Scouting The Trade Market: Danny Espinosa

Injury Updates: Cano, Phelps, Pineda, Almonte
Nunez day-to-day after MRI comes back clean
(Patrick McDermott/Getty)
(Patrick McDermott/Getty)

If there’s one thing we learned from Derek Jeter‘s injury this year, it’s that the Yankees have very little shortstop depth in the minor leagues. Especially at the upper levels. There’s nothing after the now-injured Eduardo Nunez, which is why guys like Reid Brignac, Chris Nelson, and Alberto Gonzalez found their way onto the team at various points of the season. They didn’t bring those guys in out of boredom. They were necessary because the farm system had nothing to offer.

That lack of shortstop — and really middle infield all together — depth will carry over to next season. David Adams and even Corban Joseph could step in at second base on an emergency basis, but it’s tough to consider either guy an everyday option. Finding quality infield depth to either put on the bench or stash with Triple-A Scranton should be a priority this winter, and frankly they could use some help right now with Jayson Nix out for the season and Nunez heading for an MRI today.

Bill Ladson reported yesterday that the Nationals are trying to trade 26-year-old Danny Espinosa, their starting second baseman since Opening Day 2011. He wound up in Triple-A back in June because he was awful and Ladson says the team isn’t even committed to bringing him back up when rosters expand in September. They’ve very clearly soured on him. Does it make sense for the Yankees to pursue a trade, either before the August 31st deadline (so he can be eligible for the potential playoff roster) or over the winter? Let’s look.

The Pros

  • Espinosa broke into the show in September 2010 and hit .242/.319/.408 (99 wRC+) with 38 homers and a 7.9% walk rate during his two full seasons from 2011-2012. He’s a switch hitter who did his best work against lefties (124 wRC+) while being a non-embarrassment against righties (91 wRC+).
  • The various defensive metrics have all rated Espinosa as above-average at second (+16 DRS, +14.5 UZR, +20 Total Zone) and no worse than average at short (+4, +5.0, +7) in parts of four big league seasons. His playing time at short is limited (335 innings) because of Ian Desmond, so sample size and all that.
  • Espinosa is 38-for-52 (73%) in stolen base attempts as a big leaguer and 61-for-86 (71%) in his minor league career. He’s been almost exactly league average in terms of non-stolen base base-running, like going first-to-third on a single. That kinda stuff.
  • Espinosa is right on the Super Two bubble. If he comes up in September, he’ll qualify. If he stays down, he won’t. Either way, he can’t become a free agent until after the 2017 season and has at least one and likely two minor league options remaining.

The Cons

  • Espinosa has been an absolute disaster at the plate this season. He hit .158/.193/.272 (23 wRC+) in 167 plate appearances before being sent to Triple-A Syracuse, where he’s hit .215/.2717/.289 (58 wRC+) in 297 plate appearances. Ghastly.
  • Even when productive, Espinosa was always a high-strikeout player. He whiffed in 27.0% of his plate appearances from 2011-2012 and 27.1% of his big league plate appearances overall. In Triple-A this season, it’s a 33.0% strikeout rate. Contact from either side of the plate is not his strong suit.
  • Espinosa’s recent injury history is grim and he makes matters worse by playing hurt all the time. He had a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder late last season and a fracture in his right wrist (caused by a hit-by-pitch) earlier this year. A thumb issue has been bothering him in the minors of late. Espinosa spent 16 days on the DL for the wrist immediately before being sent down and that’s it. Played through everything else.

Obviously the various injury problems could be the root cause of Espinosa’s terrible year at the plate. You almost hope they are because then at least you have an explanation. If he was perfectly healthy and performing like this, it would be much bigger red flag. I understand the whole tough guy/playing through pain thing, but Espinosa has done himself a disservice these last two seasons. We’re not talking about a sore finger or a banged up knee here. If he needs surgery for the shoulder or wrist or whatever, his team (Nationals or otherwise) should get it taken care of ASAP this offseason.

Anyway, Espinosa represents a buy low opportunity right now. His recent performance has been terrible and Washington doesn’t seem eager to keep him around, which is exactly when you want to pounce. Maybe they can get him for pennies on the dollar, a la Nick Swisher a few years ago. Swisher’s poor year and clashes with then-manager Ozzie Guillen all worked to the Yankees advantage. Espinosa is in a similar situation. Three years of Jed Lowrie, another true switch-hitting middle infielder with injury problems, cost a big league reliever in a trade when he went from the Red Sox to the Astros last year. That seems like a decent reference as far as trade talks for Espinosa, but it’s not a perfect match.

