In signing Daniel Murphy and Stephen Drew to free agent deals, the Nationals have added veteran experience to their middle infield with two guys who have started for pennant-winning clubs in recent years. Murphy projects as the starting second baseman and will be in town for three years, while Drew has a one-year, prove-it contract with at least a spot on their bench guaranteed. The potential for a more prominent role is not out of the question.
General manager Mike Rizzo said at Murphy's introductory press conference that Drew, 32, is still good enough to start in the majors.
"Stephen Drew is capable of playing every day at both shortstop and second base. He’s capable of playing third base. He’s a great veteran player that’s very versatile. He swings the bat from the left side. I’ve got a track record and history with him. He’s a great kid. He’s loved by his teammates and a guy that should get a lot of at-bats for us at a multiple array of positions," Rizzo said.
The Murphy and Drew moves likely leave the young Trea Turner as the odd-man out, with Danny Espinosa seemingly having the leg up on the competition for starting shortstop. Turner could win that role in spring training, but if he doesn't, it's possible he could start the 2016 season in the minor leagues.
Rizzo loves what Turner's future holds, but at this point prefers to have guys competing for starting spots in spring.
"We love competition. Trea is gonna come to spring training with the rest of the big leaguers and compete for a job at shortstop. We love the depth that we’ve created there. His talent level is extremely high and we’ve got extremely high hopes for him. We’re gonna develop him the way that he should be developed," Rizzo said.
Turner was acquired to be Ian Desmond's replacement at shortstop, but has also played some second base since joining the Nationals. Rizzo feels good about Turner at both positions.
"I feel very comfortable that he could play shortstop. I know he can play second base. I’ve seen a lot of shortstops in my time and he ranks right up there with all of them. He’s an extremely skilled player. He gets the balls. He makes the routine plays look routine and he seems to get you out at first base by a step," Rizzo explained.
One thing that could work in Turner's favor is his speed, as new manager Dusty Baker has highlighted the basepaths as one area of the Nationals that he would like to improve. Turner is among the fastest players in baseball, as proven by MLB's StatCast measurements from the 2015 season where he recorded a top speed of over 22 miles per hour.
Turner hopes that skill can help him make his case in spring.
"I like hearing that," he said in December. "Obviously I think it’s something that has kind of been lost a little bit and is starting to come back now with all the moneyball and stats and what not. I think it helps me and I think I can help out in that category."