The Washington Nationals will not tender outfielder Ben Revere a contract, choosing not to head to arbitration with a player who hit .217 in 2016, but would be awarded more than $6 million in arbitration for the 2017 season. The decision does not preclude Revere, who will become a free agent, from returning to the Nationals next season because they could re-sign him at a cheaper rate, but a return is unlikely.
The club announced it tendered contracts to its four other arbitration-eligible players — Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper, Tanner Roark and Anthony Rendon.
Revere represents one of the few failed trade experiments of the Mike Rizzo era. The Nationals got Revere for maligned closer Drew Storen, and in so doing acquired a career near-.300 hitter with speed with two seasons left before free agency. But that Ben Revere never materialized in D.C., because after an impressive spring training, Revere strained an oblique muscle in his first at-bat of the season.
The 28-year-old had always been a slow starter, and without April at-bats, Revere never ignited. His offensive futility forced the Nationals to abandon him as a potential starting center fielder and leadoff man. Desperate, they chose to convert Trea Turner to center field midseason instead, and now seem committed to acquiring an everyday center fielder to allow Turner to move back to shortstop. Revere had not hit less than .294 in a season since 2012, and therefore seems likely to bounce back in 2017. But the Nationals do not want to bet $6 million on it, and will therefore look elsewhere.
The deadline for tendering a contract to players is Friday night, and the only other non-tender candidate on the roster was Espinosa. If the Nationals acquire an everyday center fielder — such as Andrew McCutchen — Turner will move back to shortstop and Espinosa will no longer have a place to start. Espinosa hit 24 home runs and played solid, steady defense in 2016, but his high strikeout rate does not mesh with the emphasis on contact Rizzo and his staff have implemented over the last two years. Revere, it should be noted, was a part of that contact-conscious lineup overhaul, along with Daniel Murphy.
Espinosa is projected to make $5.3 million in arbitration this season, according to MLB Trade Rumors, which is generally on target with these things. He could serve as a super-utilityman, someone who can provide elite defense up the middle and tolerable defense at the corners if necessary. But Espinosa has been outspoken about his desire to play everyday. If the Nationals can find a versatile utilityman for less, and believe Espinosa will fare better in a different setting, perhaps they will move him later this offseason.
For now, Espinosa remains on the roster and Revere joins Aaron Barrett as Nationals eligible for arbitration who will not get it. Barrett has begun throwing after substantial elbow surgery, and is earning significant interest from a handful of teams, according to a person familiar with his situation. Revere will likely find strong interest, too.