The bidding war for the services of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes ended up coming down to two National League East foes - the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals. When Cespedes made his decision to take the shorter-term, higher-AAV deal with the Mets, the Flushing Faithful burst into a jubilant celebration, and Washington was left to wallow in the oncoming wrath of Winter Storm Jonas. After coming up short on Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Darren O'Day, this was another gut punch to the Nationals offseason plan. Jon Heyman on Twitter compared it to being left at the altar, again.
But Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo doesn't have the luxury of being able to feel sorry for himself for coming up short in his courting of Cespedes, as the need to upgrade the portions of the Washington outfield not manned by Bryce Harper still exists. As it stands Jayson Werth, Ben Revere and Michael Taylor project to make up the rest of the outfield, so any form of upgrade would certainly help the Nats in their quest to unseat the suddenly rock-solid Mets atop the division.
If Werth, who turns 37 in May, can bounce back from an injury-laden 2015 and regain even some of his former form, the Nationals would be in much better shape. But Father Time remains undefeated, and Steamer projects Werth as being worth 1.2 fWAR in 2016. Even if Werth can manage to stay healthy and play a full season, Steamer's 1.7 fWAR/150 projection is anything but optimistic.
The other former Philadelphia Phillie in the outfield, Ben Revere, has youth on his side but not talent. He has been a consistently below average hitter throughout his career, posting a career-high .316 wOBA in 2015. Revere is known for the ability to make spectacular catches in centerfield, but the defensive metrics have been increasingly unkind to him since he left Minnesota after 2012. He has been a negative in terms of both UZR and DRS in each of the last three seasons.
Then there's Michael Taylor, the logical choice to fill in for Werth and Revere for the occasional day off or in case of an injury. A once-hot prospect, Taylor will still only be 25 years old entering the 2016 season. That being said, Taylor has fizzled in his first 554 plate appearances in the majors. His career .227/.282/.358 line is only made worse by his 31.6% strikeout rate. There is still plenty of time for Taylor to put it all together as we are dealing with a small sample size, but high strikeout rates and low OBPs are found throughout his minor league career.
Taylor said at Nats WinterFest he has been trying to focus on cutting down on strikeouts and not over swinging, which he contributes his contact problems to. Patrick Reddington from SB Nation's Nationals blog, Federal Baseball, points to this as the reason for his struggles early on as well. He also says the Opening Day situation is likely a Werth-Taylor-Harper outfield with Revere available in case of another Werth injury or a lack of progress from Taylor. While there is a great amount of potential in Taylor, the Nats didn't want to risk committing to him full-time without a contingency plan.
But even if Taylor pans out, Werth and Revere duking things out in left field is not really the ideal situation for a contending team. So if the Nationals are still looking to upgrade in left with the big prizes of free agency already off the board, the job is not easy for Rizzo and company. Reddington is not sure that they will choose to pursue anyone at this point, but should they look to acquire another outfielder there are a few intriguing names.
The first one, and the one who probably makes the most sense from an on-field standpoint for the Nationals right now is Dexter Fowler. Fowler is coming off the best year of his career by fWAR standards (3.2) and will be entering his age-30 season. Fowler is a better player than Revere, and his career .267/.363/.418 batting line makes him a great player to bat ahead of Harper in the lineup. Steamer sees Fowler hitting .250/.347/.387 and being worth 1.6 fWAR in 2016, predicated on his BABIP coming in 31 points below his career norm of .341. Even with that regression, Fowler's OBP would be third on the 2015 Nationals among players with at least 400 plate appearances, trailing only Harper and Yunel Escobar.
The caveat with Fowler is that he rejected the Cubs' qualifying offer earlier this offseason, so he has draft pick compensation tied to him. So in signing Fowler, the Nationals would not only lose their second round pick (58th overall) as well as the slot money allocation tied to that pick. The Nationals already lost their first-round pick when they signed Daniel Murphy earlier in the offseason. The only way that it would make sense to sign Fowler is if the Nationals are willing to go all-in on 2016 and 2017 and damn the torpedoes down the line. Considering the makeup of their roster, that might not be a terrible idea.
If the Nationals want to be more in the business of not surrendering their first- and second-round draft picks to sign free agents this season, the pickings are somewhat slimmer. Austin Jackson and Will Venable are really the only players out there who could constitute even a marginal upgrade over what the Nationals currently have. The team has also reportedly checked in with the Colorado Rockies about their available outfielders but found them too expensive. If I'm Rizzo, I might just take what's behind door number three and gamble on Werth, Revere and Taylor given those options if Fowler is off the table. Washington missed the boat on the premier free agents, and now may have to peg their NL East crown hopes on two big risks panning out.
Joe Vasile is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and is the Broadcast and Media Relations assistant for the Salem Red Sox, the Advanced-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.