There really weren't very many surprises on the 25 man roster that the Nats brought north to begin the year. As the Nats sent Ian Stewart down late last week, it was pretty clear that Dan Uggla was going to make the roster. There were really only two question marks heading into the final weekend before Opening Day. Would the second lefty in the bullpen be Xavier Cedeno or Rich Hill? Would the final bench spot go to Clint Robinson or Mike Carp? Both battles saw the answer we were probably expecting (Cedeno and Robinson). Anyway, here's the 25 man roster:
|Doug Fister||Aaron Barrett||Jose Lobaton||Ian Desmond||Matt den Dekker|
|Gio Gonzalez||Xavier Cedeno||Wilson Ramos||Yunel Escobar||Bryce Harper|
|Max Scherzer||Tanner Roark||Danny Espinosa||Reed Johnson|
|Stephen Strasburg||Craig Stammen||Clint Robinson||Tyler Moore|
|Jordan Zimmermann||Drew Storen||Dan Uggla||Michael Taylor|
|Blake Treinen||Ryan Zimmerman|
While I said there weren't many question marks, I was a little surprised to see Reed Johnson make the Opening Day roster. I suppose that things could get interesting when Jayson Werth returns, which could be as soon as next Monday. At least I did see one person covering the Nats that looked at the backup outfielders a bit differently than I did.......
Williams said Werth could make it back in first week. Werth has targeted playing at Fenway. den Dekker probably most vulnerable. #Nats— Chris Johnson (@masnCJ) April 5, 2015
If there's anything that would make den Dekker more vulnerable than Johnson, maybe it's that he has two minor league options remaining. I haven't found anything about Johnson's contract that says it includes an opt-out, so the Nats should be able to send him to Syracuse without having to worry about losing him. At this point in their careers, den Dekker is a younger, better, left-handed version of Reed Johnson.
Assuming the Nats don't want to risk playing Harper in center field, den Dekker may be the only player who can serve as a backup to Michael Taylor out there. Johnson has played plenty of center field in his career, but at 38, he's lost some of his range. He played just four innings out there last season and appears to be limited to playing a corner spot or serving as a pinch hitter against left-handed pitching. Since Werth's return will push Tyler Moore to the bench and the Nats primary backup infielder (Espinosa) mashes lefties and struggles badly against right-handers, I don't see any reason that they would keep an older pure platoon player who would be risky in CF over den Dekker.
Other than that, there weren't really any surprises. I think there was a case for keeping Ian Stewart over Uggla, but that was decided well before the weekend. The Cedeno-Hill battle came down to minor league options, though I think Cedeno would have been the choice either way. Robinson won his battle for the final bench spot with Carp based on having a slightly stronger Spring Training. We knew that Treinen was going to make the bullpen as soon as Janssen's tendinitis flared up. With Rendon, Span, and Werth starting on the DL, I don't think there was anything all that shocking about the 25 man roster the Nats took with them.
Michael Taylor and the leadoff role
Those of you who are regulars at Federal Baseball may recall that I had a snap reaction to a tweet in early March about Taylor being an option to lead off. I don't think it's best for his development to put him into a leverage spot in the order where the Nats are putting too much pressure on him to perform as a rookie. More importantly, I think that it's a mistake for the team to put a hitter that struck out in 30% of his plate appearances last season (that includes his time in the minors) at the top of the order where you want someone who is going to be a strong on-base guy. Alas, extreme times call for extreme measures.
The Nats haven't just lost their center fielder and leadoff man to begin the year. They've also lost their two best options to replace him in the leadoff spot. Placing a healthy Anthony Rendon or Jayson Werth atop the order seemed like the best short-term solution when Span went down, but neither of them are ready to begin the year either. This gives Nats manager Matt Williams considerably fewer options to bat in the top spot than we would have expected. Let's examine his options.....
- Bryce Harper would fit the OBP bill, but he's also the only left-handed hitter in the everyday lineup and probably their best hitter overall right now. I'll concede that I sometimes get irritated when I hear that a big OBP guy like Werth should be in a spot more conducive to driving in runs. When this club is healthy and hitting, the Nats have more options for the heart of the order than .390 OBP guys who fit great at the top of the order. Considering the current situation, I think that the goal has to be to find a way to get runners on in front of Harper, so he's not really a fit.
- Ryan Zimmerman may be my top choice as a temporary fix. He figures to have the highest OBP of any non-Harper player on the roster (right now).
- Wilson Ramos..... nah.... .299 OBP last year, .316 career.
- Ian Desmond certainly has his strengths offensively, but getting on base with regularity isn't at the top of that list. .316 career OBP, .313 last season.
- Yunel Escobar wouldn't bring much in the way of upside to the spot, but I could maybe see it. He has a .347 career OBP, though that has been way down the past three years (.300, .332, .324).
- Dan Uggla isn't quite the walk machine he once was, though he's even more of a strikeout machine than he used to be. He should be buried as far down in the order as possible.
- Tyler Moore has a history of posting a big OBP in AAA, but it hasn't translated in his major league time. He's never finished with an OBP of higher than .327 in the bigs and has a 6.4% walk rate (compared to over 10% at AAA in each of the past three seasons).
OK... Maybe my stance has softened for now. I can see a case for Taylor batting in the leadoff spot over just about any other player in the everyday lineup right now simply because the Nats don't have any other hitters who have exceptional leadoff skills. Some of the other players have their own limitations that should keep them further down in the order. Others would weaken the run production spots significantly by moving up to the leadoff spot. Once Jayson Werth and his .394 OBP over the past three seasons returns to the lineup, though, Taylor's stint as the leadoff man should come to an end.