The non-Bryce Harper worst-case scenario for the Washington Nationals’ outfield could look like this: Juan Soto in left, Michael A. Taylor in center, Adam Eaton in right. That’s the bottom.
How do they get there? They don’t re-sign Harper and flip Victor Robles for a major void fill, say Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto or Seattle left-hander James Paxton.
The above is not prediction, assumption or otherwise. It’s merely a path to what would be considered the least-potent outfield the Nationals could put together if Harper went elsewhere, Robles was moved and they did not pay a replacement.
If Manny Machado does not return to the Baltimore Orioles (all but guaranteed)? They will be bad. With him? They would be bad. There’s a lot of bad in Baltimore, at the moment. Attendance, bad. Front office situation, bad. On-field performance, bad. What can make it worse? Machado playing in New York, battering them for the next decade to top things off.
Back to the Nationals. The outfield is clogged. Soto, Robles, Eaton, Harper and Taylor are all in play there. Let’s look at possible alignments with and without Harper.
With him, he drops back to right field, ideally. The center field work last season was not productive. Though, his right field work, and emphatic aversion to walls, did not yield quality results either. Baseball’s advanced defensive metrics aren’t great. However, they can help confirm the eye test, which this list from Sports Info Solutions does:
Fewest defensive runs saved, 2018 season:
Bryce Harper -27
Charlie Blackmon -26
Adam Jones -26
Rhys Hoskins -25
Miguel Andujar -25
Being on a defensive list with rookie third baseman Andujar, who committed 15 errors, or the plodding Hoskins, whom the Phillies tried to hide out there all season, is damning. When it comes to defensive range, the Nationals would be better without Harper in the field considering the four other options.
Taylor’s situation is interesting. He would be a quality fourth outfielder because of superior defensive skill and the plug-and-play ability should someone be injured. The question is who would manager Davey Martinez pull off the field late to put Taylor on it? In a Soto-Robles-Harper outfield, Soto is the weakest defender. Taylor could go to center. Robles to left. That, of course, costs the Nationals Soto’s bat. The Nationals also lost a window to sell high on Taylor last offseason before Martinez buried him on the bench this regular season. Taylor received an early chance when Eaton was shut down. He failed, then excelled, then was benched. He had a strange year.
Which is why it’s fair to wonder if he ends up part of a trade package this offseason. His speed and defense could help any team, especially a contending one (which is the same argument for him to stay in Washington). Recall that Taylor was the Nationals’ best hitter in the 2017 NLDS against the Chicago Cubs. He can also be weaponized in a part-time postseason role.
This all hinges on Harper, as does everything else. If the Nationals finalize the sport’s most expensive contract, they can decide which other outfield parts are expendable, and how to distribute them. This also speaks to timing. Harper’s situation needs to be resolved in order to have clarity for other parts, from the outfield on. Being held hostage by dragged-out negotiations could be a two-fold negative effect for the Nationals: They could lose Harper, and lose a window to have moved an extra outfielder to help cure an ill elsewhere. Regardless, they have options and a quality baseline to work from.
Baltimore is another matter. Cornered by the rest of the league knowing they were stuck, the Orioles sent Machado to the Dodgers for a large numbers of names. It’s the quality received back among the five minor leaguers that’s in question.
Cuban outfielder Yusniel Diaz, the Dodgers’ No. 4 prospect at the time, is the star attraction.
Right-handed pitchers Dean Kremer and Zach Pop, third baseman Rylan Bannon and infielder Breyvic Valera also came along. Diaz, 22, is now the Orioles’ top prospect, according to MLB pipeline. He finished the year hitting .239 for Double-A Bowie and .285 overall in 2018. None of the other four are ranked in the organization’s top 10 prospects.
Which leaves the 115-loss Orioles with only bleakness in their future, rocks in their shoes, and Murphy’s Law as the prevailing operating procedure at the moment. They remain chained to Chris Davis’ contract for four more seasons as well as the deferred money Davis is due until 2037. Their theoretical No. 1 starter, Dylan Bundy, had a 5.45 ERA last season. They are searching for Buck Showalter’s replacement in the dugout. They are reportedly close to hiring Houston Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias to become general manager, according to USA Today.
The Orioles flipped their last malaise when 2012 produced 93 wins after 93 losses in 2011. They are not positioned to do that now. They are looking at a Machado-less slog for years to come. The Nationals won’t be victimized by such a plight if their star starts swinging elsewhere.
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