The Yankees need to prioritize middle infield depth this winter and Espinosa offers both roster flexibility and some upside. Upside in the sense that he could return to his 2011-2012 form and become an everyday player who provides average offense and above-average defense at a hard to fill position. If he’s just an up-and-down spare infielder going forward, that’s okay too. The Yankees need one of them. Espinosa is not a savior. In a perfect world he’s an eighth or ninth place hitter who hits the occasional homer, steals the occasional base, and makes all the plays in the field. It boils down to this: Espinosa is a 26-year-old middle infielder with another four years of team control who put together back-to-back 3+ WAR seasons before an injury filled 2013. That’s someone the Yankees should go after while his stock is down.

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Injury Updates: Cano, Phelps, Pineda, Almonte
Nunez day-to-day after MRI comes back clean
  • jim p

    How many high-strikeout guys will we have in the lineup next year. Soriano, maybe Granderson. I know there’s a “strikeouts don’t matter” belief when it comes to batters. But in the zero-sum game of “pitcher vs batter” we value the high-strikeout pitcher. Doesn’t make sense that it’s good for pitchers and no big deal in batters. Zero-sum, after all.

    Plus (unless Chris Stewart is catching) there’s no productive moving up of runners on strikeouts. We’ve seen time and again how not moving runners up has cost Yankees games this year, as we rank in the lowest reaches in that statistic. (Might be better since the recent power-boost, but we’ve still lost a lot of games.)

    We can afford one or two of the K-prone in a lineup, but three or more?

    • mitch

      They weren’t striking out a lot in June with a 7-8-9 of Ichiro, Luis Cruz, and Stewart. Do you want that again?

      • jim p

        No I want base-runners to advance. Which those you named didn’t do either. Strikeouts NEVER advance baserunners, except in the rare passed-ball scenario.

        Winning teams make productive outs. Losing teams don’t.

        • mitch

          HRs advance the runners all the way to home. Look what happened to the offense when high K% guys like Arod, Soriano, and Granderson joined the team.

          • jsbrendog

            while I do usually agree with the ks aren’t a big deal it’s about scoring runs, when you look at the past WS winners they don’t k that much.

            (below is done with 1 having highest k total)
            2012- SF was 26 of 30
            2011 – St Louis 29 of 30
            2010 – SF 19 of 30
            2009 – NYY (wooo) 27 of 30
            2008 – Phillies 12 of 30

            Granted this isn’t an end all be all cause some of the teams who had less k than the eventual WS champions were just god awful
            2012-philly, cle, min, kc only teams with less k than eventual ws winner
            2011-only texas was lower and i hear they were pretty good (anomaly year?)
            2010-Twins, chisox, KC had least amount of k (Texas came in 4th from the bottom)
            2009-baltimore, houston, mets
            2008- bottom 5 were angels, cards, twins, jays, Ms

            i mean, this is a lot diff than i thought. last ws winner higher than philly at 12 was, of course, the 04 goon sox who were 3rd!!

            went as far back as 2000 and no other team in the top 15 other than philly and boston.

            food for thought from a guy who usually blindly agrees with you.

            • JGYank

              IMO Ks don’t matter too much. You want to put the ball in play to get hits but if you’re going to make an out, it doesn’t matter whether the ball is in play. Besides of productive outs that advance runners, an out is an out. Ks also raise pitch counts and prevent DPs at least.

              • jsbrendog

                right. you’re welcome to your opinion…even if it does go against recent data.

                • JGYank

                  I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all, just not to the point where it’s necessary to be the best at putting the ball in play to have the best awesome. To me power and plate discipline are more important to a hitter’s success. As long as a hitter can get on base, I can live with the strikeouts.

                  • JGYank

                    best lineup. I need more sleep.

                  • jsbrendog

                    agreed, but what this data shows is that you can’t take that too far because too many ks has only correlated into championships 2 out of 13 times. 3 if you expand it to top 16 cause SF was 16th in ks one of the years they won.

                    • Cool Lester Smooth

                      The World Series is a crapshoot every year.

                    • jsbrendog

                      yeah it is. but you’re saying there is no weight behind 11 of the last 13 WS winners being in the bottom 10 in ks? You can’t ignore it. again it isnt the only thing but you cant ignore it with cliches.

