Dusty Baker summed up the frustration some fans felt with shortstop Danny Espinosa when the Washington Nationals’ skipper was asked during the NLDS why he stuck with the struggling infielder throughout a rough second half and into the postseason.
“It's not the first time this has happened this year,” Baker said, after his shortstop went 0 for 3 with three Ks and six left on base in Game 1 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, “but then Espinosa can turn around and hit the next pitch out of the ballpark.”
“That's what's kind of frustrating when you don't know -- he was swinging at balls, you know, out of the zone, and then balls in the zone he wasn't catching up to it. His swing was long tonight.”
So then why did he stick with the shortstop through his rough .172/.272/.280 second half and why was he sticking with him with the season on the line?
“Well, who else do I have?” Baker asked rhetorically.
“That’s my answer. If you can give me somebody better, than I can play somebody instead of him. Certain times, you have certain people on your team and that’s what you got. My job is to hopefully get the most out of him and make him better.”
The most common response in comment sections and on social media to Baker’s “who else do I have?” question?:
“Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo or Stephen Drew.”
Two of those three infielders, Turner and Difo, are all-but guaranteed to be in the organization in 2017.
Drew, who signed a 1-year/$3M free agent deal with the Nationals last winter, and put up a .266/.339/.524 line with 11 doubles and eight home runs in 70 games and 143 plate appearances, over which he was worth 0.7 fWAR, is set to become a free agent after the World Series ends.
So will Baker and the Nationals move Turner back to short next season after he played center and did a respectable job considering how little experience he had out there in his professional career?
Espinosa is under team control through 2017, then he’ll hit free agency. He was solid defensively at short, in his return to the position after he spent most of the previous seasons at second, but his offensive struggles continued outside of an out-of-nowhere month of June which saw him put up a .309/.418/.704 line with five doubles and nine home runs in 26 games and 99 plate appearances.
Espinosa finished the season with a .209/.306/.378 line, 15 doubles and a career-high 24 home runs in 157 games and 516 PAs, over which he was worth 1.7 fWAR.
Do the Nationals move Espinosa into a utility role, or, as veteran Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell suggested, “... deal him to a team that needs a slick shortstop for several years and isn’t scared by Espinosa’s poor hitting in October.”
Unless they have faith in a bounce-back season from Ben Revere or in the fact that Michael A. Taylor (or Brian Goodwin) might figure things out and take over in center, moving Turner to short would require, as the WaPost’s Boswell noted, a move to bring in a center fielder to play every day between Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth.
As for Turner? Before Turner came up for good in early July and eventually took over in center, GM Mike Rizzo told reporters he thought the 23-year-old infielder was ready to play every day at short but that wasn’t where the Nationals’ need was at that point.
“We feel that offensively he's major league ready, and defensively he's come a long way as a shortstop,” Rizzo said.
“We've got a full roster of really qualified quality players at the big league level. But he's a guy that we would like to see here in the big leagues help us at the big league level. If we could make him more versatile and more valuable to us and play multiple positions. I think that just adds to his value.”
“We still see him as an everyday shortstop for us in the future,” Rizzo added. Does that future start in 2017?