In a previous life, I was a store Santa. For six years, beginning in college and lasting into my first newspaper job, I donned the red suit and white beard (and used professional makeup to whiten my eyebrows, mustache and facial hair), first for Montgomery Ward and later as a jolly ol’ elf for hire at office functions, private parties and even delivered poinsettias for a florist friend. To this day, the Santa gig remains one of my all-time favorite jobs, especially when I could surprise someone who didn’t know it was me behind the suit with a greeting by name. You want Christmas magic? Stare into the eyes of a believing but petrified youngster trying to recite his gift list by memory or get a bearhug from a developmentally disabled child who asks what you want for Christmas. Those are heartwarming memories, and as I always say, the greatest thing about memories is they can never be taken away from you.
So when I wish you and yours the merriest of Christmases, the happiest of holidays and the best of the season, you know it has the official North Pole seal of approval. You’re the reason we at MASNsports.com are here. That you spend a few moments of your precious day reading and commenting on what we write, that you seek us out on Twitter to discuss what’s happening with the Nationals, that you engage with us over and over again - well, this little cyber community that’s developed is quite the blessing, personally and professionally. Simply put, it’s our pleasure. So raise a glass of your favorite beverage - for me, it’s a Diet Coke - and toast to our continued good fortune.
As I look at the roster the Nationals are preparing to tote to spring training, I can’t help but wonder who on the current configuration won’t make it to Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., when the full squad reports. Baseball has morphed into a year-round activity - remember the days when the time between Christmas and the day pitchers and catchers reported was almost bereft of personnel moves - and it’s a good bet that general manager Mike Rizzo is at least keeping an eye on his cell phone during his holiday celebration. Unless, of course, he and A’s GM Billy Beane are breaking holiday bread, though I’m not sure if there’s anything of value left in the green-and-gold Oakland stockings hung by the faux chimney at O.co Coliseum.
I keep coming back to three names - infielder Danny Espinosa, first baseman/outfielder Tyler Moore and right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard. And I’m guessing at least one of them doesn’t make it through spring training without changing uniforms.
Espinosa has a good glove, right-handed power and the ability to play a couple of positions - but I’m not sure the Nats are comfortable going into the season with him as their starting second baseman. He’s well-liked in the clubhouse and has his proponents in the front office. But the raw numbers and his ability to frustrate hitting coaches who want him to be a little more selective at the plate may outweigh them. I was surprised he broke camp last year with Anthony Rendon clearly the better option at second base before Ryan Zimmerman got hurt, and clubs continue to ask the Nationals about Espinosa’s availability.
Rizzo has thus far deflected trade talk, saying he’s not getting a serious enough offer to consider moving Espinosa. But if the Nats sign or trade for a second baseman between now and mid-February, I think Espinosa’s luck may have run out. In fairness, he’s in a can’t-win situation now, unable to reach his potential without significant playing time. A change of scenery might be the best course of action.
Ditto for Moore, the hero of the 2012 National League Division Series who wasn’t able to build on his breakthrough season. He’s still got an obstacle in his path, only now it’s Zimmerman instead of Adam LaRoche. Moore will be 28 by opening day and he’s running short on opportunity, especially after not being able to adapt to a role as a pinch-hitter or part-time player. Moore’s name always seems to come up in trade talk with American League clubs, and he could be valuable as the right-handed side of a DH platoon who could also play some first base and outfield. But I sense the Nats are growing impatient with him, and that he may be running out of chances to prove his value.
Clippard’s presence on my list of possible soon-to-be ex-Nationals has nothing to do with production. In fact, you could argue that he’s been the most reliable of arms out of the bullpen, even taking a turn at closer when Drew Storen went down in 2012, recording 32 saves in 37 tries. He’s been a good company man, but knows that setup guys are baseball’s underappreciated yeomen, critical to a team’s overall success but not so important that they get paid what they’re worth when they flourish year after year. He’s heading into his walk year before free agency next offseason and could earn a raise to around $9 million through arbitration this winter (not bad for a guy who was making $1.65 million in 2012). That could be more than the Nats want to commit to an eighth-inning guy, and with teams like the Blue Jays still searching for a closer as the calendar turns to a new year, Clippard could be on the move. His was one of the more popular names mentioned in trade talks at the Winter Meetings, and he could soon be polishing his goggles somewhere else (keep in mind, he wants to close, so he’d likely be grateful for the opportunity, wherever it comes). Clippard’s value may never be higher, and we all know Rizzo likes to sell high.
There are other guys whose tenure in D.C. could be in peril. Shortstop Ian Desmond and right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister will also be free agents after 2015. It’s highly unlikely that the Nats could keep all three, and all have been rumored to be heading elsewhere as Rizzo seeks to fill other holes with valued commodities. But their value will only increase deeper into the season, when Rizzo could extort a hefty sum from another club that thinks one of these three players is the guy that puts them over the hump. That brings back better players, more polished prospects. And if all else fails, he offers them arbitration, knowing they will refuse and test the market, and the Nats pocket another treasured draft pick. It’s baseball’s cycle of life.
Out of Espinosa, Moore and Clippard, who do you think is the most likely to be playing in a different uniform in 2015? Who’s the easiest to replace? Who’s the one the Nats can’t afford to part company with?