The potential issues with that configuration: injury and regression. After offseason shoulder surgery, Werth missed the first six games. Then he missed 60 games after being hit on the wrist with a pitch. Both injuries affected him well after his return, and both were the result of wear and tear. Werth has averaged 111 games over the past four seasons and will turn 37 during the 2016 season. Expected decline with age is hastened by injury.
Harper, who is under team control through the 2018 season, had a historic season, one that will likely land him the NL MVP award next week. In the healthiest full season of his career, Harper carried the offense almost single-handedly for stretches. Although he is only 23 and some believe he will only get better, the Nationals cannot bank on another MVP-caliber season.
Taylor, who will be 25, did well defensively and showed power and speed in his rookie season, but also had growing pains: baserunning, strikeouts and slumps. Pressed into everyday action because of constant injuries to Denard Span, Taylor finished with a .229/.282/.358 slash line with 14 home runs, 63 RBI and 158 strikeouts in 138 games. The Nationals finished 13th in the majors with a .743 OPS from their center fielders.
“He’s played extremely good defensively, both with the scouts eye and analytically,” Rizzo said. “He’s terrific. He’s a guy that has the speed-power combination. And also a guy who was as good a guy as we had in clutch situations at the end of games. He was terrific. For a guy that was probably three or four or five months ahead of schedule when we brought him to the big leagues because of injury, he performed admirably. We see him as a long-term answer.”
The Nationals could potentially pursue a starting outfielder via free agency or trade, to alleviate the load on Taylor and lessen the sting of any injuries that could affect Werth and Co.
That doesn’t mean the Nationals won’t still pursue outfield depth via free agency or trade. The Nationals had the right idea when they gave a two-year, $10.75-million deal to Nate McLouth, formerly an everyday player, before the 2014 season to be the fourth outfielder. A shoulder injury and McLouth’s struggles made the deal a bust. But the Nationals could again potentially spend a good sum of money securing a capable fourth outfielder who could play every day for long stretches if needed. A left-hander would balance a mostly right-handed roster.
Alex Gordon, Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes head the free agent outfield class, all likely to land large contracts. Nori Aoki, David DeJesus, David Murphy, Austin Jackson, Shane Victorino and Gerardo Parra are some of the many potential fourth outfield options. The Nationals eyed Parra at the trade deadline and continue to have interest given his connection to Rizzo. The lefty can play all three outfield spots.
The Nationals also like Matt den Dekker as part of their outfield depth. The left-hander tweaked his swing at Class AAA Syracuse mid-season and was a force after another call-up. He hit .320 with three home runs in 29 games to end the season.
“We like the way he played last year,” Rizzo said. “He’s a quality outfielder that can play all three outfield spots. He showed a little pop off the bench. He’s got speed. He can be a defensive replacement. He can pinch run for you. He can play out there every day in spurts for week or two at a time. We really like him. We have some other outfield possibilities in the minor leagues but we may be also active in the trade market or free agent market.”