On August 16th, 2011, Bill Ladson of MLB.com reported an hour and 48 minutes after the signing deadline of 12:01AM, that the Washington Nationals had agreed to terms with their top four 2011 first year player draft picks. The Nationals had not only drafted but also, for the second consecutive year, signed what analysts claimed to be the best bat of the draft class in third baseman Anthony Rendon from Rice University.
Rendon, in three years with the Rice University Owls, had put together what could be classified as one of the best college careers in the decade. In 187 games, he gathered 253 hits, which is shown in his astonishing .371 batting average as well as his .510 on base percentage. Additionally, during his sophomore year, he became the only undergraduate ever to win the Dick Howser Trophy, otherwise known as the “Heisman” of NCAA Baseball. Rendon had one important problem though. His junior year was plagued with nagging ankle and shoulder injuries that hindered his performance.
These injuries caused Rendon to fall in the draft from the definitive number one pick to the number six pick for the Washington Nationals. Despite being a “best player available,” this move came as a slight surprise for many fans that viewed Ryan Zimmerman’s third base position as blocked for a long time. Along with this surprise came a lot of speculation as to what the Nationals options were for the future given the addition of Rendon and the lingering contract extension talks with Zimmerman.
Here are four possible future options that the Nationals have:
1) Trading away or benching Ian Desmond
In the past two seasons with the Nationals, Desmond has made 57 errors, the worst in the league. Although he made significant fielding progress this year despite the high number of errors, his offensive production declined. His batting average dropped from .269 to .253 and he struck out 30 more times in only 60 more plate appearances.
With scant improvement, the argument can be made that Desmond is not the Nationals future shortstop with Rendon pressuring in the minors. Instead, he could become a solid bench player with his speed and fielding range. Possibly the best option is trading him soon while interest is relatively high. Moving Desmond would leave the shortstop position open leaving Espinosa to move to short, the position he played throughout the minors, and Rendon to take over second.
2) Trading away Danny Espinosa
In Espinosa’s first full season with the Nationals, he put up an impressive 21 homeruns and .323 on base percentage despite a disappointing .236 batting average. He also provided the Nationals with much needed range at second base. His solid rookie year proved that Espinosa is an everyday starter in the major leagues and not just a bench player. The best option would be to trade Espinosa while the demand is still high for developing major leaguers. Getting rid of Espinosa would allow Rendon to take over his former position.
3) Allowing Ryan Zimmerman to enter free agency
Zimmerman is coming into his second to last contract year with the Nationals. Depending on how much confidence the front office has in Zimmerman after this season, they will decide whether or not they will offer the two-time Silver Slugger a contract extension. This will also depend on free agent signings. If the Nationals sign a significant free agent for a lot of money, there may not be enough money left for Zimmerman, leaving him to enter free agency. Zimmerman’s departure would open up the third base position just in time for Rendon to step in.
4) Moving Ryan Zimmerman from third to first base
If the Nationals are unable to sign a big name first baseman such as Fielder then a strong possibility would be moving Zimmerman from third base to first base after Adam LaRoche’s contract expires. This would also open third base just in time for when Rendon would most likely be ready to come up to the majors.
These are just four possibilities but no one can truly predict baseball and its market. Numerous situations can occur to influence what happens with Rendon in the future including his own development in the minors. What do you see happening in the future?
He's Rizzo's main way of screwing over Zimmerman & punishing Zimm for daring to speak his mind in 2010 about keeping Dunn.
Nice post. I have to admit I'm a little more partial to Option #1 - trading Desmond. I'm a fan of Espinosa and I think he's going to get better, where I think Desmond is about what he's ever going to be. I'd rather trade him before he hits his so-called prime, get whatever prospects we can (unless he's part of a deal for a center fielder), and let Lombardozzi take the at bats until Rendon is ready.
Zim's status isn't just about the Nats having enough money. He has stated that the Nats need to start winning for him to WANT to sign on long term. If he hasn't already, I would expect he will have made up his own mind by the end of 2012 season whether he enters FA after 2013, and that is why the pressure has been on Rizzo this off-season to improve the team. Is an 85 win season enough to convince Zim that the Nats are on the cusp on becoming a perennial contender? For that matter, does Zim want to move to 1B?
I think the Nats know Zim is holding the cards and they will not make any decision on Rendon until it becomes clear what Zim wants to do, and that will probably be by Winter Meetings next year.
Good post by @philley32 this morning.