Why the nationals do not see upgrading on second base as a priority off-season

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

At the start of the baseball season, the Washington Nationals agenda was clearly outlined: tackle the Bryce Harper situation, strengthen the bullpen, add a front-line or deep starter to the rotation and upgrade the catcher and second base.

But Mike Rizzo has already removed that list, the general manager of Nationals said he feels comfortable with what the team currently has on their list – a likely platoon from veteran Howie Kendrick and utility infielder Wilmer Difo – and that the organization already the development is prospects for possible play 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 have [Luis] Garcia in the wings we do not feel is far away, "said Rizzo last week at the general managers' meetings of baseball in Carlsbad, California." We love our depth there; we really love the skill level there.

"We have some extreme players with a high ceiling that we think will be really good for us, and we've got a number of them, so I think it's not a necessity for us or a need for us. should be something that we thought was a good value to us. "

This does not alter the fact that Rizzo is looking for a second baseman in the free agent market this winter, but it does mean that the team no longer sees the position as an urgent problem in 2019. Kendrick, a 35-year-old with a .291 career average , missed almost the entire last season with a torn Achilles tendon and will return for the last year of his contract with the Nationals. Difo, a 26-year-old who can play both shortstop and second base, played as a regular player moonlight but remained largely in a utility role during his two full Major League-seasons. Then there is Kieboom and Garcia, two of the brightest prospects of the Nationals, who according to Rizzo can easily make the switch from shortstop (their natural position) to second base.

Kieboom is 21 years old, was named the minor league-player of the Nationals of the year in 2018, sparkled in the Arizona Fall League in October and should start next season with the Class AA Harrisburg Senators before he gets the chance to to climb the system. Rizzo said on Wednesday that he expects Kieboom to make his Major League-debut at any point in 2019. Garcia is a bit behind Kieboom from a development point of view; the 18-year-old spent the season navigating on the two levels of class A and will probably spend this coming season in the minors.

But everyone thought that outsider Juan Soto would do last year, and now he could win the smoke of the National League from the year of Monday. That does not mean that Kieboom or Garcia will have the kind of historical success that Soto had at the age of 19, but it is worth noting that Rizzo is not afraid to give players a chance at a very young age. So Kieboom and / or Garcia could have a chance at second base in the near future, while Kendrick and Difo probably held the position in the meantime.

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

By mentioning both the second and third base as opportunities for Kieboom and Garcia, Rizzo made one thing clear: the Nationals have no direct intention to relocate Turner, their 25-year-old shortstop that ended 2018 with career highlights in home rounds (19) and RBI (73) and led the NL in stolen bases (43) while appearing in all 162 games of the regular season. The third base is only in the conversation because Anthony Rendon is not signed after 2019, but it is likely that he will conclude a long-term agreement to lock that position in the near future.

That leaves second base as a short and long-term need for the Nationals, and Rizzo acknowledged that someone will have to change positions to make their plans work.

Should the Nationals go into free battles for a second baseman – although they probably will give out to a starting pitcher and a catcher – his options include D.J. LeMahieu, Jed Lowrie, Josh Harrison, Brian Dozier and Marwin Gonzalez. The switch-hitting Gonzalez can be very logical, because he plays multiple positions, and the Nationals can also give a left-handed option behind Ryan Zimmerman on first base.

Still, it seems more likely, on the basis of Rizzo's assessment of what the subjects already have, that they are in the second place and use their resources elsewhere. Kendrick offers a veteran right-handed club and the switch-hitting Difo has given the Nationals energy stripes and even some strength when given the chance. Difo will have to clean up mental errors in the field and on the basic paths and reduce his strikeouts on the plate if he and Kendrick work together. If that is the case, at least good enough for the Nationals to stay away from looking for a multi-year solution from outside the organization, it seems that Kieboom will get the first crack in making the position on the road.

Rizzo quickly notes that the Nationals still see Kieboom as a short stop, but that does not mean a discount for him as an option on second base. Kieboom was second in the Arizona Fall League this year and was called an all-star. He has plans to work out of season this season with the current and former big league second baseman to refine his footwork around the bag while he plays doubles. He is the next big prospect of the team in line to make his debut, after the recent promotions of Soto, Victor Robles and starting pitcher Erick Fedde, and the development of Kieboom has seen the Nationals promise where others see a need.

"I think he will be very, very smoothly, he is an athlete, he is a baseball player, he has an extremely high IQ, and I do not see that as a problem, the transition from shortstop to second base," said Rizzo about Kieboom. "We still consider him a shortstop, we believe he's a daily shortstop in the big league and think he can handle that position, but we have a pretty good job now and he's not going anywhere."

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