I’ve held off posting about this, since most other pundits are putting in their two cents as well. But Denard Span‘s “core muscle” surgery has suddenly got this team potentially in a pickle in terms of outfield depth and I thought it was worth discussing.
Unlike the Jayson Werth surgery announcement, which seemed to be well enough timed to cause only a brief disruption to the Nats starting outfield plans, the Span injury could have a longer lasting issue. And, even though Span’s not nearly the hitter that Werth is, he’s much more difficult to replace thanks to his position (center instead of corner) and his lineup skills (lead-off).
What do I think happens now? In no particular order:
- I’m guessing that Span misses the entire month of April. His surgery has a “4-6 week” recovery time frame and there’s plenty of recent players who struggled for entire seasons after dealing with similar injuries. Not a great sign for the team or for Span, heading into a walk year.
- I’m guessing Werth also starts the season on the 15-day DL with the idea of coming off of it on the first possible day and only missing 2 weeks.
- That means your opening day lineup projects right now to having Bryce Harper in right, Michael Taylor in center and probably Tyler Moore in left. I’m assuming also that Nate McLouth is starting on the 15-day DL as well, given that he’s apparently not even throwing the ball yet after his Aug 2014 labrum surgery, and that the team would rather have Moore in LF than Kevin Frandsen. Well, let me rephrase; *I* would rather have Moore playing than Frandsen …
- I also think the Span/McLouth DL combination creates an opening for a backup OF on the opening day roster. And I think one Tony Gwynn Jr. is going to win it. He may not be with the big club very long, but he could serve as the prototypical “4th OF who can play center field really well who does a lot of late-inning defensive replacement duty” guy until the roster is back. There’s not really another guy in camp who has CF quals and the MLB experience that Gwynn Jr. has, even if he’s a career .238 hitter.
- Gwynn could easily be added to the 40-man by opening day because at the same time he’s to be added, the team will likely be DFAing both Xavier Cedeno and Sandy Leon, both of whom are out of options and not likely to make the 25-man roster.
- When both Span and Werth come back, it could spell the end of the line for Moore thanks to his options crunch. That being said, he’s hitting the cover off the ball so far in spring training (insert standard March debate about spring training stats and their meaning), and the team won’t dump him if he’s hitting .350 in April, so he controls his own destiny. Where the roster moves do come into play is the assumption that one of these lefty-hitting NRI guys is making this team too. We likely cannot keep both Moore and someone like a Mike Carp once everyone is back. Luckily three injuries to presumed 25-man holders makes for a stay of execution for many guys.
Now the big question; who the heck hits lead off if Span is out?? A good question.
Presuming your opening day fielders are: Harper, Taylor, Moore, Zimmerman, Escobar, Desmond, Rendon and Ramos.
Who in that group makes sense to bat lead-off? Basically just three candidates: Taylor, Escobar and Rendon. And none of them are really “good” candidates frankly.
- Yunel Escobar (who is nursing his own injury and could very well also be joining the others on the DL, but we’re assuming for the purposes of this post that isn’t happening and we’re not looking at an April 1 roster that has Dan Uggla on it) isn’t exactly a prototypical leadoff hitter at this point in his career, though he generally has batted either 1st or 2nd. throughout his career.
- Taylor projects more as a middle of the order hitter frankly, thanks to his massive K numbers (144 in 110 minor league games last year).
- Anthony Rendon *could* bat lead-off … but he’s likely the team’s best hitter and makes the most sense batting in the #2 slot.
If I were Matt Williams, I’d probably go with this lineup: Escobar, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Desmond, Ramos, Moore, Taylor. Man that’s a lot of right handers. The only lefty in that lineup is Harper. But what choice does the team have?
I’m kind of excited to see Taylor get some opportunity at the MLB level frankly. What if he lights it up? What if he proves he’s a legitimate power-hitting center fielder who can man the #8 position for the next 5 years in Washington? We’ll never know until he gets a shot.
Oh, btw, to all those second guessers who now feel the need to question the Stephen Souza trade, asking smarty-pants questions like “gee do you think the Nats regret trading him now??” stuff in national forums, I say this: the trade made sense at the time, the return was great, and you cannot manage your baseball team on the fear of two unexpected injuries in a 3 month time span. Souza is very promising, so is Michael Taylor, and the team is assuming that Taylor has more positional flexibility than Souza. You only need one or two backup outfielders on a 25-man roster, and the Nats had more than plenty heading in to 2015. Yes hindsight is 20/20, but if the team was presented with the same trade today, knowing they were getting a future back-of-the-rotation starter in Joe Ross plus their shortstop of the future in Trea Turner, i’m not so sure they still wouldn’t make that deal and just work their way through April of 2015.
Oh, pps, has anyone noticed that the setting up of the spring rotation seems to imply that the Nats 1-5 rotation is shaking things up from years past? It seems like we’re going to go Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Fister and Gonzalez. That’s last year’s #1 pitching third, and last year’s #2 pitching last. Can’t say I disagree based on the career accomplishments of Scherzer and Zimmermann, just kind of surprised to see Strasburg being “deposed” as the Nats #1 starter.
And, another PS: with the injury announcements to Yu Darvish and now Marcus Stroman, I wonder if teams are calling the Nats to work a trade for one of our surplus starters. Maybe there’s still a deal out there for Zimmermann or Fister, reinstating 5-win starter Tanner Roark to the rotation and padding the farm system coffers a bit more.