they're going to have to make a really hard decision there. And, in fact, it's interesting. Because when you look at the Nationals overall as a team -- I know that there is still a possibility they're going to wind up climbing back into this thing and making the playoffs, because they have a really easy schedule for the next few weeks. But, if they don't then one of the really difficult decisions they're going to face is, 'You know what? How do you turn over this team?'
"Because you're not going to change [Bryce] Harper. And you're not going to change [Jayson] Werth. And Ryan is a part of the future with the Nationals one way or the other. [Anthony] Rendon is a part of their future. Ian Desmond is an All-Star shortstop. They seem to have the catcher that they like in [Wilson] Ramos. And they've got guys [at the front] of the rotation. So they've got a core that they're going to stick with. Well how do you change this team that to this point has been pretty disappointing? And I think it's clear it's the whole question of Zimmerman: Third base? First base? Do you basically eat the last year of [Adam] LaRoche's deal to get Zimmerman at a position where he may be long-term.
"And it would be interesting, in those meeting rooms, when everyone is absolutely, 100% honest what they're saying about Zimmerman's throwing issues? Because I can tell you, with other teams, it's taken as a statement of fact, that he's got the 'yips', and only Ryan really knows that. Only the Nationals really know that. But if they reach the same conclusion then that's probably the easiest way they're going to get better, the most streamlined way they're going to get better is to move Ryan to first base. And to either put Rendon at third or go pursue a second baseman or a third baseman and just switch Rendon to whichever position they don't fill. So it will be interesting to see what way they go. But that, to me if they're going to make any substantial changes in the offseason, that's where it's going to be."
Federal Baseball: "And that does leave you with the big question with LaRoche, though. He's under the two-year deal. This year he's kind of struggling, not putting up the numbers he did in a career year last year before he got the new deal. He's really struggling against left-handers this year after having decent numbers against them most of his career. Do you count on him bouncing back or try to trade him if you're going to move Zimmerman?"
ESPN.com's Buster Olney: "Well, let's face it, if you move Zimmerman then you're basically saying you're a first baseman for the rest of your career. And he's going to be an everyday first baseman. And LaRoche would be someone who, even though he's struggled, I think you can probably go out on the market and get a little bit of value for him, not that much. I'm sure the Nationals would have to eat some of the dollars to move him.
"But I think between his reputation for defense, and the fact that a team, for example like the Tampa Bay Rays, they're always looking for bargain and they have no problem taking on someone who they mostly view as a platoon player. I could see a team saying, 'Okay we're going to bring LaRoche over with open eyes and see if he can bounce back against left-handed pitching and if he doesn't, then at worst we get a guy who could do damage against right-handed pitching and play really good defense with the Nationals eating some of his money.' So I do think that they would definitely be able to find some team to take him. Who knows, maybe the Cleveland Indians for example."
Federal Baseball: "Have you seen enough of Tyler Moore -- if they were to keep Adam LaRoche and platoon him -- have you seen enough of Tyler Moore to know or have confidence in him on a semi-regular basis going out there and playing [in a platoon]?"
ESPN's Buster Olney: "You know, I just haven't. And you get the sense, based on what they've been saying, that they really haven't either and they're not quite sure exactly what they have."
Federal Baseball: "It's going to be interesting. [Moore] has put up 30 HR seasons in the minor leagues, but struggled this year in a backup role, so going with him is a risk going forward on a team that you think is going to compete."
ESPN's Buster Olney: "And I think that they, let's face it, when you're talking about a young player, those guys who are put as young players into those part-time roles, that's a hard thing and I've seen a lot of guys struggle with that role. I remember, when the Cardinals won in 2012, they actually had Matt Carpenter penciled in as a bench guy and I remember talking to John Mozeliak, their general manager, and I'm like, 'Man, that's really unusual.'
"Because usually, the progression is, you're an everyday guy in the big leagues. You play for a while and then as your playing time is reduced you become more of a pinch hitter-type guy, a bench guy, and you can do that based on the experience you have of how to prepare for each at bat. But if you're a young guy, that's a hard transition. And so it's hard to really necessarily look at what [Moore] did this year and draw any hard conclusions on it because he is so young and he's been used to playing every day and that's a tough transition."
Federal Baseball: "Davey Johnson said as much too, in explaining [Moore's] struggles this year. And it's interesting to see what they're going to do with him going forward and another big decision they're going to have to make is on Dan Haren. The risk that they took in signing him didn't pay off in the first half, but he's come back strong.
What do you do with him now? Do you trade him for a prospect if you can get something better than you'd get in compensation if you give him a qualifying offer? Do you give him that qualifying offer and essentially hope he doesn't take it, or do you want to bring him back based on what he's done in the second half?"
ESPN's Buster Olney: "First off, you definitely don't trade him, because they've got a shot. 6.5 games as you and I are talking. With that easy schedule. You're not chasing immortal teams. And he's going to be part of what they do. And if he pitches well the last month, then to me he'd be worth a qualifying offer. Especially if they feel like internally that there was some adjustment that he made that allowed him to go from as poor as he was early in the year to pitching as well as he is. First off, people around baseball love Dan Haren. They have so much respect for him.
"I think the concern in the fall was always about his hip and whether or not he was going to be able to overcome that. And you wondered in the first half of the year whether or not he just was cooked. But if he's found some thing or some way that allows him to be effective for the rest of this year, you'd be talking at that point about what? 10-12 starts? And to limit your exposure on a one-year deal with someone that you trust and if you believe in the change that he's made, absolutely you'd keep him on a one-year deal."
• Part 2: Who will the Nationals choose to replace Davey Johnson? Coming Soon...
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