Unless you're the Phillies, second base is a pretty weak spot in just about every line-up in the NL. When Felipe Lopez gets handed a starting job and $3.5 million with a winning team that should tell you something.
The Nationals are no different. In fact, there's a pretty good chance that we're going to struggle to get replacement level production out of the position.
Ron Belliard gave us a really nice little season at the plate in 2008. His .372 OBP and .473 SLG made 2008 the very best year of his career in fact, an unlikely development that people forgot in all the woe-is-me obsessing about the injuries and the rest. But the odds of that repeating itself are pretty slim, and at this point Belliard is a just plain terrible defender. BP's Rate2 had Belliard allowing 15 runs per 150 games worse than average as a second baseman, and Ultimate Zone Rating had him at a whopping 27 runs below average.
If you assume, as most of the projection systems do, that Belliard will in 2008 produce something pretty similar to his career averages of .340 OBP and .416 SLG, and if you further assume that the truth of his defense is halfway between Rate2 and UZR, and he's a -21 fielding runs above average defender, that adds up to pretty much exactly replacement level overall performance.
As for Anderson Hernandez, I know some people are getting all excited about his .333 2008 batting average and his hot winter league performance with the Licey Tigers, but I'm a skeptic to say the least. If he's above the Mendoza line after 150 ABs, I wouldn't complain too much. At least he can catch the ball.
Which brings us to rumors this week that the Nationals offered a deal to Ray Durham. Even at his advanced age, he would almost surely have been an upgrade, and for a one-year deal that wouldn't have cost a draft pick, I would have been happy to see him here.
Most metrics have Durham as a touch below average as a defender, but nothing crippling like Belliard. Offensively, he bounced back nicely last year from a freakishly bad 2007 season, when a lot of people understandably wrote him off as over the hill. But even in that '07 year, the stats that most correlate with batter skill were ok. His walk rate of 10.3% was right on his career average, and his ISO power (SLG minus BA) was down a touch to .125 from .158 career but nothing to explain a hideous .218 / .295 / .343 line. For that, you have to look at his .238 BABIP.
In 2008 his ISO power climbed back to .143 and his walk rate improved to a career-best 12.5% while his BABIP overcorrected to .348. (Adding 110 points of BABIP will cure what ails ya every time.) All that added up to a .380 OBP / .432 SLG line that made him probably the fourth most valuable 2B in the NL, after Chase Utley, Mark DeRosa, and Dan Uggla and ahead of Orlando Hudson.
I wouldn't count on him to repeat that performance, but he'd be an upgrade, and if he played well he could have become trade bait at the deadline or maybe even a draft pick if he signed with another team in 2010.
The reason we didn't get Durham is because we low-balled him with a laughable minor-league contract. Look, I understand the market is down, but if you're going to go after a proud vet like Durham coming off a very good year, don't do that. He's a pro, and if you want to lure him out of retirement to play for a miserable team, you're going to have to offer him at least fair market value.
If Jim's still thinking about this one, I would encourage him to go back to Stan and Mark and argue for a real offer of at least a what FLop got.