                    • JGYank

                      You should only go by regular season numbers. Larger sample size. Plus the ball doesn’t carry well in October and hitters are facing better pitchers who keep the ball in the park so contact hitters are better suited for the playoffs. Obviously you get hits and advance runners by putting the ball in play, but you also need guys who can hit the ball hard and take a walk. I think contact hitting is important but if you’re just hitting weak choppers and flailing at balls outside of the zone like Ichiro you’re not going to be productive. Ichiro is the perfect example of that.

                    • jsbrendog

                      these are regular season, overall team ks. not playoff ks.

                      this is over 162 game season.

                    • JGYank

                      Yes but you use world series winners are successful from having low strikeout totals as your argument. Like Cool Lester Smooth states the world series (and playoffs) are a crapshoot. You should look at teams that had good offensive performances during the regular season and their strikeout rates instead of just one team that happened to win the WS. Teams like the 2010 Giants won because of pitching while their offense wasn’t great so saying they won because they put the ball in play doesn’t make sense.

                    • JGYank

                      What I meant by the sample size was that you need to just provide teams that were good offensively rather than teams that won the WS since they didn’t all win because of offense. But I do think contact hitters help in the postseason like I explained in my previous post.

                    • Rivera Venue Blues

                      11 out of the last 13 teams to win the WS are probably top 10 in a lot of categories. Correlation does not always equal causation

                • Improbable Island’s Dirty Midget Whores (formerly RRR)

                  You’ve proved correlation, not causation. It’s possible that good hitting teams generally don’t have guys who strike out a ton, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to create one.

            • mitch

              i never really made a point, so i guess i left myself open for interpretation. I wasn’t trying to support the idea of an high power/high K lineup. Most of the league’s best hitter don’t strike out 20%+. However, i’d take Espinosa and with a high K% and wRC+ of 100 over a high contact guy with and wRC+ of 80. That’s all

              • jsbrendog

                oh id take him ina heartbeat too. and i am almost always on the ks dont matter if youre a good hitter. this was just some food for thought that made me rethink that stance, not necessarily in a vacuum, but when taking everything into account it looks like it is rather tough to win the WS when you’re team is in the top 15 k-ing teams.

          • JGYank

            That’s called power. Completely different from K rate. Obviously there aren’t productive because of the Ks.

          • jim p

            You mean we still lose games scoring two runs? Of course HR’s can get you quick runs, and you want them, and need them. At the same time you need to advance runners. It’s not an either-or. A 20 homerun guy who strikes out rarely is going to be worth more over a season than a 27 hr guy how strikes out 1/3 of the time.

            So, yeah, an offense can take 1 or 2 guys with high strikeouts, maybe three. But four or five? Nope, that’s a losing team.

            If, in the post-April meltdown we had guys make contact with runners on 2nd and 3rd instead of striking out, we’d have four to eight more Ws under our belt.

            • JGYank

              Not necessarily. The 20 homer guy might not be able to walk or get on base. The 27 homer guy might be able to get on base. Not to mention doubles and triples and speed. You have to look at all of a player’s tools.

          • toad

            Hey. Ruth and Mantle struck out a lot too, so it’s obviously a good thing.

    • j

      K-rate is highly valued for pitchers because the k-rate is against a large sample of hitter. Most MLB hitters could not get away with a 25% k-rate because they lack the secondary skills – power, batting eye,speed, to make up for the correspondingly low batting average/OBP. So if a pitcher can maintain a high strikeout rate against the average MLB hitter, those hitters will in large part be neutralized and the pitcher will have success.

      However, there is a small group of hitters who have particularly strong secondary skills, that can be successful with a high k-rate. Against this group, k-rate isn’t as important.

      If a pitcher had to exclusively face Soriano, Granderson, Chris Davis, etc., for a full season, his k-rate would be elite, but his other results would be quite bad.

      In short, k-rate is important for pitchers because pitchers face a large group of batters that, on average, do not have the ability to succeed with a high k-rate. However we leave the realm of averages and start talking about specific players, it loses its value

      • jim p

        What I’m talking about is a lineup with a preponderance of heavy strike-out batters. How that’s not a winner. These power hitters who strike out a lot don’t usually fare so well in Championship games against top pitching.

        Contact is better than no contact. The “strike out 160 times and hit 35 HRs” it seems to me is worse than “strike out 80 times and hit 28 HRs” over the long haul and in post-season play.

