Nats' Top 5 second basemen: Camerato's take

April 6th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club.

Here is Jessica Camerato’s ranking of the top five second basemen in Nationals/Expos history. Next week: third basemen.

These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only -- here's what fans have to say:

1. Jose Vidro, Expos/Nationals (1997-2006)
Key fact: Vidro leads all second basemen in franchise history with a 16.5 bWAR.

The switch-hitting Vidro donned Expos and Nationals uniforms for 10 of his 12 Major League seasons, and he slashed .301/.363/.459 with an .821 OPS, 1,280 hits, 550 RBIs and 115 home runs during his tenure. His work at the plate ranks him in the top 10 in franchise history in doubles (third), plate appearances (sixth), at-bats (sixth), hits (sixth), runs (seventh), RBIs (seventh), homers (ninth) and walks (ninth).

“That guy could flat-out hit,” said F.P. Santangelo, a former Expo (1995-98) and current Nationals television analyst. “I played with Jose in Montreal. He was a hitter, just a pure hitter.”

As an Expo, Vidro earned three All-Star selections (2000, '02, '03) and a Silver Slugger Award ('03). Among National League players, he finished in the top 3 in hits in 2000 and '02, and for doubles in 1999, '00 and '02.

“He was the same guy every day, whether he went 0-for-4 or 4-for-4,” Santangelo said. “He was great to be around, always a smile on his face.”

Defensively, Vidro led the NL in assists as a second baseman in 2000 and '02, and he had the most putouts at his position in '02. His fielding percentage at second landed him in the top 5 in the NL for the '00, '02 and '03 seasons.

2. Howie Kendrick, Nationals (2017-present)
Key fact: Kendrick is the first player to hit more than one go-ahead home run in the seventh inning or later in deciding games in the span of a single postseason.

When the Nationals needed a hero, Kendrick answered the call -- twice.

“He’s got the biggest hits in Nationals history, and some of the biggest hits in Major League history,” Santangelo said.

Kendrick’s go-ahead home run off the right-field foul pole in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series against the Astros became one of the most iconic moments for the Nats, as it sent them on their way to their first championship. Weeks earlier he had provided another clutch performance with a 10th-inning grand slam to lift the Nats over the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NL Division Series and into the NL Championship Series. He earned Most Valuable Player Award honors in that NLCS against the Cardinals; he totaled 12 RBIs over the entire postseason.

“The thing I marvel at the most are his barrel-to-ball skills,” Santangelo said. “I’ve never seen a guy hit more balls on the screws than he does. Every at-bat seems like a solid A-plus, Major League at-bat when he’s up there.”

Overall, Kendrick has hit .322/.367/.529 with 209 hits, 99 RBIs, 28 homers and an .896 OPS as a member of the Nationals. He has given the team versatility in its lineups with his ability to play second base, third base, outfield and designated hitter.

“Knowing Howie as well as I do, I just love his work ethic and how he always stayed positive after he blew his Achilles out in 2018,” Santangelo said. “He’s like an old school veteran that everybody looks up to. His leadership qualities are apparently, talking to guys, off the charts.”

3. Delino DeShields, Expos (1990-93)

Key fact: The Expos selected DeShields with the 12th overall pick in the 1987 MLB Draft.

DeShields made an early mark on the Expos, finishing second in voting for the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1990. He went on to hit .277/.367/.373 with 575 hits, 181 RBIs and 309 runs scored with Montreal.

The speedy DeShields stole 187 bases as an Expo, the most among the team’s second basemen. He ranked in the top 10 among NL players in stolen bases each season in Montreal, including a career-high 56 in 1991.

“He was a tremendous leader. I spent a few Spring Trainings with Delino as a Minor League guy. He took me under his wing. He’s going to make a great Major League manager,” Santangelo said. “He was a tremendous defensive second baseman. He could fly, he’d give you great at-bats, he had a little pop in his bat. Just a wonderful person.”

DeShields' talents and value were key for the Expos in landing a future Hall of Famer. In November 1993, he was traded to the Dodgers for Pedro Martinez.

4. Daniel Murphy, Nationals (2016-18)

Key fact: Murphy’s 54 home runs with the Nats are third most among the franchise's second basemen.

Murphy's two-plus seasons in Washington were filled with accolades.

He earned consecutive Silver Slugger Awards and All-Star selections in 2016 and 2017. He finished second in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting following a '16 campaign in which he hit .347/.390/.595 with a .985 OPS. That year, his batting average was just .001 shy of tying DJ LeMahieu's for highest in the Major Leagues. (Murphy ranked second in the NL in that category the following season, too.) He also led the NL in slugging percentage and OPS in ’16.

“One of the toughest outs I’ve ever seen on a daily basis,” Santangelo said. “Whether the score was 2-2 or 10-2, he treated every at-bat like it was the last at-bat he’d ever have -- pitch by pitch, the focus and his dedication to that at-bat.”

Murphy slashed .329/.380/.550 with a .930 OPS for Washington. Although he appeared in just 342 games, he ranks fourth in team history for second basemen with 226 RBIs.

“He was a joy to watch on a daily basis,” Santangelo said. “He was like a kid with his glove on his handlebars riding his bike around looking for a game to break out in the park somewhere. He just wanted to play baseball. He just was the definition of a baseball player.”

5. Danny Espinosa, Nationals (2010-16)
Key fact: Espinosa was the first Nationals player to hit a home run (one of which was a grand slam) from both sides of the plate in a game.

Espinosa was drafted by the Nationals in the third round in 2008, and he played seven of his eight Major League seasons with Washington. He appeared in 512 of his 779 games with the Nats at second base before moving to shortstop for the 2016 season.

In 2011, Espinosa finished second among Major League second basemen with 464 assists, trailing league leader Omar Infante by only two. He also finished third in MLB in double plays at the position (101), behind just Neil Walker (108) and Ian Kinsler (103).

“I would say he’s the best defensive second baseman the Nats have ever had,” Santangelo said. “The things he could do with his glove and his arm strength and his range and the way he could turn a double play, all that. … His defensive skills, I’ll put him up there with anybody. I used to just watch him take ground balls in practice and go, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy’s as good as it gets defensively.'”

As a second baseman, Espinosa hit 58 home runs, trailing only Vidro. He led the National League in hit by pitches in 2011 (19), he and ranked in the top-10 in the category in '12, '14 and '16.

Honorable Mention

Mike Lansing, Expos (1993-97)

Lansing began his nine-year career with five seasons in Montreal. During that time, he tallied the second-most RBIs (223) as well as third-most hits (567), runs (281), home runs (49) and stolen bases (71) as a second baseman in team history. His bWAR of 10.8 is third highest at the position. Lansing hit .276/.333/.405 with the Expos.

Ron Hunt, Expos (1971-74)

Hunt's 12.7 bWAR ranks him second among the franchise’s second basemen. Playing for the Expos in the second half of his 12-year Major League career, he slashed .277/.390/.328 with 100 RBIs over four seasons. He led all of baseball in HBP from 1971-73, and he was in the top 5 in the NL in on-base percentage in '71 and '73.