Why the Nationals do not see upgrading at second base as an offseason priority

Wilmer Difo, above, and veteran Howie Kendrick are expected to be the Nationals' short-term solution at second base. (John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

At the start of baseball's offseason, the Washington Nationals agenda seemed clear cut: address the Bryce Harper situation, strengthen the bullpen, add either a front-line or start-up and upgrade to catcher and second base.

<br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> Wilder Difo – and that the organization is already developing prospects to potentially play there in the future.

"We like our situation in the middle of the infield with Trea [Turner] and Howie and Difo and [Carter] Kieboom in the wings. We got it [Luis] Garcia in the wings that we do not feel is far away, "Rizzo said last week at baseball's general managers' meetings in Carlsbad, Calif. "We like our depth there; we really like the ability level there.

"We've got some extreme high-ceiling players that we think are going to be really good performers for us, and we've got several of them. So I think that it is not a necessity for us, or a need for us. We thought it was a good value to us. "

That does not leave the possibility of Rizzo looking for a second baseman in the free agent market this winter, but it does not mean that the problem is heading into 2019. Kendrick, a 35-year-old with a .291 career batting average, Achilles' tendon and will be back for the final year of his contract with the Nationals. Difo, a 26-year-old who can play both short-stop and second-base, has moonlighted as an everyday player. Then there is Kieboom and Garcia, two of the Nationals' brightest prospects, whom Rizzo thinks could easily make the transition from short-stop (their natural position) to second base.

Kieboom is 21 years old, was named the Nationals' minor league player of the year for 2018, shined in the Arizona Fall League in October and should start next season with the Class AA Harrisburg Senators. Rizzo said Wednesday that he is expecting his major league debut at some point in 2019. Garcia is a bit behind Kieboom from a development standpoint; the 18-year-old spent the season navigating the two levels of Class A and will probably spend all of this coming season in the minors.

But that is what everyone thought outfielder Juan Soto would do at this time last year, and now he could win National League rookie of the year Monday. That is not to say that Kieboom or Garcia will have the child of historic success that Soto did at 19 years old, but it is worth noting that Rizzo does not shy away from giving you a chance at a very young age. So Kieboom and / or Garcia could be a second base in the not-so-distant future, with Kendrick and Difo likely holding down the spot in the meantime.

"We like guys who can play shortstop because we feel it's an easier transition to move off or short," Rizzo said last week. "So we feel that [Kieboom] can handle the position at the major league level, but he and Garcia are both going to handle the second base base, we think seamlessly. "

By mentioning both second and third base possibilities for Kieboom and Garcia, Rizzo made one thing clear: The Nationals have no immediate intentions of moving Turner, their 25-year-old shortstop who finished 2018 with career-highs in home runs (19) and RBI (73) and led the NL in stolen bases (43) while appearing in all 162 games of the regular season. Third base is only in the conversation because Anthony Rendon is not signed in time 2019, but it is likely to be a long-term deal to lock down that position for the foreseeable future.

That leaves second base as a short-term and long-term need for the Nationals, and Rizzo acknowledges that someone needs to shift positions to make their plans work.

Should the Nationals do the job for a second baseman – though they seem to have a better way to spend on D.J. LeMahieu, Jed Lowrie, Josh Harrison, Brian Dozier and Marwin Gonzalez. The switch-hitting Gonzalez could make a lot of sense, since he plays multiple positions, and could also give the Nationals a left-handed option behind Ryan Zimmerman at first base.

Yet it seems more probable, based on Rizzo's assessment of what the Nationals already have, that they stand at second and use their resources elsewhere. Kendrick provides a veteran right-handed bat, and the switch-hitting Difo has given the Nationals bursts of energy, and even some power, when given the opportunity. Difo will need to clean up mental problems in the field and Kendrick is going to work. If it does, at least well enough for the Nationals to hold off on a multiyear solution from outside the organization, it would seem that Kieboom is going to be the position of the road.

Rizzo is quick to note that the Nationals still see Kieboom as a short stop, but that does not discount him as an option at second base. Kieboom played second in this year's Arizona Fall and was named an all star. He has plans to work with current and major league second basemen this offseason to refine his footwork around the bag while turning double plays. He is the team's next big-time prospect in line to his debut, following the recent promotions of Soto, Victor Robles and starting pitcher Erick Fedde, and Kieboom's development has seen the Nationals.

"I think he's going to take it very, very smoothly. He's an athlete, he's a baseball guy, he's got an extremely high IQ, and I do not see that being an issue whatsoever, "Rizzo said or Kieboom. "We still think of him as a short-stop, we believe that he's an everyday major league shortstop and think he can handle that position. But we've got a pretty damn good one right now and it's not going anywhere for a while. "

Read more Nationals coverage from The Post:

Some laugh at $ 400 million for Bryce Harper. Here's how Scott Boras plans to get it.

Nationals' sacrifice to Bryce Harper was the biggest free agent deal in U.S. sports history. What now?

A Big Hit: Juan Soto, the surprise of the Nationals' season, is here to stay

Fancy Stats: NL rookie of the year race between Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna Jr. is impossibly tight