When the Nationals traded Drew Storen to the Blue Jays for Ben Revere last January, they thought they were solving two problems: unloading the disgruntled Storen, whose psyche and season crumbled once Jonathan Papelbon arrived, and finding a replacement for the soon-to-be departing Denard Span in center field. Revere was a left-handed contact hitter for a right-handed heavy club that struck out too often and a speedster for the leadoff spot. He was a career .295 hitter through his age-27 season, firmly in the prime of his career. It was a practical transaction.
The deal became a disaster for both sides. Storen posted a 6.21 ERA in 38 appearances before the Blue Jays designated him for assignment in July and shipped him to the Mariners for Joaquin Benoit, another struggling reliever. Meanwhile, Papelbon was replaced by the trade deadline and Revere was arguably having the worst season at the plate of any position player in baseball.
Revere strained his oblique on opening day, missed a month and two days, and never got right. He lost his job by the end of July to a rookie who had one month’s professional experience playing in the outfield, and failed to make the postseason roster. He finished with a .217 batting average, .260 on-base percentage, and .300 slugging percentage in 103 games. His .560 OPS was 232nd out of 232 players with at least 350 plate appearances. A year after compiling a 1.9 WAR, based on FanGraphs’ calculation, he netted a -1.2. Take away his 13-game call-up when he broke into the majors for the first time with the Twins in 2010 and those numbers are incomparable to the rest of his career.
Part of Revere’s appeal was that he was under team control for another two years. But his debacle might lead the Nationals to relinquish half of it. Revere made $6.25 million, a modest sum for his previous production, in 2016. He is eligible for arbitration for the final time this winter and, based on MLB Trade Rumors’ projections, he is due to make $6.3 million through the process.
If the Nationals find the potential arbitration price too steep and believe they can’t come to terms with Revere on a contract to avoid it or want to head in another direction regardless, they could non-tender him by the Dec. 2 deadline to make him a free agent. If they believe Revere’s season was an outlier — that his strained oblique did indeed lead to bad habits and a fruitless quest for rhythm — and project he can regain his previous form, they could then re-sign him at a lower cost. Revere, however, would have the freedom to move on to another club if the money and role are better once he is non-tendered. Another scenario is keeping Revere beyond the non-tender deadline, but continuing contract negotiations and settling on a deal before the arbitration hearing, which is usually conducted in early February.
The Nationals can address center field in a few different ways. They could keep Trea Turner in center field, they could sign or trade for a starting center fielder, they could sign or a trade for a right fielder and move Bryce Harper to center field, they could have another internal option play center field, and, to cover all our bases, they could even have Revere return and give him another crack at it.
If Revere isn’t the answer, Washington has cheaper internal outfield alternatives to come off the bench, led by Brian Goodwin, Michael A. Taylor and Rafael Bautista. Goodwin, 25, impressed in his first major-league stint with his bat and arm. Taylor, 25, shuttled between the majors and Class AAA Syracuse, but found his way onto the playoff roster and is the Nationals’ best defensive outfielder. Bautista, 23, hasn’t risen above Class AA Harrisburg, but is on the radar for 2017. A burner, he stole 56 bases and batted .282 with Harrisburg last season. Chris Heisey, a free agent this winter, is another bench possibility capable of playing center field, but he is better suited for a corner spot and is more of a pinch-hit specialist.
Yoenis Cespedes, Ian Desmond and Dexter Fowler are expected to headline the free-agent market’s center field crop. Other free-agent options include Michael Bourn, Coco Crisp, Rajai Davis, Carlos Gomez, Austin Jackson, Jon Jay and Cameron Maybin. The Nationals could also look to trade for one.