If Nats want to upgrade second base, plenty of options

Do the Nationals need to acquire a starting second baseman? The answer depends on your view of several players.

Do you believe Howie Kendrick will come back strong from a ruptured Achilles tendon and be able to play second base at a big league level at 35? Do you believe Wilmer Difo can develop into a more consistent offensive and defensive threat? Do you believe Carter Kieboom is going to be ready to ascend from the farm system sometime in 2019 and take over as the long-term answer at the position?

Difo-Turns-Two-Red-v-SFG-sidebar.jpgIf you’re confident in any or all of those scenarios coming true, you probably think the Nationals can stand pat this winter and focus their attention on other positions of need. If, however, you are wavering on any of the above, you probably think they need to make a move to upgrade.

Mike Rizzo told reporters yesterday at the GM meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., he doesn’t view second base as a top priority this winter, but this much is clear: The Nationals need to be better there. They received 0.7 WAR from the entire position this year, according to FanGraphs.com. That put Nats second basemen at 23rd in the majors. They ranked 21st in offense, 25th in defense.

Perhaps Kendrick and Difo (and eventually Kieboom) can take care of that on their own. But in case there’s any doubt they can, here’s a rundown of the current free agent second basemen:

D.J. LEMAHIEU
Opening day 2019 age: 30
2018 stats: 581 PA, .276 AVG, .321 OBP, .428 SLG, .749 OPS, 15 HR, 62 RBI, +18 DRS, 3.0 bWAR
Projected contract: 4 years, $48 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate-to-high. Easily the best of the bunch this winter, even though he’s coming off a down year at the plate. The career .298 hitter and 2016 NL batting champ does have to prove he’s not just a product of Coors Field. He’s a career .330 hitter with an .835 OPS at home, but those numbers plummet to .264 and .673 on the road. The biggest selling point on LeMahieu, though, is his defense. He just won his third career Gold Glove Award. His Defensive Runs Saved rating this season was +18. For comparison’s sake, Daniel Murphy’s DRS rating this season was -18. Think that might make a difference?

MARWIN GONZALEZ
Opening day 2019 age: 30
2018 stats: 552 PA, .247 AVG, .324 OBP, .409 SLG, .733 OPS, 16 HR, 68 RBI, +1 DRS, 2.5 bWAR
Projected contract: 4 years, $52 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate. Gonzalez actually spent more time in left field and shortstop than he did at second base this season, but his versatility - he’s played every position on the field except for catcher - makes him a potentially valuable pick-up for someone. His OPS dropped 170 points from his 2017 season (when he received MVP votes), so that’s a concern. But if the Nats are interested in a veteran who can do it all, Gonzalez is worth a look.

DANIEL MURPHY
Opening day 2019 age: 33
2018 stats: 351 PA, .299 AVG, .336 OBP, .454 SLG, .790 OPS, 12 HR, 42 RBI, -18 DRS, -1.0 bWAR
Projected contract: 2 years, $20 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low. Even if they hadn’t traded Murphy to the Cubs in August, the Nationals were unlikely to make any real effort to re-sign him this winter. The problem isn’t his bat, which slowly but surely came around once his knee was healthy again. The problem is his defense, which is just about to the point that he can’t reasonably play second base on a regular basis any longer. Maybe he can play first base, but Murphy’s most likely path now is to find an American League club that needs an elite bat like his to serve as DH.

JED LOWRIE
Opening day 2019 age: 34
2018 stats: 680 PA, .267 AVG, .353 OBP, .448 SLG, .801 OPS, 23 HR, 99 RBI, +1 DRS, 4.8 bWAR
Projected contract: 2 years, $18 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate. Jed Lowrie had 23 homers and 99 RBIs this season. Yes, Jed Lowrie. Not a bad time to become a free agent, even though he’ll turn 35 in April. His advanced age hasn’t seemed to slow him down, though, and he remains a solid defensive second baseman as well. If the Nats are reluctant to give LeMahieu four years, perhaps Lowrie for two years is an acceptable alternative.

JOSH HARRISON
Opening day 2019 age: 31
2018 stats: 374 PA, .250 AVG, .293 OBP, .363 SLG, .656 OPS, 8 HR, 37 RBI, -2 DRS, 0.3 bWAR
Projected contract: 2 years, $12 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate. Like Gonzalez, Harrison is a jack-of-all-trades. He plays second base. He plays shortstop. He plays third base. He plays the outfield. There’s real value in that. He is, however, coming off a rough season that included significant time missed due to injury. The Pirates decided not to pick up his $10.5 million option, recognizing he’s not worth that much anymore. Would the Nats take a flyer on him and hope he’s got a bounceback year in him?

BRIAN DOZIER
Opening day 2019 age: 31
2018 stats: 632 PA, .215 AVG, .305 OBP, .391 SLG, .696 OPS, 21 HR, 72 RBI, -8 DRS, 1.0 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $8 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low-to-moderate. Long regarded as one of the better offensive second basemen around, Dozier continued to hit for power this season but saw his batting average plummet. In the field, he’s below average as well, something that was obvious during the postseason. So this may not be the best fit for the Nationals at this point.

ASDRÚBAL CABRERA
Opening day 2019 age: 33
2018 stats: 592 PA, .262 AVG, .316 OBP, .458 SLG, .774 OPS, 23 HR, 75 RBI, -17 DRS, 0.7 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $7 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low. Cabrera has been with Nationals before, for two months in 2014. He did a solid job for them, though he’ll probably always be remembered more for getting ejected during the marathon Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Giants than anything else. Like Dozier, he still hits for power. And like Dozier, he’s a problem in the field. That’s not really what the Nats need.

IAN KINSLER
Opening day 2019 age: 36
2018 stats: 534 PA, .240 AVG, .301 OBP, .380 SLG, .681 OPS, 14 HR, 48 RBI, +10 DRS, 2.4 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $5 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate. A very good professional hitter for a long time, Kinsler saw his offensive numbers decrease this season, including in the postseason. But he remains an excellent defensive second baseman, and because he can be had fairly cheap, he might make sense if the Nationals want a short-term fix at the position.

NEIL WALKER
Opening day 2019 age: 33
2018 stats: 398 PA, .219 AVG, .309 OBP, .354 SLG, .664 OPS, 11 HR, 46 RBI, -3 DRS, -0.1 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $4 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate. Another veteran whose production went down this season. Walker also has missed time with injuries each of the last three seasons. The appeal here, though, would be that he could also serve as a left-handed backup first baseman. That’s something the Nationals again are in the market for. No, he doesn’t hit like Matt Adams or Adam Lind, but he’s a solid and affordable switch-hitter who could fill two roles of need in D.C.

blog comments powered by Disqus