Nationals comfortable with second-base situation
Rizzo says Rendon is starter, but Espinosa will be given chance to win job
WASHINGTON -- Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Tuesday that he feels "comfortable" with the club's situation at second base, even after dealing away one of his options at the position, backup infielder Steve Lombardozzi.
The Nats sent Lombardozzi to the Tigers as part of a package for starting pitcher Doug Fister on Monday. While Rizzo didn't slam the door on the idea of acquiring another second baseman -- even high-profile free agent Robinson Cano -- he also expressed satisfaction with the team's current depth chart there.
Rizzo identified Anthony Rendon as the starter heading into Spring Training, but the GM said there will be competition, with Danny Espinosa among those in the mix.
In the aftermath of the Fister deal, Rizzo named the bullpen and bench as his main areas of focus for the remainder of the offseason, and he mostly sidestepped a question about signing Cano.
"Well, those are things that of course I'm not going to address with the media on the phone," Rizzo said during a conference call. "But like I said, we're doing what we have to do to try to improve the ballclub, and we've taken a step forward in acquiring Fister, and we're looking forward to tweaking things and to making us a better ballclub."
Later on Tuesday, Rizzo addressed the Cano speculation more directly in a radio interview with Jim Bowden on SiriusXM's Inside Pitch & Front Office.
"I don't forsee us jumping into that market," Rizzo said.
Cano would seem to be a long shot, given his huge asking price. After all, the Nationals have a low-cost and capable option available in Rendon.
The 23-year-old, formerly the club's top prospect, is coming off a solid rookie season that came on the heels of only 79 Minor League games. In two stints with Washington, Rendon hit .265/.329/.396 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs over nearly 400 plate appearances, displaying a line-drive stroke and patience at the plate.
Originally called up to fill in for the injured Ryan Zimmerman at third base, which is his natural spot, Rendon later took over for Espinosa at second. Despite having not played there regularly since Little League, Rendon held his own and showed progress over his 81 starts at the position.
"Anthony Rendon finished the season as our starting second baseman, and he'll go into Spring Training as our starting second baseman," Rizzo said. "But we're going to have competition at that position, and there's going to be competition for several roster spots."
Lombardozzi appeared in 102 games at second over three seasons with the Nats and started 83, including 38 last year. His departure figures to pave the way for Espinosa's return to the big leagues.
Espinosa was Washington's full-time second baseman in 2011-12, but he played through injuries and struggled mightily at the plate in '13. He was hitting .158 with a .465 OPS when he was placed on the disabled list in early June with a fractured right wrist. Espinosa began a rehab assignment at Triple-A Syracuse soon after, but he hit only .216 with a .566 OPS and he never made it back to Washington, even as a September callup.
Nonetheless, Rizzo was effusive in praising Espinosa, who would be a strong candidate to claim a backup infield spot because of his ability to play shortstop.
"Danny Espinosa is going to go to Spring Training and battle for a job on the roster," Rizzo said. "He's an excellent defender, Gold Glove-caliber at second base and shortstop. He gives us speed. He stole 20 bases in the big leagues in a season so far, he's hit 20 home runs in a season so far in his young big league career. He had a down year last year, but this guy's a makeup guy, he's a grinder and a guy that his personality and his makeup plays well on this club. I've always been a Danny Espinosa fan and I still am, and I think he's going to have a good Major League career."
If Rizzo does choose to pursue a free agent to add to the mix at second, he will have some options that figure to be much less expensive than Cano. Among those available are Alexi Casilla, Mark Ellis, Chris Getz, Omar Infante and Scott Sizemore.
But for now, Rizzo seems content to stick with what he's got.
"I like our second-base situation," Rizzo said. "We certainly have talented players at that position. … We've got depth in the Minor Leagues at that position, and we feel comfortable there."