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Nats may be on hunt for 2B upgrade after all

LeMahieu on preliminary radar as Washington seeks to strengthen roster
December 17, 2018

WASHINGTON -- Upgrading at second base did not appear to be a priority for the Nationals when the offseason began, as general manager Mike Rizzo publicly downplayed the need to improve the position. He maintained he was comfortable with the combination of Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo on the roster,

WASHINGTON -- Upgrading at second base did not appear to be a priority for the Nationals when the offseason began, as general manager Mike Rizzo publicly downplayed the need to improve the position. He maintained he was comfortable with the combination of Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo on the roster, especially considering the young prospects waiting in the Minors.
A different tune has emerged in recent weeks, however, and this past week at the Winter Meetings it became clear the Nats have been active in the second-base market.
DJ LeMahieu is considered the top free-agent second baseman, and the Nationals have reportedly had several conversations with his representatives. MLB.com's Jon Morosi reported last month the Nats were one of the teams in preliminary talks with LeMahieu. Rizzo initially downplayed the club's interest, when he quipped that they have reached out to about 40 free agents, but it seems Washington has more than a passing curiosity.
LeMahieu, 30, is a two-time All-Star, back-to-back winner of the National League Gold Glove Award at second base (he has three overall) and Nationals fans remember him narrowly beating out Daniel Murphy for the batting title in 2016. However, the asking price might be higher than Washington is comfortable with paying, as LeMahieu does not come without cause for concern. He has benefited from playing his home games in spacious Coors Field with an .835 OPS at home and .673 OPS on the road in his career. In the past two years, LeMahieu's OPS+, which adjusts for ballpark, has been below league average (100), at 88 last year and 93 in '17.

But the second-base market is littered with other options, even after Ian Kinsler agreed to a deal with the Padres and Daniel Descalso is reportedly deciding between the Cubs and Cardinals. The Nats could pivot to other veteran options such as Jed Lowrie, James Dozier, or more versatile players such as Marwin Gonzalez, Josh Harrison or Neil Walker.
Adding a true second baseman would shift Kendrick, 35 and coming off a right Achilles injury, to the versatile bench role Washington had in mind when it signed him last offseason while shifting Difo, a stellar defender but light hitter so far in his career, to a utility role off the bench. But Rizzo does not believe adding a second baseman would block the team's young prospects, Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia, the club's second- and third-ranked players, respectively, by MLB Pipeline. Kieboom could be ready to make his Major League debut as early as this summer, although Garcia, 18, appears to be a little further away.
But judging by how active the Nationals have been in the second-base market, it now feels like a position they are likely to address after they once downplayed the need to do so.
"If there was a definite everyday second baseman that we liked, we'd certainly consider that," Rizzo said. "If it was more of a hybrid role, we would consider that. We've left ourselves open to a lot of different kinds of options, a lot of different ways to construct the bench and the back end of the roster."

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.