Put Zimmerman At Second

Moving Anthony Rendon to second makes little sense. (USA Today Sports Images)

Moving Anthony Rendon to second makes little sense. (USA Today Sports Images)

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.

33 thoughts on “Put Zimmerman At Second

  1. Not necessarily a bad idea, although it might be something more worth considering for spring training 2014. A lot will depend upon whom the Nats tap to succeed Johnson; no one’s been able to read the tea leaves on South Capitol Street regarding that decision. Will they stay in-house or look outside the organization? (The Angels’ recent slide against Bo Porter’s Astros gives some Nats fans hope that Mike Scioscia may somehow be available, and if he’s let go in Anaheim, Arte Moreno would rather see him resurface in red at Nationals Park than in blue at Chavez Ravine.)

  2. Zimmerman will not accept this move this season and the Nationals know that so they likely never approached the subject with him.
    I don’t know that Zimmerman has the body type for second base. He seems to have put on some weight over the past couple years and I don’t know if I can see him twisting a double play very well.

    • Why not keep Lombardozzi at 2nd for now and platoon Zim and Rendon? Lombo has done some excellent defensive work, and last night’s 9 pitch battle for a SAC fly with the game winning RBI shows he can be tough at the plate. Putting Rendon in a spot where he has little experience, and where his ankles might be a liability for the quick turn-arounds needed by a 2nd baseman is just flat out unfair to Rendon. The kid’s been called up early–he didn’t even get a decent week’s worth of AAA play–so at least let him play in the majors at a spot he’s familiar with. It’s almost as if the Nats’ management want to make it as difficult as possible for these young guys to succeed.

  3. All the Nats need to do is point Zimmerman at a HOF 2b named Sandberg who made the transition and turned it into a great career.

  4. Wow, you dont really know much huh? Do a little research next time, but let me fill you in for the moment. Renden has played 2nd and grew up playing second. He is very comfortable with the position and has said as much. Also, 2nd base is not the hardest position on the field to “learn” or play. As an infielder, you pretty much should “know” how to play each position anyway, in terms of responibilities. And physically, short-stop and third are the most demanding positions physically, aside from catcher obviously.

    • Except that the article clearly explained why Rendon shouldn’t play second (because of his repeated ankle injuries). And, if playing second is easy, then Zimmerman would be able to do it.

      • agreed. Let’s face it–none of these spots, not infield nor outfield is “easy” to play. If it was, I and probably everyone else on this site, would be in the Big Show. It takes time and practice to master each position. If Rendon had been playing 2nd base in AAA for the last few weeks that would have been a different story.

    • David-your email was well said. Rendon is just as good a player than a lot of the league players out there now. All players have some kind of issues they deal with when playing any type of sports and he would not have been drafted as the first round pick if he did not show everyone out there he deserved where he is now. He was only pushed back to 6th overall because of his ankle issues that he endured his last year playing Rice. He is a strong hitter, knows the game and is more dedicated to prove that age is just a number.

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  6. Zimmerman’s arm strength isn’t in question – it’s, as Thomas Boswell puts it, “The Thing” that (sometimes) has its claws in him. The Thing is the same one that grabbed Chuck Knoblauch’s and Steve Sax’ arms at second base, and it own’t relent its grip if Zimmerman is on the right side of the infield. It’s in his head, not his arm, as you can tell with any throw he makes while on the run (i.e., doesn’t have time to think about it) – hard, and on the money.

    Long-term, Zimmerman makes the move across the diamond – but to first, not second – with Rendon at third and a healthy/rebuilt Espinosa or Tony Renda (currently tearing up A-ball) at second.

    • I think Zimm goes to first as well. With the looming release of LaRoche (see last off season), the value that is placed on Zimm’s bat as our #3 with a long term contract already in place, plus our #1 prospect groomed to take over 3rd, all signs point to this move.

      The real issue is Espinosa. His bat has never come around to what we need while his defense is top 10 caliber. He is too inconsistent at the plate, though. He is a batting liability at the bottom of the order. I defy you to feel comfortable anytime he comes up to bat. How many at bats has he been behind in while batting under the Mendoza line the MAJORITY of the season? It feels like them all.

      Nope, Rendon is to play second (natural position) despite his past health issues and to use his bat to get us some offense. Lombo should be a situational pinch hitter (defense isn’t nearly up to snuff in the outfield) and THE SHARK should play left.

  7. Both Rendon and Zimmerman were prep shortstops. Both moved to 3B in college. If you can play SS, you can play 2B (see Espinosa, who lots in the org think is actually a better SS than Desmond defensively).

    Problem is … Zimmerman’s on the $100M contract, he’s the “Face of the Franchise,” he’s the #3 hitter, the clubhouse veteran leader. What kind of message does it say to the team that Zimmerman makes way for an untested rookie?

    Sorry; we can play what-if GM games in the blogosphere all we want but there’s no way that a player’s manager like Davey Johnson pulls a move like this. The Nats have some veteran voices who have more than earned their stripes, and Zimmerman is one of them. A forced move to 2B isn’t coming anytime soon.

