Whatever animosity Danny Espinosa harbored toward the Nationals on Saturday afternoon appears to have dissipated, as the club completed a trade that sent the infielder to the Angels for minor league right-handers Austin Adams and Kyle McGowin on Saturday evening.
The Nationals traded for outfielder Adam Eaton last Wednesday, a move which effectively booted Trea Turner from the outfield to the infield and eliminated Espinosa’s full-time responsibilities at short. Espinosa was understandably upset by the change, going so far as to skip the team’s annual Winterfest on Saturday in what appeared to be a protest of his diminishing role on the roster.
With the Angels, however, the 29-year-old is back to a full-time position as the club’s second baseman, supplanting the Cliff Pennington–Johnny Giavotella platoon they rolled with in 2016. While he doesn’t bring much to the plate — Espinosa slashed .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs in 2016, while the Angels’ second basemen combined for a .237/.275/.342 line with 12 homers — his defensive chops make him a clear upgrade.
The Nationals, meanwhile, gained some depth in their farm system with minor league right-hander Kyle McGowin, ranked 20th among the Angels’ 2016 prospects on MLBPipeline.com (per MLB.com’s Manny Randhawa). McGowin, 25, made the jump from Double-A Arkansas to Triple-A Salt Lake in 2016, putting up a cumulative 5.83 ERA and 8.2 K/9 in 142 innings. The club’s other acquisition, 25-year-old reliever Austin Adams, found an easier path through Double-A Arkansas, posting a 3.05 ERA and career-best 12.8 K/9 rate in just 44 1/3 innings.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.