Despite entering this season as the Washington Nationals’ presumed fourth outfielder, Michael A. Taylor has always played an important role in D.C. Injuries have created plenty of chances over the years for him to prove he can be an everyday player, but the 27-year-old hasn’t always seized those opportunities.
In 127 games this season (86 starts), Taylor is hitting .224 with six home runs, 24 stolen bases and 112 strikeouts. He’s been a valuable defensive player but got off to a slow start at the plate and wasn’t able to garner enough consistent playing time to really get his bat going.
Bryce Harper may sign with another team this offseason, but the Nationals will still go into the winter with strong outfield depth — depth that could end up costing Taylor his roster spot. The Florida native is arbitration-eligible for the second straight year and appears to be a candidate to be traded.
If the Nationals re-sign Harper, they’ll enter next season with the former MVP, Adam Eaton, Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Howie Kendrick and Andrew Stevenson on the 40-man roster.
Daniel Johnson (the team’s No. 7 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline) and Rafael Bautista (rehabbing an ACL injury) will be available down in the minors as the season progresses.
Eaton would, in all likelihood, be pushed to the bench. The Nationals may decide to trade him and recoup some value, but Taylor appears to be the odd man out because of his lack of offensive value. Even amid his struggles, Taylor would garner interest from other teams for his two years of control, defensive prowess and speed on the basepaths.
Just like any other MLB team, the Nationals won’t make a roster move if they don’t have to. They’d have the option of non-tendering Taylor in early December if the front office decides he isn’t worth the amount he’ll make in arbitration, but that would be unlikely because the team would lose him for nothing other than salary relief.
If Harper decides to depart the District for greener pastures, Taylor isn’t necessarily safe. The Nationals have needs in the bullpen and rotation that might force them to give up some of their outfield depth. There will be plenty of cheap options on the free-agent market to fill his place, including Jon Jay, Cameron Maybin and Hunter Pence.
Taylor has spent his entire career in the District, hitting a modest .239 while compiling 47 homers, 71 stolen bases and a defensive highlight reel that would fill any old-school cinema projector room from floor to ceiling. He’s been as much a fixture on the Washington Nationals’ roster as any. Since the start of the 2015 season, only two players have donned the Curly W for more games than the Nats’ center fielder: Harper and Anthony Rendon.
The Nationals put their faith in him for years, seeing the potential for a perennial 20/20 player who could win a few Gold Gloves in center field. While the latter may still be the case, Taylor is well into his prime now and has shown his ballclub what kind of player he is offensively. Perhaps his best chance at taking his game to the next level would be an opportunity elsewhere.