Espinosa Trade: Expectations for Angels

Washington Nationals Photo Dayimage credit: Trotman/Getty

News item: The Nationals traded Danny Espinosa to the Angels for minor league pitchers Austin Adams and Kyle McGowin.

     The Nationals organization is very happy with the moves they’ve recently made.  A trade with the White Sox landed Adam Eaton, an outfielder who put up excellent hitting and fielding statistics in 2016.  This move will allow the team to return budding star, Trea Turner, from centerfield to his natural position of shortstop.  Although Eaton’s defensive metrics like him much more in right field, the net return of an Eaton in center and Turner at shortstop set up is predicted to be an improved defensive alignment.  So everyone appears happy.  That is, everyone except for Danny Espinosa.  Espinosa skipped the Nationals’ Winterfest activities because he was reportedly unhappy with the projected role he would have with the team in 2017; basically a bench player and super utility player.  His was quickly and unceremoniously traded to the Angels where he will likely take over second base duties for the Halos.

The Angels have a lot of holes to fill on their major league roster and with very little help coming from their minor league affiliates in 2017, the Espinosa pickup can’t hurt.  Espinosa has a good deal of experience playing second and the defensive metrics indicate that he can be an asset manning the keystone and combining with Andrelton Simmons to create an effective double play combination.  Additionally, his strong throwing arm will also allow him to back up short and third base if, and when, necessary.  However, although the Halos will gain a defensive upgrade from Espinosa at second base, his offensive abilities remain suspect.

Espinosa hit 24 home runs in 2016, a career high and a nice total for a short stop.  However, the increased pop in his bat masked a flawed hitter.  His OPS+ during his last three years has been 74, 94, and 81.  His batting average in 2016 was an unsightly .209 (his lifetime .226 average is not much better).  His OPS has historically been poor as well and has ranged from the high 600s to low 700s resulting from a high strikeout and low walk rate.  A look at his spits indicates that he may be best suited to hit against lefties and come in as a defensive sub on days right handers are starting.  Most telling may be the WAR total he has put up during the past three seasons which accounts for his combined production at the plate AND in the field (0.0, 1.9, and 1.7).  These WAR totals equate more closely to a super-utility or highly used bench player rather than a solid regular for a championship caliber roster.

     The cost of purchasing ‘one win’ on the open market heading into 2017 is much greater than the approximately 5 to 5.5 million dollar salary Espinosa is expected to receive in arbitration.  As long as Espinosa can provide excellent defense and tread water on offense, he will provide the Angels with better production than they could have found on the open market or from filling second base with an internal option.  The Angels’ general manager, Billy Eppler, knows his stuff so I would be quite surprised to see Espinosa re-signed by the Halos in free agency unless his deal is significantly team friendly.  Thus, Espinosa is likely in an Angel uniform for only one year.

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