The Nationals have been searching for an everyday second baseman since the 2015 campaign came to a close.
With the departure of shortstop Ian Desmond and Yunel Escobar moving on, Anthony Rendon was set at third base. So it became obvious that the Nationals needed to find a solid, veteran presence at second. They were not going to go into the season with the untested - but gigantic upside of - Trea Turner at that spot.
Danny Espinosa looks like the choice at shortstop, and Turner will certainly get his shot in spring training and early in the season to prove he can play at the top level and play there for multiple games.
But Daniel Murphy had one of the most amazing postseason runs in recent memory, setting a major league record with a homer in six straight playoff games. He was named the National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player.
Nationals president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo worked relentlessly to improve his infield in the offseason, working on veterans like Ben Zobrist and Brandon Phillips. Murphy is another example of Rizzo not giving up on that goal. And that’s the key component for Rizzo: He wants a veteran, battle-tested, come-up-big-in-big-games lineup.
It also is the clearest of signals that the Nationals can’t let Turner learn on the job at second base to begin 2016. It is critical for the team to hit the ground running and get off to a good start next season. Even though they were able to hover around first place in the NL East early last season, their one- or two-game lead could have been five or six games had they been able to put their top lineup on the field from April 1 on.
Also taking Murphy away from the defending National League champions and East front-runners is addition by subtraction for the Nationals’ latest archrival. He was the second longest tenured Met remaining besides David Wright. Murphy also does not strikeout very much, only once every 14.2 plate appearances, certainly a weakness the Nationals needed to erase in 2016. He can also play first and third base and was an All-Star in 2014.
Murphy is not an outstanding defender. This puts pressure of Rendon, Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman in the infield to make plays and help Murphy. The Nationals hope that Murphy’s bat will be more important than his fielding issues.
The fact that he has a lefty bat certainly balances the offensive lineup as well and was another focus of Rizzo’s offseason to-do list.
Now who will be the leadoff hitter?
I do not think Jayson Werth or Michael A. Taylor are the answer: Werth because of his importance as a RBI bat and his potential for injury, and Taylor because of his strikeout totals. Murphy has led off only 12 times in his 903 career games. That spot still is on Rizzo’s to-do list.
But Murphy is a solid bat with experience especially in big games, much like relief pitcher Yusmeiro Petit. The Nationals might be able to push through in big games with performers who have done it before in sudden death opportunities. Murphy has excelled in those moments.