Tracking down some former Nationals position players

If you’ve been thinking this offseason has been awfully quiet so far, you’re not alone. The World Series ended four weeks ago, with free agency officially beginning five days later, and there has been next-to-no significant news across the baseball world.

Eventually, that will change, most likely in the days leading up to the Winter Meetings (which begin Dec. 11 in Orlando). Until then, we’ll keep trying to fill the void around here with content on a variety of topics. Like this one.

The Nationals have undergone more than their fair share of roster turnover in recent years. Would you believe that only 16 of the 44 players who appeared in a game for the Nats in 2015 are still with the organization? That’s not very long ago. And on a team that has been among the best in baseball for a while now.

It’s all part of the industry, though, with players coming and going in rapid succession at times. Along the way, we tend to lose track of guys who played a significant role here and then seemed to disappear into the night.

So let’s take the next two days to track down some of those former Nats and see what’s happened to them since they departed. We’ll do position players today, then pitchers tomorrow ...

Ah, The Shark. Everyone’s favorite toolsy outfielder who wowed us with diving catches and toned pecs. Bernadina was released by the Nationals in 2013 and bounced around five different organizations after that. He played 80 more games in the majors for the Phillies, Dodgers and Reds, then spent 2015 with the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate and 2016 with the Mets’ Triple-A club.

Then Bernadina decided to take his talents across the Pacific Ocean, to Korea, where he found instant success. In 139 games with the Kia Tigers this season, he hit - get this - .320 with 27 homers, 111 RBIs, 118 runs, 32 stolen bases and a .913 OPS to help lead his team to the league championship.

After that kind of performance, you won’t be surprised to learn Bernadina is hoping to get another crack in the United States. He hasn’t signed with anyone yet, but someone might just give the 33-year-old a shot come spring.

The Nationals acquired Escobar to be their starting second baseman in 2015, sending fan favorite Tyler Clippard to Oakland to get him. Escobar wound up never playing a game there, instead serving as the everyday third baseman after Anthony Rendon injured his knee in spring training.

He had a strong season at the plate, hitting .314 with a .375 on-base percentage and .790 OPS, but needing to open the position back up for Rendon in 2016, the Nats traded him to the Angels for Trevor Gott and Michael Brady. Escobar, still playing only third base, hit .300 again in his first season in Anaheim but then fell to .274 this season while playing in only 89 games due to hamstring and oblique injuries.

He’s now a 35-year-old free agent who is hoping another club will give him a chance to play every day in 2018 but may have to settle for a utility role.

Espinosa’s departure from the Nationals last winter was messy. He wasn’t happy with the acquisition of Adam Eaton, which ensured Trea Turner would be taking over at shortstop, and so Mike Rizzo quickly traded him to the Angels for pitchers Austin Adams and Kyle McGowin.

The Angels gave Espinosa a chance to be their opening day second baseman, but then a familiar thing happened: He didn’t hit. At all. In 77 games, he batted .162 with a .513 OPS, six homers and a staggering 91 strikeouts. So on July 20, he was released. Thus began Espinosa’s nomadic march through the rest of the season. He signed with the Mariners on July 24, went 3-for-16 with seven strikeouts and was released on Aug. 20. He then signed with the Rays on Aug. 25, went 6-for-22 with 11 strikeouts and was released on Sept. 21.

Now the 30-year-old is a free agent and facing a very uncertain future. He owns a .221 batting average, .297 on-base percentage and 29 percent strikeout rate in 872 career major league games. How many more shots will he get?

wilson-ramos-buffalo-white.pngWILSON RAMOS
How much did the Nationals miss this guy in 2017? Or, more accurately, how much did they miss the 2016 version of him? Ramos, of course, wasn’t his old self, not after he suffered the second ACL tear of his career during the final week of the 2016 regular season. The Nats couldn’t afford to re-sign him after that, so Ramos wound up taking a two-year, $12.5 million deal with the Rays, who understood he wouldn’t be ready to play until midseason.

Ramos did make it back to the active roster in late June, and he wowed Tampa Bay with three homers in his first seven games. But it was a struggle for him to get back into respectable form. He hit just .170 with a .490 OPS in his first 32 games but then found his stroke and finished strong. Over his final 32 games, Ramos hit .343 with eight homers and a .963 OPS. And his knee allowed him to catch all but one game he played, something of a surprise.

The 30-year-old Buffalo will return for his second season with the Rays healthy and hoping to become a consistent force again. Here’s something to consider: If he does play well but Tampa Bay struggles as a team, would the Nats maybe show some interest come July if Matt Wieters has another rough year and Pedro Severino doesn’t develop? It’s probably a pipe dream, but perhaps worth keeping in the back of your mind.

A feel-good story for the Nationals in 2015, Robinson was a late bloomer who finally got a chance to stick in the big leagues at 30 and became a big contributor off the bench. But after struggling in 2016, the Nationals felt they needed to upgrade and signed Adam Lind to take over that role, leaving Robinson in a lurch.

Robinson could have become a free agent at the end of spring training but he elected to report to Triple-A Syracuse, and that’s where he spent the entire season. In 132 games for the Chiefs, he hit .242 with 18 homers, 74 RBIs and a .740 OPS. And given how well Lind performed, there never was reason for the Nationals to consider Robinson for a promotion.

Robinson, 32, became a free agent at the end of the season and faced a decision. He decided to call it a career, but he’s not leaving the sport altogether. He has been hired by the Marlins as a pro scout. For a guy who always was interested in the front office side of baseball, here’s betting he’s got a future in this new career.

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