Davey Martinez is on team “Door is still open”. Washington’s soon-to-be second-year skipper was asked about the options the Nationals have available in the outfield if Bryce Harper is to sign elsewhere this winter, and he told reporters at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas that he likes how things are set up either way.
“I like it, I really do,” Martinez said on Tuesday afternoon.
Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Adam Eaton left to right is the most likely configuration in a post-Harper outfield, with Michael A. Taylor waiting in the wings as a solid defender/fourth outfielder.
“Granted, and I’m not going to say we’re losing Harp, because the door is still open, if he’s not back, I like the way we’re set up,” the manager continued.
“We’re super athletic, we’ve got young, exciting players, and I can’t wait to see Robles in Spring Training and let him play. We’ve got a pretty good outfielder in Michael Taylor, who I love. And he’s in winter ball right now playing. Hopefully he hones down in his swing and puts the ball in play and help us out a lot.”
Is it hard to think of the Nationals without Harper in the lineup though?
“For me it’s -- Bryce and I have a very, very special relationship,” Martinez explained. “And I don’t necessarily -- I still see him, you know, in that uniform until he actually goes.
“Like Rizzo said earlier, the door is still open. You don’t know what’s going to happen. He’s got a tough decision to make, we all know that. But the decision is his.”
Martinez had Soto from May on last season, and he had a hard time taking him out of the lineup, so he has a good idea of what the now-20-year-old outfielder brings.
He got to see Robles over the last few weeks of the season, when the 21-year-old was finally called up after trying to get caught up after missing a few months with the hyper-extended left elbow he suffered in the fourth game of the year.
How do they know Robles is ready to take the next step and become the everyday center fielder?
“How did we know Soto was going to be our everyday left fielder?” he asked rhetorically.
“Just go out and let them play and he’ll dictate how much he’ll play. We got Soto last year, I sat with Rizzo in the office, thinking we’ll play him against righties, give him days off, play him two or three times a week. I put him in the first game and never took him out. I had to beg him to take one day off. And he drove me nuts that one day, so I put him back in and never took him out again.”
Soto finished his rookie campaign with a .292/.406/.517 line, 25 doubles, 77 runs, 70 RBIs, 79 walks, 99 strikeouts, and 146 wRC+ in 116 games and 494 plate appearances, over which he was worth 3.7 fWAR, ending up ranked first among National League rookies in OBP, OPS (.923), RBIs, walks, BB% (16.0%), wOBA (.392), and wRC+, and second in SLG, HRs, AVG, and OPS+ (142), while coming in third in runs scored.
What has he seen from Robles, who put up a combined .276/.371/.370 line with 10 doubles and two home runs in 52 games and 226 PAs in the minors in 2018, then hit three doubles and three home runs over 21 games and 66 PAs with the Nationals in September, going 17 for 59 (.288/.348/.525) to finish out the season?
“When I saw him in Spring Training last year,” Martinez said, “I thought maybe he needed a little bit more time. And he got hurt obviously, but when he came back and I saw him play in September, I really feel like he’s ready to play. He really is. He just needs repetition to get out and play. I don’t want him to do anything different. We talked about that already, I want him to go out and play baseball and have fun.”
Rizzo talked on Monday about the lineup without Harper’s power, and where some of the production they’ll be missing will come from if the 26-year-old slugger is not back.
“I think that we’ve upgraded ourselves offensively behind the plate,” the GM said.
“I think that defensively in the outfield we’ll be much much better in runs saved, and I think we’re going to have to win games and maybe score a little bit differently this year. Pitching, defense, athleticism is going to really come to the forefront. Scoring runs is going to be a premium. It’s been a premium throughout baseball, and I think we’ve got to be much better at offensive efficiency and doing the small things to score more runs.”
Martinez was asked if that fits with what he wants to do and if it will lead to more wins?
“Two things: It will lead to more wins,” Martinez said. “Also if you look to see what we’re doing, we’re trying to get more athletic. We’ve got younger players coming up. Two catchers that can move pretty good. We’ve got Robles, Michael, Eaton who is going to be healthy, Soto moves pretty good in left field. We’re trying to get more athletic and change the game.
“We talked a lot about going into Spring Training and really [honing] in on fundamentals.
“We lost a lot of games last year with one run. Giving teams 28, 29, 30 outs, I think that’s the difference. We’ve got to get better at it.”
“We’re going to do different things,” Martinez said at another point in his press availability.
“Whether it’s hitting and running, bunting a little bit more. But we’re fundamentally going to learn to play the game and play it right. I’m looking forward to it. I think we have the players that are able to hit the ball out of the park and hitting doubles and bunting.”