The Nationals traded catcher Sandy Leon to the Boston Red Sox for cash on Monday, which may have beenpartially due to the fact that Leon is out of minor league options. Trading Leon also freed up a spot on the forty man roster (now at 38), though.
Spring Training has been particularly cruel to the Nationals this year. The Nats entered camp with Jayson Werth, recovering from shoulder surgery, already questionable for opening day. During the preseason, they've seen Denard Span and Anthony Rendon suffer injuries that put their status for the start of the regular season in jeopardy. Nate McLouth, who figured to be the fourth outfielder this season, has also seen his status downgraded to doubtful for opening day.
One unfortunate result of these injuries is that the Nationals will need to carry some players that they weren't expecting to have on the big league roster to begin 2015. Tyler Moore (depending upon whether Werth is ready) and Michael Taylor now find themselves in the starting lineup. This means the Nats will need to replace Moore and McLouth as the backup outfielders. It also means that their top replacement option on the forty man roster from AAA will already be up and in the lineup to replace Span.
The Nats have just eight possible outfielders on the forty man roster:
- Jayson Werth (questionable)
- Denard Span (will start on the DL)
- Bryce Harper
- Nate McLouth (will start on the DL)
- Tyler Moore
- Michael Taylor
- Brian Goodwin
- Kevin Frandsen
Goodwin has already been sent back to minor league camp. There's still potential for him to develop into a big league caliber player, but it hasn't happened yet. Even if Frandsen does make the roster (I think he will, but don't think he should), he'll be used more often as an infielder than an outfielder, but he could maybe be considered the fifth outfielder. Still, unless Werth progresses a bit ahead of schedule and is ready for opening day, they're going to need to add at least one outfielder that isn't on the roster.
We're late in Spring Training, so a lot of the fat has already been trimmed. At this point, we're probably only looking at three guys that could make the roster as backup outfielders. One of them kind of seems like a lock because he's more versatile defensively than the other two. Another has shown that he can swing the bat this Spring and over the course of his (long) minor league career. The third is on the forty man roster, but he's more of a utility infielder who can maybe fill in as a corner outfielder in a pinch. Only one of them is on the forty man roster, which means that the Nationals may have to (or just did) create a spot to take the one(s) they want north next week.
Tony Gwynn, Jr.
Over eight big league seasons, Gwynn has shown that he's never going to be capable of handling a significant role in the majors. He just doesn't bring enough to the table offensively. The 32-year-old has compiled a .238/.309/.310 career line with 7 HR and 80 SB. He has proven that he can be more than adequate defensively at all three outfield positions, with a career +42 DRS playing primarily in Center Field. Gwynn has had a nice March for the Nats, batting .375/.457/.550 with 2 doubles, a triple, and a homer in 46 plate appearances.
Best guess: Gwynn has performed well in his tryout to make the big league club, and the club suddenly has a need for someone who can serve as a backup OF (particularly CF). It seems pretty clear that he's going to make the roster.
A first baseman by trade, Robinson has accrued 3,836 minor league plate appearances to just 14 PA in the majors. His production in AAA last season (.312/.401/.534, 31 2b, 18 HR) looks enticing, but it did come in the Pacific Coast League, which is an extreme hitter-friendly environment. Since he's always been a first baseman and is a bit bulky (6'5, 225), Robinson would be limited to a corner outfield spot... and it's doubtful that he'd play it very well defensively. He's had a nice preseason, batting .341/.408/.636 with 5 doubles, a triple, and 2 homers in 49 plate appearances.
Best guess: Robinson's status will be decided by a number of factors. If Werth's ready to go, they won't need another backup outfielder. If Frandsen makes the club, they'll probably send Robinson down to Syracuse. With Anthony Rendon looking shaky to start the season, the Nats are going to have to use one of those free spots on the forty man roster on an infielder as well.
With Danny Espinosa making fairly regular starts at third base this preseason due to Anthony Rendon's injury, Frandsen suddenly finds himself as the second utility infielder on this club. Those guys generally don't see a lot of action, and Frandsen's middling bat doesn't exactly make him an exciting pinch hitting option. If he's going to make this club, it's going to be because he can play a handful of different positions.... even if he doesn't play any of them particularly well. A second backup infielder that can play a handful of positions seems redundant, but if he can serve as a temporary backup in the corner outfield spots, maybe a super-utility man can be more useful. I mentioned Frandsen's bat, which is less than exciting. He boasts a career .259/.313/.350 line with 15 HR in 1,350 big league plate appearances.
Best guess: You all know that I don't think Frandsen should make the team, but I think he will. The fact that he's already on the forty man roster gives him a bit of an edge here, since Rendon's status for the opener means that the Nats are probably going to have to add another infielder (Stewart? Uggla?) who isn't already on the forty man.
Leon may not have cleared waivers if the Nats had tried to pass him through at some time during the next week, but they didn't really get much extra cash in today's deal. The move was made to clear up a spot on the forty man... because the Nats are going to have to add a couple of guys. Tony Gwynn, Jr. will almost certainly take one of those two open spots. It'll be interesting to see whether that second spot goes to Robinson, Ian Stewart, or Dan Uggla.