The post-MRI news for Michael A. Taylor was not great. Manager Davey Martinez told reporters Taylor has a sprained left knee and hip. He’s expected to miss “significant” time.
Nationals brass took any opportunity during the winter to talk up Taylor after a dismal 2018 season which ended with him not playing. Filled with multiple baseball tools, Taylor’s prime issue was the most basic of ideas: making contact. He cut down his swing, went to Winter Ball and generally took every possible step to right his leading ill.
That work produced solid spring results, for what those are worth. At a minimum, Taylor fit as a quality fourth outfielder who provided Gold Glove-level defense and positional versatility for a team desperate to improve in runs saved. Now they are without that element.
Which means two things. Victor Robles finds his path to starting in center field on Opening Day unimpeded and the Nationals probably need more outfield help.
Spring Training began with center field as one of the team’s few position battles. Robles’ potential pitted against Taylor’s known abilities, both good and bad. As spring moved along, Robles excelled at the plate and appeared to inch more in front though his defense was sketchy at times. Now, the position is Robles’ to start the season. Another true center fielder is not on the roster.
Andrew Stevenson is by far the best defensive option in the new hunt for a fourth outfielder. Since Washington has placed such an emphasis on better defense this season -- particularly up the middle -- Stevenson could temporarily be in that position.
Matt Adams and Howie Kendrick have played the outfield recently. Kendrick is working through a hamstring strain. Adams remains Adams. Neither should be in the outfield if at all possible.
One other wild card: Wilmer Difo. The Nationals planned to send Difo to the outfield anyway for test reps in the spring. Expect him out there on occasion in the final days of spring training.
Washington’s current issue also reminds of the flippant trade that sent Brian Goodwin to the Kansas City Royals for a Single-A reliever last July. This would be a spot for Goodwin otherwise.
The lack of internal options will force a look at the free agent market. Veteran Austin Jackson remains available. Carlos Gonzalez, a right fielder, is also unemployed. As is former Nationals player Denard Span. Each is limited in some way.
The good news is a potent starting trio remains. Juan Soto in left, Robles in center and Adam Eaton in right field. The bad news is the team’s best outfield defender is suddenly not available.
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