After a year that saw Danny Espinosa play through a torn rotator cuff, break his wrist, and hit .158 on his way to a demotion to Triple-A, the 26-year-old remains very much optimistic about 2014. He knows it will be an important year in the context of his MLB career, and considers 2013 to be a “fluke season.”
Espinosa has, in fact, been assured by both manager Matt Williams and general manager Mike Rizzo that he will get a shot at being the starting second baseman this season. He will be given an opportunity in spring training, as he puts it, to win his old job back.
“Matt and Mike Rizzo called me in the offseason and told me I’m going to get a fair opportunity to win my job back,” Espinosa said. “That’s all I can ask for. I’ve never asked for anything to be handed to me. If I can get a fair opportunity to win my job back, I feel like I can do it.”
With Anthony Rendon in store, all signs this offseason pointed to Espinosa competing for a backup role. Rendon wasn’t spectacular in 2013, but he is a former top draft pick and showed flashes of being a very good player. He wasn’t quite on Espinosa's level defensively at second base, but avoided extended slumps at the plate.
Espinosa says, however, the idea of him being a backup has never come up. In his conversations with Rizzo it’s always been about open competition for a starting job.
“Mike’s never talked to me about that. He’s never talked to me about being a utility guy or a role guy, the only thing he has said is that he’s going to give me a fair opportunity to win my job back,” Espinosa said.
“I guess if I don’t win my job that could be something I fall into maybe. But he’s never said ‘you’re a utility guy now.’ He has said ‘we’re going to give you a chance to win your job back.’"
Espinosa lost his job last season because he was ineffective, a result from the wrist injury he says. The initial diagnosis of a bone bruise was wrong and allowed him to play hurt and fight through the pain. But in hindsight, Espinosa believes that mistake set the tone for a forgettable year.
“I shouldn’t have [played]. But at the same time, I’m not the doctor reading the film. So yea, I shouldn’t have been playing on a broken wrist the whole year. Like I said, if you’re told you have a bruise, you play through a bruise. Everybody plays through bumps and bruises. I wouldn’t have played if I knew I had a broken wrist. I shouldn’t have been playing at all.”
Espinosa says he played four or five weeks through the bone bruise before the broken bone was discovered. He was then told by the team’s training staff he wouldn’t be fully healthy until the offseason when he could take time off to rest.
That frustrated Espinosa, who said at one point the pain was so bad he couldn’t even pick up a bat.
“Mentally it was really tough. You don’t know what it’s like to go through having some success in the big leagues, in my opinion contributing a lot to the team, to just being completely off the map. Knowing that I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t swing the bat, I couldn’t do anything physically, it was tough to go through the season. I didn’t want to go to Triple-A, I wanted to see if I could play through it.”
Espinosa says both his shoulder and wrist feel perfectly fine now. He is lifting weights on a regular basis and working with a personal trainer he hired this offseason. He calls it “making a conscious effort” to get stronger this winter in preparation for spring.
“I went and got my own personal trainer who I’ve worked with for five years. I hired my own personal guy to really get the strength that I needed back,” he said. “I am probably stronger at this point in my career than I’ve ever been in my life.”
Rendon would seem to have the leg up in the competition for starting second baseman, but it appears Espinosa will at least get a look. As he says, that's all he can ask for.