The Nationals have been connected to Ben Zobrist in recent weeks, and he’s apparently not their only infield target, as the team has also expressed interest in the Diamondbacks’ middle infield depth, according to Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter link). The D-Backs have quite a few middle infield options, as Chris Owings, Nick Ahmed and Cliff Pennington are all capable of handling either shortstop or second base. Aaron Hill, though expensive, comes with quite a bit of experience at second base.
The Nats have seen Ian Desmond struggle for much of the season, and Anthony Rendon has missed a good chunk of the year as well. Despite that fact, though, the team does seem to have a relatively full infield picture. Rendon and Yunel Escobar can both play second and third base, Danny Espinosa is quietly having a very strong rebound season and is defensively gifted at both middle-infield positions. And, of course, despite the 2015 struggles, Desmond has been one of the team’s best overall players, if not one of the best overall players in the National League over the past few seasons.
There was at least some talk of Washington trading Desmond, a free-agent-to-be, this past offseason, so it stands to reason that the notion isn’t completely off the table for the Nationals as the trade deadline approaches. The team may feel that Desmond can be traded for more than a qualifying offer would return, though his .222/.266/.341 batting line hardly helps his trade value.
As for the players that the D-Backs could theoretically trade, Pennington and Hill would seem to be the most logical candidates. Pennington is owed $3.275MM in 2015 but has struggled at the dish, batting a mere .192/.297/.218. Hill is earning $12MM in 2015 and again in 2016, so Arizona would need to eat a lot of salary in order to facilitate a deal, but the veteran isn’t part of the team’s long-term picture.
The D-Backs have been willing to go to similar lengths in the past, keeping about half of Trevor Cahill’s remaining salary and sending a Competitive Balance draft pick to the Braves. The D-Backs and Braves again matched up on a trade intended to save Arizona some money over the weekend when the Braves acquired Bronson Arroyo (and the remaining $10MM he’s owed) and top prospect Touki Toussaint in exchange for utility infielder Phil Gosselin. That move essentially proved to be the D-Backs selling Toussaint for about $10MM. Put more concisely, Arizona has shown a clear interest in getting out from underneath a portion of the large contracts they have on their books.
As for Owings and Ahmed, either one would figure to be significantly more expensive than their veteran counterparts. Owings is struggling greatly in 2015, hitting just .235/.252/.330, but he was an NL Rookie of the Year candidate in 2014 before shoulder troubles ended his season. Ahmed’s .227/.306/.319 batting line isn’t worlds better, but the 25-year-old is an elite defensive option at shortstop. Owings can be controlled through at least the 2019 season, while Ahmed is controllable through at least 2020.