As Adam Eaton lay sprawled on the dirt past first base at Nationals Park Friday night, it didn’t just feel like the air was let out of the budding Nationals comeback or out of the lungs of the 34,000 plus revved up in the stands. Instead, it felt like the air had escaped from the entire young, promising season.
After the blockbuster trade that brought Eaton to the Nationals this offseason in exchange for uber-prospect Lucas Giolito, top-100 prospect Reynaldo Lopez, and former first round pick Dane Dunning, it seemed hard to believe that by April 28 the center fielder would have already captured the hearts and trust of Nationals fans. Fan favor was earned through Eaton’s grit and determination in the leadoff role, in addition to his stellar on-base skills and a knack for putting the ball in play.
The price at the time seemed so high that it would take a few seasons for Eaton’s worth to pay off, despite his extremely team friendly contract. But Eaton led the Nationals offense, which was firing on all cylinders, due to Trea Turner’s early season hamstring twinge. Eaton was rapidly becoming a fan favorite and productive spark plug. Then he awkwardly landed on first base and tumbled in the dirt grasping his left leg. Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post confirmed Satuday night that Eaton tore his ACL on that landing and is done for the season.
The Nationals had already called up Rafael Bautista from AAA before Janes’ report. Is this the right move though? It seems the Nationals plan to have Michael A. Taylor fill Eaton’s shoes in the near term, with Bautista called up to fulfill the outfield bench role. It stretches past believability to think they would thrust Bautista into the starting lineup without a single major league plate appearance to his resume, and that ignores Bautista’s paltry .672 OPS in AAA this year. Hell, it even ignores the anemic .282/.344/.341 slash line from his full season last year at AA. Yes, Bautista is a legitimate base stealing threat, but when almost 90% of his hits for a season are singles, it’s hard to see him fitting into the Nationals currently high powered offense.
The problem is that Taylor has been downright tragic at the plate this year. Don’t believe me? Just take a peek at his .095/.130/.095 slash line of inadequacy. Taylor, despite his fantastic defense all over the outfield, is not even hitting at pitcher level this year, and that’s after being quite poor the year before.
“But they’re the only center fielders!” you, learned fan, cry. Maybe at first blush. But let me, wily writer, present you with two other alternative scenarios that I think give the Nationals a much more effective starting eight.
- Trea back in CF. Ignore that Dusty shrugged off the suggestion after being questioned about the possibility on Sunday. In this version, Turner finds where he left his outfield glove at the end of last year and continues to use his blinding speed to prowl the grasslands of center field. In the void at shortstop for now is Wilmer Difo, who has played solid defense and looked far more major league ready at the plate than Taylor. Also, don’t forget that Stephen Drew is slated to return from his own hamstring injury sometime early in May.
Maybe you think we (read, Dusty) cannot possibly think of moving Turner from short when he is doing so well there and just starting to see his potent bat heat up. Fine, let’s get a little more inventive then and go with…
2. Put a first baseman in left field. What has kept Adam Lind from getting more ABs this year, despite his 143 OPS+, is that there has been no place to start him! Ryan Zimmerman has been a HR mashing butterfly hatched from the cocoon that was his 2016 disaster, and Lind has been relegated to spot starts and pinch hitting despite his great start.Remember, though, how well Zimmerman did in his time in left field in previous seasons. No, he wasn’t Alex Gordon, but his sneaky athleticism played well there.This would force
This option would force Jayson Werth to move back to his old stomping grounds in right field and have Bryce Harper stretch his legs a little bit in center field. Not an ideal outfield defensively but it does put the best bats in the lineup. Or, (shudder) put Lind in left field and leave Zimmerman alone at first.
Are there flaws in both these plans? Of course there are. I don’t like messing with Turner just when he’s getting comfortable at shortstop and his bat is beginning to blossom again. Nor do I relish Bryce Harper’s tree trunk legs taking a greater pounding chasing fly balls down in the gaps in center field. But do you know what is more flawed? Taylor’s swing.
I do not expect Dusty Baker to follow either of my plans. The Nationals lineup has been potent enough it can probably afford to carry the pool noodle bat Taylor has wielded this year, especially considering how well he roams the outfield. I have just run out of patience watching his plate appearances and love, I mean love, watching the Nationals run up the score like pinball wizards.
Maybe Eaton will make it back for the possible postseason. Maybe Taylor can turn his offensive season around and continue the 3-for-5 games like he had Sunday. But maybe the Nationals should have a few backup plans ready—just in case.Tags: Adam Eaton, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Michael Taylor, Nationals, Nats, Rafael Bautista, Trea Turner, Washington Nationals, Wilmer Difo