Could the Rays Go After Danny Espinosa?

By Robbie Knopf

Fernando Rodney had walked more than he struck out the previous season. James Loney was a barely passable big league first baseman coming off his worst season yet. Joaquin Benoit was coming off shoulder surgery. All three players saw their careers reach their lowest points–and then the Rays signed them and everything changed. The Rays have gained a penchant the last several years for finding players discarded by other teams and turning them into key components of their success. Could Danny Espinosa be the next example?

Just last season, Danny Espinosa was coming off a huge season and deeply entrenched in the Washington Nationals’ future plans. Espinosa had hit to a .247/.315/.402 line as the Nats’ starting second baseman, drilling 37 doubles and 17 homers, stealing 20 bases, and also playing outstanding defense. The 26 year old was far from a perfect player–he led the National League with 189 strikeouts while walking just 46 times–but between his power, speed, and defense, he was an extremely valuable player. This season, though, has been an entirely different story. Espinosa struggled mightily to begin the season, managing just a .158/.193/.272 line with 47 strikeouts against just 4 walks in 167 plate appearances. The Nationals sent him down and it didn’t even help. In 292 plate appearances at Triple-A, Espinosa’s batting line stayed at just .208/.271/.283 with 97 strikeouts against 18 walks in 292 plate appearances. There has been no light at the end of the tunnel, no reprieve for Espinosa in a nightmare season that can’t end soon enough. Espinosa’s confidence has evaporated and it just took another hit. Bill Madson of reports that the Nationals are looking to trade the player that appeared to be their second baseman of the future just a few months ago.

Is Danny Espinosa salvageable? The league has adjusted to him, and he may never be able to adjust back. But with the amount of skills he has, he doesn’t need to be the player he was in 2011 and 2o12. Espinosa is a switch hitter with power, speed, and strong defense at not just second base but shortstop as well. He fits that Ben Zobrist super-utility profile, and while his plate discipline is on the opposite spectrum as Zobrist–Zobrist’s patience might be his best asset while Espinosa’s is his worst–he arguably has more raw ability. Espinosa has enough talent to warrant a second chance, and the Rays would love to plug him into a utility role like they did wiht Zobrist in 2008 and see what happens. The Rays had interest in Espinosa in the past, and if a deal is ever going to happen, it’s right now. Espinosa needs a change of scenery and the Rays are the perfect team to give it to him.

The biggest factor in any Espinosa trade is going to be what the Nationals are asking for him. The Rays love acquiring players coming off horrific seasons, but they always do it at extremely low costs. If they have to give up more than a mid-range prospect for Espinosa, there is no chance they’ll do it. Will the Nationals consider that enough? But if the Nationals have totally lost hope in him and are going to trade him for whatever they can get, expect the Rays to swoop up and do everything in reason to faciliate a deal. Danny Espinosa is a flawed player and may never be the same player he was. However, with all the skills he still has, he could still be a contributor to future Rays teams if the Nationals and Rays can agree to terms.