In the two weeks since Jayson Werth injured his wrist when he was hit by an Odrisame Despaigne pitch, the Nationals have largely stuck to a platoon in left field. In ten games since the injury, Michael Taylor has started five times (one of them was in CF), Tyler Moore has started four games, and Clint Robinson has started twice. While not ideal, this has been an effective enough platoon as a short-term solution. After learning on Thursday that Werth's injury was more serious than initially anticipated, the Nats may need to revise their plans on how they handle the left field situation.
The Nats obviously have a handful of internal solutions that they've been using so far. Should one of those players see a significant boost in playing time? They may end up having another possible solutions on the roster as players other than Werth get healthy and back in the lineup. Finally, there's the possibility that the Nats look outside the organization to solidify that spot in the lineup. Let's take a brief look at the internal candidates and see if we can find a solution.
Michael A. Taylor
Taylor is the most obvious solution if the Nats are looking to patch the temporary hole in left field. He's the guy that the Nats are pinning their hopes on to take over for Denard Span next season. The Nats recalled him on April 30 to serve in a bench role, so they're obviously more concerned with him gaining experience at the big league level than playing every day in AAA. While it would certainly be preferable to have a healthy Jayson Werth, the Nats should look at this as an opportunity. They have a chance to evaluate Taylor at the big league level in an everyday role batting in a relatively low leverage spot in the order (8th? 9th?).
Taylor possesses great power and outstanding speed on the basepaths. He does have some holes in his offensive game, though. Taylor struck out in 30% of his plate appearances between the majors and minors last season, and he's striking out at an even higher clip so far in 2015 (37.3% in 102 big league plate appearances). The likelihood is that he's never going to be more than a .250-.260 hitter at the big league level. Still, with his power/speed combo and an outstanding glove, that's OK. Often praised as one of the top defensive center fielders in the minors over the past couple of years, Taylor would be expected to be among the game's top defensive corner outfielders almost right away. Even though he might not bring as much with the bat as Moore or Robinson (I think he would bring more), the defensive edge Taylor has over either of them negates that. He should be the Nats everyday left fielder right now.
Moore has the experience edge among the three players that are currently platooning. In prior stints with the big league club (and throughout his minor league career), Moore has flashed plus power. In the minors, he's shown an ability to hit for average and plus patience as well. A converted first baseman, Moore provides nothing with the glove in left field, and he's yet to really show that he can hit consistently at the big league level. One would think that maybe an extended period of consistent playing time might help his offensive game, but it will also further expose his defensive limitations. He's probably a slightly better pure hitter than Taylor is at this point in their careers, but has no speed and is a statue defensively.
If Moore continues to take a lot of time from Taylor (they've made the same amount of starts in LF since Werth's injury), the Nats may be showcasing him to see if they can boost his value on the trade market. Already 28, Moore doesn't look like he's ever going to develop into much more of a hitter than he is right now, but he's still cheap and has four more years of club control. The Nats probably couldn't get a great left fielder for him, but it's possible that they could find a slightly better option with an expiring contract if Moore can hit enough in the next month or so to make a team want to take a shot at a cheap first baseman with a few years of club control.
He bats left-handed. That's really about the only nice thing I can say about Robinson fitting into this platoon. Like Moore, he's a statue in the field. He's also shown the ability to mash in the minor leagues as a first baseman who was blocked in every organization he was with prior to the Nats. First base is blocked in Washington, too. Robinson is a nice enough left-handed hitter to have off the bench. Let's leave it at that.
Sleeper: Danny Espinosa
Anthony Rendon has started rehabbing again (crossing fingers), which means Espinosa is likely to return to his role as a utility infielder in a couple of weeks. If there's been anything positive to take out of Rendon missing the first two months of the season, it's the fact that Espinosa has taken advantage of his shot at extended playing time to rebound from the past two disappointing seasons. He's batting .256/.357/.463 with 6 HR. He's showing an improved walk rate (partially because he's batted eighth quite a bit, I'm sure) and has made significant progress in cutting his strikeout rate down to a still high, but reasonable 23.4%.
Of course, when Rendon returns, Espinosa's playing time dries up a bit. Yunel Escobar has been terrific as well so far this season. There's an argument to be made that Espinosa should still see his fair share of playing time over Escobar (Espinosa 1.2 fWAR, Escobar 0.7) and to give Rendon a little extra rest when he returns. However, adding a third guy he could spell on a semi-regular basis wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. As far as I know, Espinosa has never played the outfield, but left field is a spot where clubs often hide one of their worst defenders. Espinosa certainly doesn't fit that bill, as he's a stud with the glove. Still, there's not much doubt that he would be able to handle the position.
I'd bring up Nate McLouth as well, but there's still no real timetable on his return from his shoulder injury.
Going outside the organization
I touched on it briefly with Tyler Moore. The Nats do seem to have their outfield set for the next few seasons. Werth is still under contract at a hefty rate for the next few seasons. Bryce Harper will man right field. Michael Taylor is expected to take over in center field assuming that the Nats don't re-sign Denard Span. This could put the Nats in the market for a player with an expiring contract on a team that's out of contention.
I won't get into names today because this isn't a gossip column. I will say that the Nats should be more focused on finding a short-term solution if they go this route and that Taylor's presence means that they certainly shouldn't be willing to pay a steep price in terms of prospects. A package involving Tyler Moore and a "C" prospect should be able to net them a more expensive player with an expiring contract that a team is looking to offload who has a bat comparable to Moore and a better glove in left field.
Still, I think the answer is right in front of Matt Williams. He's lost his left fielder for the next couple of months. His future center fielder is up riding the pine at the major league level instead of seeing everyday at bats in AAA. Michael Taylor should be getting the vast majority of the time in the vacated left field spot.