Espinosa trade opens mar­quee spot for Turner

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

Adam Ea­ton’s ar­rival was the alarm for Danny Espinosa. Send­ing a trio of prospects to the Chicago White Sox for the cen­ter fielder last week be­gan Espinosa’s ouster, one that be­came of­fi­cial on Satur­day night when he was traded to the Los An­ge­les An­gels for two mi­nor league pitch­ers.

The trade for Ea­ton pushed Trea Turner back to short­stop from cen­ter field. That meant Espinosa was look­ing at a util­ity role, one that he had fought against for years and would not gra­ciously ac­cept a sea­son af­ter play­ing full-time at his beloved short­stop spot.

“I’ve been with Espi a long time,” Na­tion­als gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo said Sun­day. “I knew he’d be frus­trated with the bench role.”

So, Rizzo ac­com­mo­dated Espinosa in one way by trad­ing the Santa Ana, Cal­i­for­nia, na­tive to Los An­ge­les. He will have to play sec­ond base there, but ap­pears in line to play on a daily ba­sis. In the District, Turner takes over at short­stop, a 23-year-old who fin­ished sec­ond in Rookie of the Year vot­ing last sea­son de­spite only play­ing half the games and do­ing so while out of po­si­tion in cen­ter field. Espinosa leav­ing gives Turner a chance on the mar­quee not just in Washington, but across the league.

For two years, Turner has searched for reg­u­lar­ity. He was hung up af­ter the De­cem­ber 2014 trade be­tween the Na­tion­als and San Diego Padres. Turner be­came the “player to be named later” in the deal, then had to re­main play­ing in the mi­nor leagues for an or­ga­ni­za­tion he knew he would not be part of in the fu­ture. He moved into Washington’s hands in June of 2015, then blazed through the league last sea­son from the Na­tion­als’ out­field. Turner’s .342 bat­ting av­er­age would have been third in the Na­tional League if he had enough at-bats to qual­ify. His .937 OPS would have been fifth, just be­hind MVP Kris Bryant (. 939). He was dy­namic.

Each day af­ter tak­ing fly balls dur­ing bat­ting prac­tice, Turner would re­turn to the in­field like a lit­tle brother try­ing to sneak in time at a spot the older guys wouldn’t let him play. Washington wasn’t ready to re­move Espinosa’s high-end de­fense from short­stop in the mid­dle of last sea­son de­spite the woes his bat de­liv­ered when not hit­ting for power. Turner was still hon­ing his short­stop work — he had is­sues at Triple-A Syra­cuse be­fore “set­tling down” — when his ed­u­ca­tion was in­ter­rupted by the Na­tion­als’ des­per­a­tion. Cen­ter field and the lead­off were holes. Washington had to cre­ate a way to get Turner on the field. So, out he went into the vast­ness.

“A lit­tle bit harder than I thought it would be,” Turner said Sun­day.

Next sea­son, he will be at short­stop next to Daniel Mur­phy. The thought of pair­ing him with Mur­phy could well have con­trib­uted to the Na­tion­als’ hes­i­ta­tion last sea­son. Mur­phy has long been viewed as a be­low av­er­age de­fender at sec­ond base. Last sea­son, he worked with bench coach Chris Speier, Espinosa and backup in­fielder Stephen Drew to im­prove his de­fense. Speier wanted Mur­phy to be alive on his feet; think of a bas­ket­ball player in proper de­fen­sive po­si­tion, slightly lean­ing for­ward to­ward his toes and not flat-footed be­fore it is time to re­act. Mur­phy made nine er­rors last sea­son, which was a re­duc­tion from his 2012 (15), 2013 (16) and 2014 (15) to­tals when he was a full-time sec­ond base­man. Speier said he was pleased with Mur­phy’s de­fense. How­ever, most met­rics still rate him as a be­low-av­er­age de­fender.

Espinosa out and Ea­ton in also means a new top of the or­der is likely. Turner hit sec­ond most of his time in the mi­nor leagues with the Padres. His move to the top of the or­der came last sea­son. In the last three sea­sons, when Ea­ton’s on-base per­cent­age was a brisk .362, he al­most ex­clu­sively hit first. Mov­ing Turner to hit sec­ond may re­duce his stolen base at­tempts, since op­por­tu­ni­ties dwin­dle when the No. 3 and 4 hit­ters are at the plate — though it can lengthen the Na­tion­als’ lineup and put ex­cep­tional speed in front of the play­ers re­spon­si­ble for driv­ing in runs. A lineup with Ea­ton and Turner in the first two spots could move Ryan Zim­mer­man or An­thony Ren­don all the way to sev­enth.

“Doesn’t mat­ter to me,” Turner said. “What­ever works.”

Espinosa’s de­par­ture ended an eightyear run for him with the or­ga­ni­za­tion, bring­ing re­liever Austin Adams and starter Kyle McGowin to the Na­tion­als. It also lays out a path for Turner to move into a new crop of young star short­stops. Turner lost the Na­tional League Rookie of the Year award to Los An­ge­les Dodgers short­stop Corey Sea­ger, who was also one of three fi­nal­ists for MVP. He’s just 22. Cleve­land’s Fran­cisco Lin­dor, 23, has a Gold Glove and an All-Star Game ap­pear­ance al­ready. Car­los Cor­rea, 22, in Hous­ton and Xan­der Bo­gaerts, 24, in Bos­ton are young stars at the po­si­tion. Ea­ton’s ar­rival knocked domi­noes down, open­ing a chance for Turner to join that crowd. What’s next is up to him.


Danny Espinosa was look­ing at a util­ity role with last week’s ac­qui­si­tion of out­fielder Adam Ea­ton from the Chicago White Sox as Trea Turner would then be moved from cen­ter field to short­stop. Espinosa was traded on Satur­day to the Los An­ge­les An­gels.

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