  8. Zimmerman is what baseball guys call a “corner bat”, as opposed to an “up-the-middle” player or a pitcher. He has gained weight, as others have noted, for the purpose of hitting better. He has optimized his training, diet, routine, and thought process for offense. A few years ago he might have been decent up-the-middle material, but has strongly moved in the corner direction and there is simply no going back, Sandberg notwithstanding.

    • And a ‘corner bat’ in the middle is even MORE valuable (e.g. Ripken at SS, Sandberg at 2b, etc.)

  9. The idea is exactly right, and the Nats have no excuse for ignoring it. Mr. Zimmerman is an employee of the Nats, and he’ll play anywhere they ask him to play. “Face of the Team” is PR and doesn’t pre-empt the “good of the team.” The Angles have let 1 1/2 seasons go down the drain batting Albert Pujols in the 3 hole, while better hitters bat in front of him and behind him. Nice “face” on that ballclub……red, I would imagine, from the embarrassment of putting the well-being of a $25 million dollar a year ballplayer ahead of the club’s well-being. Wake up Davey, you da boss, right??

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  11. This is a great idea! And we’ll have good hitters all through the lineup upon Harper’s return.

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  13. A big guy like Ryan becomes a big target as the middle man on double plays at 2nd base. While 2nd base sounds like a logical fix for his “thing” in regard to throws, don’t forget that the thing even kept Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch from making the simple 2nd to 1st throw.

  14. If I wasn’t clear, I meant to say that he becomes a big target for runners trying to take him out on double plays. And with his shoulder issues, I’d cringe every time he got upended and fell on his shoulder.

  15. Sure, make a guy suffering from the zips go out and try to turn double plays…

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  17. What we need to keep in mind is that Zimmerman had shoulder surgery in the offseason. He is not fully healed yet. His days at third should not be over, since he will continue to improve throughout the year. I lived with someone who had the same surgery, and it took them a year to be fully better, the typical timetable for this surgery. This important fact is left out of the article in order to promote the author’s argument. Zimmerman has not only been better over the past few weeks, but will continue to improve.

  18. First off we need to get Lambo at 2B. he is very consistant on Defence and comes through in the clutch at bat. he has done nothing to not be at 2 B. Leave Zim at 2 and get bernidinio in the line up in LF and let the kids play daily and get there swing and we’ll be fine. When harper returns then Bernidinio back to platoon and Lombo stays at 2 B. When espi comes back make him the platoon infielder he can play all positions but he just can’t hit. We just need Harper, Ramos, Detwilder, Strausburg back and soon

  19. Lots of detail to try muddle over within a key point or 2, so here is my key point:
    It takes 2 to 3 years of consistently performing before you can stand up and say “hey, look what I got here!” Quickly, focus for a moment on the fact that the Nationals success a year ago was still 2 to 3 years ahead of anyone’s (Nats Fan or Nats Front Office) best expectations. The team “chemistry” was a lineup of young, still learning to be really good, pros – from the position players through the pitching staff. And yes, it is tough to go back to being a “team of the future” when the team reached heights no one saw coming. Cutting to the quick: Michael Morse, who cultivated and improved his skills over more than three seasons in D.C. should have been retained, even with Adam LaRoche still aboard. The club would have veterans in the outfield and infield while continuing to mix playing time for the younger guys and role players, such as Bernadina, Harper, Moore, Tracy, Lombardozzi. As objective fans might recall, one of these guys stepped up and became unsung heroes 2 out of every third game. The lineup that excelled balancing role players playing time had its heart taken when Morse, a #5 hitter opposing teams consistently had to game plan for after the #3 batter, went away. Effectively, Harper, obviously not “just another” young success (IE still needs a couple of years to prove he really is. or can be a real star) was tapped to be the everyday LF position, when Span was signed to be the everyday CF, and Werth was now the everyday RF. Have to keep this *relatively* brief, so to summarize, the outfield would have been better off with most of it as a platoon system. Bernadina and Moore, for example, still hungry to show their talents, knew they’d get playing time, but not playing everyday they were more productive on those occasions they did. On the pitching side, it’s always good to believe in your pitchers who can step in, but not retaining at least one of the veterans, Gorzellany and/or Burnett, was too big of a loss from the middle of the bullpen, on a staff, of which its starters were not yet proven as consistent winners. (IE over 2 to 3 consecutive seasons). The Nats have proven they have talent to compete with the rest of the NL, but allowing Morse, Gorzellany and Burnett, and their experience, to go were valuable losses from the chemistry of the club, as it adds a couple more years of consistent performance and solidifies hold for a top spot in the division. Talent is still there, but as the record shows midseason, it’ll be uphill.

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  21. I expect this problem will solve itself. I can’t remember when Zim played a full season healthy. He is clearly playing hurt.

  22. Any infield position as well as batting puts his ankles at risk. Rendon doesn’t play 2nd as well as Danny, but good enough. Considering the way he hits, I don’t see Danny ever getting the position back.