Trade talks could start to center around Espinosa

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - I woke up this morning feeling like I’d gotten a nice workout in yesterday.

I hadn’t been to the gym or gone on a run, however. I’d just spent the day navigating the massive Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, walking what felt like the two miles from the media work room to the lobby, and then eventually turning around and walking right back in the other direction.

My legs should be prepared for even more of that drill today, as the Winter Meetings are set to truly get under way.

I mentioned yesterday that one source feels the Nationals are more likely to acquire another starting pitching via a trade involving Michael Morse than by picking someone off the free agent market. Such a move would qualify as a pretty large deal, given Morse’s power and positioning in the middle of the Nationals’ batting order.

In addition to Morse, there’s one other name that could find its way into a number of trade discussions during the Winter Meetings. That name is Danny Espinosa.

There are some in Nationals’ organization who are not convinced Espinosa is the team’s best option at second base going forward. Those who fall into that category point to Espinosa’s large strikeout totals (he led the National League with a whopping 189 Ks last season) and trouble making productive outs, getting runners in or moving them into scoring position by cutting down on his swing.

The argument made by those folks is that the Nationals would be better off going with Steve Lombardozzi at second base for the time being. The 24-year-old excels at moving runners over, uses the whole field and is a solid defensive player. His range isn’t elite and he doesn’t have a gun for an arm, but Lombardozzi rarely boots a ball he can get to.

If the Nats were to deal Espinosa, they’d do so knowing that top prospect Anthony Rendon is closing in on the majors and could take over at second in a year or two. Rendon needs to prove he can stay healthy, but he’s very advanced offensively and is a versatile defender, able to play third, shortstop or second.

It’s important to point out that last year at this time, many people saw Ian Desmond much in the same way they currently see Espinosa - a skilled player, but one who had many hurdles to clear before putting it together in the majors. Desmond, of course, went out and had a breakthrough season in 2012, making the All-Star team, hitting .292 and smacking 25 home runs.

Espinosa could very well turn a corner sometime soon, as well. He’s got lots of pop for a second baseman (pound-for-pound, he’s arguably the strongest guy on the team), and is a Gold Glove-caliber defender with an arm which makes scouts drool.

Should the Nats trade Espinosa now, after a season in which he battled injuries and had a .717 OPS, they might not only be selling a little low, but also risk missing out on years of an affordable, power-hitting second baseman with strong defensive skills.

Espinosa has two very important guys in his corner in general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson, both of whom see Espinosa putting it together and being a 20-homer guy who can give the Nationals great depth in their batting order.

But as Rizzo says, you have to give to get, and if the Nationals are looking to add a starter via a trade, they could pair Morse and Espinosa and get a quality arm in return. There’s been buzz about a possible connection with the Rays, and former Nationals GM Jim Bowden, who now works for ESPN and MLB Network Radio, says the two sides have been talking about a deal for Tampa Bay’s James Shields.

Rizzo and Johnson might prefer to hold on to Espinosa and see if he can make strides towards cutting down on the strikeouts and boosting his on-base percentage. There are others in the organization, however, who would prefer the Nats seriously consider moving Espinosa, going with the Lombardozzi/Rendon tandem at second base in the future.

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