The Nationals’ middle infield outlook now

The news that Danny Espinosa will have hand surgery today is no reason for Nationals fans to panic about the state of the team’s middle infield. Numerous players - including Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond, the other two players penciled into the Nationals’ 2011 infield - have had surgery to remove the hook of hamate bone in their hands, and Espinosa should be ready to go by spring training.

If you were the worrying type, though, the one concern you might have about Espinosa is that the effects of hamate bone surgery can linger into the start of a new season. Zimmerman certainly got off to a slow start in 2008 after having the operation, and it limited Desmond to 96 games in 2008. Even catching prospect Derek Norris had a few lingering effects from the surgery last season.

Is Espinosa still the prohibitive favorite to play second base alongside Desmond in 2011? Absolutely, unless one of them becomes a key piece of a trade for a pitcher. But Alberto Gonzalez is currently the backup infielder at three positions, and while Michael Morse can play middle infield, it’s highly unlikely we’ll see him there. The Nationals, by all accounts, appear to need a utilityman.

They had one on their offseason shopping list already, and a player like Willie Bloomquist or Bill Hall would make sense for them, though Hall’s power (18 homers last season) might make him a pricier option. Jerry Hairston and Nick Punto would be cheaper possibilities, and both are the kinds of movable pieces manager Jim Riggleman likes.

So while Espinosa’s surgery probably isn’t anything to fret about, it gives the Nationals another reason to go shopping for a utility player - which they were thinking about doing anyway.