Ryan Sullivan: Tough roster decisions looming for Nationals

The Double-A Harrisburg Senators’ Twitter account last Thursday announced that Nationals players Matt Grace, Brian Goodwin and Daniel Murphy would begin rehabilitation assignments last weekend. Adam Eaton starts his rehab at Harrisburg today. The healthy return of each player is a positive for the Nationals, but could lead to some difficult roster decisions for manager Davey Martinez. According to Martinez, Goodwin is expected to return first, followed by Grace, Murphy and finally Eaton, who cannot return from the 60-day disabled list until June 8.

Goodwin’s return should force Washington to option Andrew Stevenson to the minor leagues. Both are left-handed hitters capable of playing multiple outfield positions, making them somewhat redundant on the roster. Also, Stevenson could benefit from additional minor league seasoning and playing every day. Much like Stevenson, there does not appear to be much available playing time for Goodwin with Bryce Harper in right field, rookie sensation Juan Soto in left and defensive stalwart of Michael A. Taylor in center.

Grace represents a more difficult challenge, as he is out of minor league options and I doubt Washington wants to lose Grace on waivers, so he is likely to be added to the roster at someone else’s expense. Based on performance, Shawn Kelley is likely the odd man out, yet his guaranteed salary makes cutting him a difficult decision. Recent additions Tim Collins and Justin Miller would also need to clear waivers to return to the minors. In small sample sizes, they have both looked quite impressive and losing either veteran seems foolish. Therefore Wander Suero, who has pitched well in nine appearances but has minor league options remaining, is likely ticketed for an undeserved return to Triple-A.

After offseason microfracture surgery, Murphy’s return will be a tremendous jolt to Washington’s lineup, as he has been one of the top hitters in the National League over the past two years. Murphy is a fearsome hitter and provides further protection for Harper and Anthony Rendon. Adrian Sanchez is likely ticketed for a demotion to make way for Murphy, with Wilmer Difo returning to a super utility role. The Nationals will miss Difo’s defense at second base and the spark he provides to the lineup.

Finally, Eaton’s return could provide the biggest conundrum for Washington. Eaton’s energy is infectious and his knack for getting on base will be welcome atop the lineup. Unfortunately, his return will bump either Juan Soto or Taylor from the starting lineup. Washington could return Soto to the minors for more experience, but he has been so productive that the Nationals may not be able to justify his demotion. Alternatively, Taylor has struggled offensively, but is the best option defensively in center by a wide margin. Assuming no other injuries occur, the odds are that Soto will return to the minors, although do not be surprised if Washington goes with seven relievers and keeps the rookie in Washington.

As I have attempted to illustrate, there will be repercussions to the looming roster decisions for the front office in the next 10 days. However, the Nationals are much stronger with these four players healthy and their return can be summarized by the famous Marlo Stanfield quote from “The Wire”: “Sound like one of them good problems.”

Ryan Sullivan blogs about the Nationals at The Nats GM and runs The Nats GM Show podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @NatsGMdotcom. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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