Mike Rizzo’s public stance on the Nationals’ need to acquire a second baseman has been adjusted several times over the last two weeks.
The general manager initially insisted this wasn’t a priority and that he was comfortable with a Howie Kendrick-Wilmer Difo combo until prospect Carter Kieboom is ready. Rizzo’s tune then changed as he began to suggest he’d be interested in an acquisition, if said player was a clear upgrade over the current group. And by the time he left the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Rizzo flat out admitted he was in the market for a second baseman, though perhaps one versatile enough to play multiple positions (including first base as Ryan Zimmerman’s backup).
Well, two of the names on the list of potential candidates may be coming off the board, leaving fewer remaining options for the Nationals.
Ian Kinsler reportedly struck a two-year, $8 million deal with the Padres on Friday, removing himself from consideration.
Kinsler, who turns 37 next season, is no longer the offensive force that he was for a decade with the Tigers and Rangers. He hit just .240 with a .681 OPS in 128 games this year between the Angels and Red Sox.
But even at his advanced age and even with deteriorating offensive skills, Kinsler remains an elite defender. He still managed to post a 2.4 bWAR this season, thanks almost entirely to outstanding glovework that resulted in a Defensive Runs Saved rating of plus-10. Only the Rockies’ D.J. LeMahieu (another free agent) rated better among major league second basemen.
The Nationals had interest in Kinsler, though likely weren’t willing to offer him more than one guaranteed year because of his age and the belief that Kieboom will be ready to take over soon.
Meanwhile, the Cubs and possibly the Cardinals are making a strong push to sign Daniel Descalso, one of the more versatile options on the market. Though he hasn’t committed to any team yet, Descalso reportedly is choosing between the two National League Central rivals, so that probably takes him out of the mix for the Nationals.
In contrast to Kinsler, Descalso has seen an uptick in his offensive production as he gets older. He just posted a career-high .789 OPS in 138 games for the Diamondbacks. He’s also a jack-of-all-trades who has played at least 62 big league games at all four infield positions, plus another 48 in left field, which would make him an intriguing utility player for the Nationals.
Assuming Descalso signs with one of the two aforementioned clubs, the Nats still have several options in their search for a second baseman. They could spend big on LeMahieu or Marwin Gonzalez. They could go for a short-term fix with Brian Dozier or Jed Lowrie. They could go the versatile route with Josh Harrison, Derek Dietrich or Neil Walker.
Whichever path they choose to take, the Nationals have a good number of options. But with Kinsler and now possibly Descalso off the board, they better be careful not to let those options dwindle too much before making a move.