Perhaps lost in last night’s bombshell news about the Biogenesis clinic scandal was an admission by the Washington Nationals that they have a problem. Specifically, a second base problem. Even more specifically, that Danny Espinosa is in fact hurt and needs to get himself off the field and healed.
And to address the new hole in both their middle infield and their lineup, the Nationals promoted Anthony Rendon, the club’s first round draft pick — 6th overall — in the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft. The first thing to know about Rendon, who turns 23 on Thursday, is that his bat is definitely ready for action. He’s a polished college hitter out of Rice and he’s been destroying AA; hitting prospects of his quality have nothing worth proving at the plate by taking an extended assignment in AAA. If Rendon can’t hit MLB pitching, better to find out about it and start working on it now than waste any more time. No, the big concern with Rendon is his health — in particular, the health of his ankles, which have been the site of three major injuries since 2009 and who knows how many minor ones.
Add into the equation that the Nationals are asking him to take over at second base with all of eleven games of professional time there, and we have the actual problem with Rendon’s promotion: asking a kid who’s ready to play but has spent all his time at third base, who has a history of lower body problems, to come up and essentially learn hardest position on the diamond on the legs outside of catcher on the fly could be a recipe for disaster.
If only the Nationals had somebody with good defensive range and footwork but whose arm is no longer suited to playing on the left side of second that they could put there instead. Oh, hi there Ryan Zimmerman.
Putting Zimmerman at second and allowing Rendon to stay at third would solve — or at least mitigate — a couple thorny issues both guys are dealing with right now. Zimmerman still clearly has the reflexes and range to play the position — anyone who’s been watching him can see that — but he just as clearly has something wrong with his throwing motion or his throwing arm itself that’s leading to his ridiculous number of throwing errors. The Nationals can no longer afford to allow him to work that out on the fly anymore; it’s early June, Washington is 6 ½ games back of the Braves, and with the trade deadline approaching the Nats need to know whether to get in or get out. Putting Rendon at third where he doesn’t have to be concerned about learning a new position or with takeout slides and putting Zimmerman at second where he doesn’t have to worry about going the long way to first every time a ball comes his way would be the best way to hide the weaknesses of two guys that Washington is committing to as everyday players.
Has Zimmerman ever played second? Not to my knowledge. Certainly not in any meaningful amount, and certainly not recently. But there’s no option here where the man starting every day for the Nationals at second base isn’t learning the position on the fly, and I don’t think Rendon’s eleven games there in the minors give him any real insight or leg up on the position that Zimmerman wouldn’t have by working with the Nationals position coaches. Of course, the real reason this isn’t going to happen is that Ryan Zimmerman is the face of the franchise (for the moment; his time in that role is drawing swiftly to a close) and Anthony Rendon is a rookie. Perhaps the possibility has already been explored internally, and for various reasons we’re not privy to the Nationals went this direction instead. But from the outside looking in, it really seems like Ryan Zimmerman, starting second baseman, would be the best way to keep both men healthy and performing well on the field.