  • Donny

    Another great assessment, Mike. I have been a big fan of this guy for quite some time. So much so, that my fantasy team paid for my faith this year.

    I think it boils down to Mike’s last paragraph: 26 year old shortstops with 4 years of team control left and one year removed from a near 20-20 season should be a player right up the Yankees alley. Here’s hoping a reliever is enough.

  • DERP

    Try and get Storen as well. Or Soriano if they eat a lot of the money.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      I wouldn’t touch Soriano, major red flags there. Strikeout and swinging strike rate have fallen off big time and lefties are destroying him. Soriano did the Yankees a big favor by opting out.

      Storen? Sure.

      • trr

        Yup.
        Letting players leave is not always a bad thing.
        Should be quite interesting with Cano this winter.
        Quite interesting….

        • LarryM Fl

          I have pondered that question many times this year from saying adios to signing. Cano can be a force if he has some protection in the lineup and his defense is superior. But the length of the contract has me perplexed. 5/6 years is max IMHO. He will be DH the last two years with this length of contract.

          • jsbrendog

            problem is you can never predict this stuff. he could be jeff kent. he could be toast by 35.

            • LarryM Fl

              This is the the big question on his signing. If I knew he could produce as Jeter has. It would not be a problem but Jeter has had good clubs to assist with his production and play!

  • Gonzo

    Is it me or have the Nats been crappy with the handling of injuries recently. Maybe it’s just Davey Johnson saying one thing and the player saying another that makes things seem worse.

    • mitch

      Espinosa would feel right at home with the Yanks

  • Frank

    It’ll never happen as I’m betting the Yankees braintrust is convinced Jeter will be completely healthy next season, regain his youth by 10 years and play 162 games of All-Star caliber SS.

  • kenthadley

    Question relating to Espinosa…do we keep Reynolds as a backup infielder also? Both are high k, but high power guys. I like Reynolds versatility, but don’t know if either of these guys can perform as part-timers. So I throw it out to the “experts”.

    • LarryM Fl

      I would look elsewhere. I do not believe 29 other teams are going to break down his door in the off season.

  • jsbrendog

    do it. buy low. do it.

  • FLYER7

    Go for it!

  • Frank

    The Yankees don’t usually acquire many pre-arb young players. I guess most don’t b/c they’re expensive but I feel like the Yankees never do (Pineda is obviously a recent one). I see them puruing a guy like Jeff kent first.

  • LarryM Fl

    Espinosa’s offense has fallen but with the list of injuries, torn rotator cuff, fractured wrist and thumb issue. I can see valid reasons. Middle infielders are the skill players on teams. Some can hit a ton and some just fake it. There value comes in saving runs and hitting league average which is a bonus IMHO.

    The Yankees should be talking to the Nats about Espinosa. Reviewing the medical records to see if their is a fix. We need a player who offers switch hitting. It allows for flexibility with game substitutions. It is almost as having an extra player.

    Nunex might be a glutz. He has great physical tools to play this game but the catch 22 is being injury prone. To watch him lying in pain on the field last night, I thought he had a serious knee injury but watching the trainer work on the knee. It appeared less serious.

    Acquiring Espinosa or Ryan (Mariners) could afford the Yankees some quality help at short and second base filling in for Jeter who should see limited work at short next year. Maybe even start moving him to third or first in subbing to secure his bat in the lineup.

  • Cool Lester Smooth

    Yeah, seeing as how Espi was trying to play through a SLAP tear and a broken wrist this year, I’d love to buy low.

    That said, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Nats kept Espi, shifted Rendon to third and Zimm to first with LaRoche becoming a bench bat.

  • EndlessJose

    Why is there talk of only hitters the Yankees need pitching not hitting.

    • LarryM Fl

      We need guys with the gloves too! We need a whole darn team.

    • Mr. Roth

      The Yankees need guys who are good at playing the game of baseball. If we had more guys like that, for more of the year, we’d have won more baseball games.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    Joba for Espinosa make it happen $man.

  • http://www.penuel-law.com/ Cuso

    If you can buy low, I say go for it. Absolutely, why not?

    Can play both 2B/SS with above average defense. Switch-hitter with speed and possibility (however remote it is) to bounce back with the bat.

    The key is not giving up much ( i.e. buying low). Why the hell would you NOT is the question.