- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

One bonus to your town’s baseball team being in the dumper by the middle of August is there’s no need to wait for winter to get the Hot Stove League started. Why wait for those pesky playoffs to end? Let’s do it now.

The Hot Stove League is so named for the images of fans gathering around a hot stove in the winter months and discussing moves they’d like to see their team make. It’s kind of passe these days. There is no hot stove. Instead, folks sit around and post thoughts on Twitter in the hope some will become a reality.

However it is done, the Nationals and their fans will have a lot to discuss in the winter. Some of these thoughts are figments of an overactive imagination. Some may actually become reality. Either way, that’s what the Hot Stove League is all about. Let the discussion begin.

Center field: A friend asked if the recent acquistion of David DeJesus meant the end of Roger Bernadina now and the end of Denard Span later? Hard to see DeJesus as a major upgrade over Span, or any real upgrade. If the Nats decide after one season that Span’s excellent defense doesn’t make up for his lack of offense, they have some options. They can go ahead and make Bryce Harper the center fielder (and maybe leadoff hitter) and figure out left field from there (Tyler Moore? Bring back Michael Morse?).

Or they can go after an intriguing free-agent-to-be in Shin-Soo Choo, now with the Reds. He’s made three errors in 118 games in center this season. As the Reds’ leadoff hitter, he has a .412 on-base percentage and a career on-base percentage of .386. He wouldn’t be cheap, but he wouldn’t be absurdly expensive. He’s certainly worth a look.

Danny Espinosa: As soon as Syracuse’s season ends, Espinosa needs to have surgery on everything that is or was or could be wrong. Wrist. Shoulder. Head. Whatever. Get it done. No September call-up. Let him come to spring training fixed and healthy and see where he may fit, if anywhere. If the team moves Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman goes to first, Anthony Rendon can move back to third and there’s a spot for Espinosa. At this point, would anyone rather see Espinosa as the regular second baseman over Rendon? He’s better defensively — now, anyway. Is that enough? He does deserve some chance to show what he can do healthy.

Dan Haren: Before the All-Star break, when Haren was maybe the worst starter in the majors, this would have been laughable. Since he’s returned from the disabled list after his um, ah, shoulder injury or whatever they called it, he’s been one of the best. If this keeps up, is he worth re-signing? The Nats will need a fifth starter. Did Nathan Karns (no) or Taylor Jordan (perhaps) show enough? Ross Ohlendorf has been extremely good this season. Could that last over 30 or so starts? Assuming post-DL Dan sticks around, why not make Haren a qualifying offer? If he takes it, you’re only on the hook for a year and it gives more time for another starter to develop. Maybe A.J. Cole or even Lucas Giolito will be ready by then. If he doesn’t take it, you at least get a draft pick if he signs elsewhere.

The manager: Let’s not forget the Nats will need a manager for 2014, since Davey Johnson announced his plans to leave the job a while ago (and may have actually done so a month or so ago). This will be the most important decision of Mike Rizzo’s tenure as general manager. This isn’t a situation like Bo Porter walked into in Houston, or Mike Redmond took over in Miami, where anything above awful is considered good. Rizzo is turning over the keys to a Cadillac, albeit a Cadillac that is spitting oil and needs a bit of work. A bad year by a good team can be forgiven. Two bad years? Nope. The Nats need to get right next year and they need the right manager.

Porter, Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr and Diamondbacks coach Matt Williams are the names most often tossed around. A local radio show talked a lot about Cal Ripken Jr. the other day. No idea if it is feasible or if he’s even interested or has what it takes to manage (likely so), but Ripken in a Nats uniform leading the team would be 1,000 kinds of awesome. Espinosa, if he’s around, would gladly give up No. 8.

Assuming Ripken won’t happen, then what? Knorr probably has what it takes, and it takes a strong personality to manage major-league egos more than it takes a strong game manager. Having someone with both abilities would be nice. At this point, we have no strong opinion on the right guy. We’ll leave it in Rizzo’s hands and assume he knows it is one decision he absolutely can’t get wrong.