The latest twist in Danny Espinosa’s star-crossed season came this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, Espinosa played not at second base, but at shortstop, his natural position, which he played in the minors up until the month before the Nationals called him up at the end of 2010.
The Nationals shifting Espinosa to shortstop could be interpreted as a showcase for a trade, a way to remind other teams that Espinosa’s excellent defense at second base also carries over to a more premium position. At least a few rival evaluators read it that way. “Totally,” one said.
It is hard to know exactly what the Nationals are thinking – if they did really do want to deal him, they would be foolish to publicly acknowledge it and lose leverage. As much as Espinosa playing shortstop seems like a sign the Nationals are willing to trade him, I’m not so sure they would want to.
First of all, Espinosa still has distinct value to the Nationals this season. As much as he has struggled at the plate while hitting through a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, his major league experience and defense could make him a contributor this year. He still is probably the Nationals’ best option as a backup shortstop in the event Ian Desmond gets hurt. Remember, Espinosa ably filled last summer when Desmond landed on the disabled list with an oblique strain.
There also is the question of whether it makes any sense to trade Espinosa now. The bias of recency obscures what an asset Espinosa remains. He is 26, he has always hit for power with two healthy shoulders and he was the sixth-most valuable second baseman in the majors last season, per FanGraphs.com.
The Nationals would lose that if they traded him, and they would minimize their return for Espinosa if they pulled the trigger now. Espinosa has been hurt. He has been shipped to Class AAA. He is 5 for 37 with 22 strikeouts at Syracuse. He is better than that.