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Washington Nationals Rumors: Will Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo find another center fielder... or a reliever? Or both?

Just when you thought Adam Eaton would be patrolling center all season, finally bringing some stability to the position, he suffered a season-ending injury. So now what do the Nationals do?

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

In two games since taking over in center field following Adam Eaton’s injury (diagnosed as a full thickness tear of the ACL, a meniscus tear and high ankle sprain that effectively ended his 2017 campaign), Washington Nationals’ outfielder Michael A. Taylor is 5 for 11 with a double, three runs scored and three Ks.

Dusty Baker was asked, after Taylor’s 2 for 6 game in Washington’s 23-5 win over the New York Mets on Sunday, if he was seeing anything different from the 26-year-old, four-year veteran, who was 2 for 21 with nine Ks in 13 games (four starts), before Eaton injured his left knee.

“No,” Baker told reporters. “Just telling him just to think more straight away and be aggressive and stay in the strike zone, that’s what he’s doing, more so, and like I said, hopefully he can build off that.”

“He’s had two pretty good games and because we need him and we just go from here.”

When Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked to reporters before Sunday’s series finale in the nation’s capital, he said he was confident that there are in-house options who can fill Eaton’s spot in center, with outfield prospect Rafael Bautista called up from Triple-A, a few highly-regarded outfielders still in the system, and Taylor on the roster.

“We’re comfortable,” Rizzo explained. “We think we have the offense to compensate for Adam. We feel we have the personnel specifically at that position to compensate for him.

“It’s one of the greatest depth positions we have in the organization, so we feel good about that.”

There are rumors, of course, and not only about the Nationals’ need in the outfield, but also about the questions that remain in the bullpen, with some relievers struggling and Koda Glover dealing with an injury issue (hip impingement)’s Ken Rosenthal talked this weekend about the Nats’ rumored interest in Kansas City Royals’ closer Kelvin Herrera, if KC is willing to trade him, mentioning top outfield prospects Victor Robles, Juan Soto and 2015 1st Round pick Andrew Stevenson (who was promoted to Triple-A on Monday) as part of the position player depth in the organization, and adding that the Nationals, “are also deep in catchers and shortstops.”

Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan mentioned the Royals as a potential trade partner too, noting that the Nats will give Michael A. Taylor, “... one final audition in center before deciding whether they need to deal for a center fielder.”

If they do need to trade for an outfielder, Passan suggests, “[n]ot only could Kansas City offer center fielder Lorenzo Cain,” about whom Washington reportedly inquired this offseason, “before dealing for Eaton,” but, “... the Royals also have Kelvin Herrera, who could fortify the Nationals’ bullpen in the eighth or ninth inning, depending on Shawn Kelley’s performance.”

While Rizzo didn’t try to downplay Eaton’s injury and its effect on the Nationals’ roster, he said the Nats just have to move forward.

“It’s a big piece of our team that’s been taken from us, but we can’t dwell on that,” he explained.

“Every team in baseball goes through these types of things and this was a good, special player for us that’s hurt, but will still contribute in many, many ways.”

Eaton told reporters he would do what he could though his job now is to, “... get better, as quickly as I can, and as efficiently as I can, being smart but pushing it to the max of what I can do.”

He also said he would be willing offer his fellow Nationals’ outfielders any help he can give.

“Bautista coming up and Taylor being here, younger guys,” Eaton said.

“I’m going to try to mentor those [guys] as much as I can and if they want my help I’m going to give it as freely as I can.”

Will it be enough? The Nationals had the prospects that are in the system now in the organization, and Taylor was here too, before they acquired Eaton, and they still felt the need to go out and trade for five years of control of the 28-year-old outfielder.

The makeup of the Nats’ outfield could change dramatically in the next few seasons of course, with Jayson Werth in the final year of his 7-year/$126M deal and Bryce Harper a free agent after 2018 if he’s not extended before then.

Will Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office need to make another deal? Can they afford to deal from their prospect depth after giving up three highly-regarded arms for Eaton?