The Nationals have had dialogue with the representatives for free-agent second basemen Howie Kendrick and Daniel Murphy, reports MLB.com’s Bill Ladson (Twitter link). The Nationals are known to be in search of second base upgrades, having recently embarked on an unsuccessful pursuit of a Brandon Phillips trade. Washington has also been connected to Kelly Johnson this offseason, although both Kendrick and Murphy would require considerably more significant commitments than Johnson in terms of both years and dollars.
Kendrick, 32, has been a consistently above-average offensive performer over the past five seasons, batting a combined .291/.337/.421 while averaging 14 homers and 13 steals per 162 games played. Kendrick has typically graded out as a plus defender at second base, but both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating were down on his work in 2015. It’s possible that a minor knee issue and a more significant hamstring issue, which cost him a month of the season, contributed to his diminished ratings. However, as a player who turns 33 next July, it’s also possible that Kendrick’s range has deteriorated. If that’s the case, a three- or four-year commitment for the former All-Star is a dangerous proposition, as Kendrick has always drawn a good bit of value from his glovework. Then again, he totaled 2.1 fWAR last season, so he’s still capable of delivering value even with lesser defensive returns. (Baseball-Reference, which uses DRS in its WAR equation, was less optimistic, rating Kendrick at 1.1 WAR.)
This isn’t the first time that Ladson has connected the Nationals to Murphy, though the mention of dialogue between the two sides is a step forward from Ladson’s previous report, in which he indicated that the Nationals were interested in Murphy but didn’t specify whether the two parties had spoken. The 30-year-old Murphy doesn’t have Kendrick’s defensive track record, but he’s been a comparable hitter over the past five seasons and is 18 months younger, so the Nationals would theoretically be buying more of his prime than they would with Kendrick. Murphy also brings something to the Nats that Kendrick cannot offer: a left-handed bat to balance out a highly right-handed lineup. Bryce Harper is the Nationals’ only left-handed-hitting regular in the lineup, which could leave the team susceptible to right-handed opponents. Murphy also showed considerably more power in 2015 than did Kendrick, clubbing 14 homers in the regular season before going on his notorious postseason power binge.
Adding either Kendrick or Murphy to the picture would allow the Nationals to give promising prospect Trea Turner some additional development time in the minor leagues, with Danny Espinosa opening the season at shortstop. Espinosa could then shift to a valuable utility role if and when Turner is ready, potentially spelling Murphy against tough left-handed pitching or serving as a late-game defensive upgrade over either free agent.