Saturday afternoon's trade that sent both Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Oakland A's eliminated another option for the Washington Nationals as they reportedly search for an upgrade at second base this winter.
The Nats were, of course, rumored to have looked into the possibility of acquiring Zobrist, the 33-year-old, nine-year veteran who was coming off a +5.7 fWAR campaign in 2014 which saw him post a .272/.354/.395 line, 34 doubles and 10 HRs in 654 plate appearances, but reportedly found the asking price for the veteran super-utility man to be too steep.
So with Zobrist now dealt to the Athletics, where will the Nationals turn to fill what is widely-believed to be the only weak spot on their major league roster?
In an MLB Network Radio interview on Sunday morning, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo discussed the Nationals' second base situation, and talked mostly about the in-house options that are available, though he left open the possibility of some other solution.
"We never know how we're going to go to camp yet," Rizzo said. "We still have a lot of time in between. We're still working on a lot of possibilities and with the front office minds that we have here, there's a lot of creativity that goes into a lot of these decisions and we'll see where we end up."
As for the players currently on the roster?
"Danny Espinosa at second base is an extremely good defensive player," Rizzo said of the Nationals' 27-year-old infielder. "From the right side he had a lot of success against left-handed pitchers last year.
"We signed Dan Uggla who we think is a guy who is going to come into camp and compete for a job at second base. If we get the Dan Uggla of a couple years ago, we got lucky and we feel good about where we're at."
"We understand where [Dan Uggla] is at," Rizzo explained, referring to the veteran infielder's struggles in recent seasons.
"He's a guy that I have great respect for and always have and at one time was one of the great offensive second baseman. He had some problems with vision and concussion syndrome a lot along the lines of what Denard Span had when we acquired him in a trade, so we're going to put [Uggla] through the same protocol that we put Denard through. Hopefully we can have similar results with Danny Uggla as we did with Denard, but we feel that we have some in-house candidates that can take over that job.
"Like I said, Espinosa is one, Uggla is two. We've got some young kids in the minor leagues that we feel very, very good about. This [Wilmer] Difo kid, who is a speed, power, defensive guy who was obviously only in A-ball last year, but a guy that turned a lot of heads this year and a guy that we're certainly going to count on in the future, but we'll see how far along he is when he comes to big league camp for the first time."
Difo, 22, "turned heads" by putting up a .315/.360/.470 line with 31 doubles, seven triples and 14 HRs in 136 games and 610 plate appearances with the Hagerstown Suns in 2014, earning recognition as the South Atlantic League's MVP, but a jump to the majors from Low-A ball would be a big one.
Can a team that's expecting to compete for a second straight postseason berth and will be picked by many as a preseason favorite in the National League go into the season with such a big question mark at second base?
Does Danny Espinosa's defense make up for his struggles from the left side of the plate? As he told The Washington Post's James Wagner this week, he hasn't yet made the decision to give up switch hitting.
When the Nationals needed to make a decision at the trade deadline last July, they made a deal to bring Asdrubal Cabrera to D.C. rather than stick with Espinosa, in spite of the fact that Espinosa took the majority of at bats at second for both the 2012 and 2014 NL East division winners.
Will they make another trade this winter, or stick with their in-house options and see what they have this Spring?