Though he has spent the majority of his career at second base, Howie Kendrick really has morphed into an outfielder over the last two seasons. Kendrick started 79 games in left field for the Dodgers in 2016, more than three times as many as he started at second base. And last season with the Phillies and Nationals, he started 57 games in the outfield, only 16 in the infield.
We’ll see where Kendrick winds up spending most of his time with the Nationals this year - there could be a need at second base if Daniel Murphy’s surgically repaired knee isn’t 100 percent by opening day - but it’s safe to assume that if all goes according to plan, the veteran utilityman will be among manager Dave Martinez’s first backup options in the outfield should the need arise.
Which means the Nats’ stable of outfielders is even more crowded than it was before Kendrick signed a two-year contract on Monday to return to D.C.
If there’s one position of depth in this organization, it’s the outfield. Assuming everyone’s healthy, the Nationals will have Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor and Bryce Harper as their regular trio. They’ll have Kendrick as a backup for both corner positions. They’ll also have Brian Goodwin backing up all three positions.
And then they’ll still have Victor Robles, Andrew Stevenson and Rafael Bautista waiting in the wings at Triple-A, all having made their major league debuts last season. And then they’ll also have two-time organizational Player of the Year Jose Marmolejos on the 40-man roster. And then on top of that, they’ll have 2017 organizational Player of the Year Daniel Johnson and top prospect Juan Soto rising through the farm system.
That’s a whole lot of depth at one position, and thus reason to wonder whether that much depth is even necessary in the long run.
Sure, the Nationals have to be prepared to deal with injuries. Their outfield depth was stretched to the max last season after Eaton, Taylor, Harper, Goodwin, Jayson Werth, Ryan Raburn and Chris Heisey all suffered significant injuries at some point along the way. The club wound up using 14 different outfielders by season’s end, a total topped by only three other franchises (Dodgers, Giants, Indians).
And the organization has to be prepared for a future that does not include Harper, tough as that is to consider right now. (Hey, maybe he’ll decide to stay here long-term, but the team has to have a contingency plan ready to go if he doesn’t.)
Even so, there still figures to be a glut of outfielders pressing each other for playing time at some point later in 2018 or come 2019. Not every prospect is going to pan out, but some of them will. And Taylor is under team control through 2020, with Eaton potentially under control through 2021.
So it’s entirely appropriate to question if it would behoove the Nationals to shop one or two of these outfielders around and see if they can deal from that position of strength to bolster another position of need, whether that’s in the rotation, the bullpen or behind the plate.
General manager Mike Rizzo has all but made it clear he won’t trade Robles or Soto, his top two position player prospects, and understandably so. But the other outfielders in this system carry some value as well, whether in the form of Johnson’s power potential, Goodwin’s all-around skills or Taylor’s burgeoning stardom.
If there’s a deal to be made - either now or in-season - it’s probably a good bet someone from the Nationals’ overflowing outfield will wind up as part of the package.