Who's on second for Nats? Rizzo mum on Robinson Cano

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In a lengthy conference call with local media on Tuesday, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo hit on a wide variety of topics. One big issue – who is the second baseman next season?

Rizzo confirmed that Anthony Rendon will head into spring training favored to win that spot. The No. 6 pick in the 2011 draft, Rendon made his big-league debut in 2013 and stayed healthy. That was the first step. He still has work to do defensively at a new position for him and a .725 OPS going forward isn’t exactly what the Nats expect.

Rendon struck out 69 times in 351 at-bats, but also walked 31 times and had 31 extra-base hits (23 doubles, a triple, seven homers). Given his pedigree as an elite amateur hitter, there are promising signs there.

“Anthony Rendon finished the season as our starting second baseman, he’ll go into spring training as our starting second baseman,” Rizzo said. “But we’re going to have competition at that position.”

And part of that is the man Rendon replaced, Danny Espinosa. It was a disaster of a season for the 2011 and 2012 starter at second base. Espinosa batted .216 with a .566 OPS – in AAA. He struck out 101 times with Syracuse and walked just 19 times and looked lost even before he was sent down. Espinosa lasted just 44 games in the majors before Washington had enough. He struck out 47 times in 158 at-bats in the majors. He batted .158. Disaster might not be a strong enough word.

Rizzo insisted Espinosa will battle for a roster spot and there is a bench opening with Monday’s trade for pitcher Doug Fister. Utility man Steve Lombardozzi went to Detroit in that deal. And while Espinosa can’t play in the outfield – or at least hasn’t – he can play second base, shortstop or even third base and is a switch hitter. There are at-bats there if he shows he deserves them during spring training. But at this point even Espinosa’s most ardent supporters have to wonder if the player who hit 44 home runs in his first two seasons plus a September recall in 2010 will ever be the same.

“[Espinosa] had a down season last year, but this guy’s a makeup guy,” Rizzo said. “He’s a grinder, and a guy that his personality and his makeup plays well on this club. I’ve always been a Danny Espinosa fan and I still am, and I think he’s gonna have a good major league career.”

Rizzo was also asked about free agent second baseman Robinson Cano, who is up for a massive contract this offseason. The Yankees second baseman is 31 and had 27 homers and a .314 average last year. There are no indications yet Washington is serious about Cano and Rizzo wasn’t exactly giving away his game plan for the Winter Meetings in Orlando that begin next Monday. But he’s out there if the Nats decide to make a major splash.

“Well, those are things that, of course, I’m not going to address with the media on the phone,” Rizzo said. “But like I said, we’re going to do what we have to do to improve the ball club. We’ve taken a step forward in acquiring Fister and we’re looking forward to tweaking things and making us a better ball club.”

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