LAS VEGAS - The Nationals made it a priority each of the last two winters to acquire a left-handed backup first baseman, wanting to make sure they had not only a potent bat off the bench but also a capable slugger who could take over everyday duties if Ryan Zimmerman landed on the disabled list.
And each time they struck paydirt, getting major contributions from Adam Lind in 2017 and Matt Adams in 2018 (until he was traded to the Cardinals once the Nats fell out of the race).
The Nationals find themselves in the exact same situation this winter, recognizing the need for a backup first baseman, again preferring a left-handed hitter who could complement Zimmerman. And again there are several prototypical players on the open market who would fit that role, including Adams, Justin Bour and Lucas Duda.
The Nats, though, appear to be approaching this need from a different direction this year. Rather than searching for another Lind or Adams clone, they’re looking for more versatility.
The Nationals are targeting players who could see time at both first and second base, a source familiar with their plans said today. In an ideal world, they could fill two holes with one player.
Though general manager Mike Rizzo has been talking up a second base combo of Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo, while also touting top prospect Carter Kieboom’s pending arrival in the big leagues, the club is actively pursuing alternatives, according to the source.
Such a player could find himself playing second base multiple times a week while also sliding over to first base whenever Zimmerman needs a day off, and obviously being available for daily duty if Zimmerman was injured.
There are a few free agents who would fit that description, perhaps headlined by Marwin Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, 29, is poised to receive a multi-year contract as one of the more attractive (and versatile) players on the market this winter. The switch-hitting longtime Astro has played all over the diamond during his career: 291 games at shortstop, 191 at first base, 157 in left field, 110 at second base, 93 at third base, four in right field, three in center field. He has a .737 career OPS, not to mention a positive rating in Defensive Runs Saved at every position but third base.
If Gonzalez is too pricey for the Nationals, veteran Daniel Descalso also fits the bill. The 32-year-old isn’t as much of an offensive threat - though he posted a career-best .789 OPS this season for the Diamondbacks - but he’s a left-handed bat who has played at least 62 games at all four infield positions, plus another 49 in left field. Descalso also has considerable postseason experience with both St. Louis and Arizona. (Nats fans don’t need to be reminded of that.)
Other players who could fit the description include Derek Dietrich, Neil Walker, Yangervis Solarte and Sean Rodriguez. That’s to say nothing of the deep pool of second basemen who are currently free agents.
“There is a glut of free agent possibilities out there, a lot of good players,” Rizzo said today when asked specifically about upgrading at second base. “So you never rule anything out. If there’s a value that we feel is worthwhile, we’ll certainly explore it.”