As our offseason coverage kicks into high gear, we’re going to review each significant player on the Nationals roster. We continue today with Michael A. Taylor, who wasn’t able to capitalize during his latest opportunity to play every day and wound up buried on the bench by season’s end.
PLAYER REVIEW: MICHAEL A. TAYLOR
Age on opening day 2019: 28
How acquired: Sixth-round pick, 2009 draft
MLB service time: 4 years, 10 days
2018 salary: $2.525 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2019, free agent in 2021
2018 stats: 134 G, 385 PA, 353 AB, 46 R, 80 H, 22 2B, 3 3B, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 24 SB, 6 CS, 29 BB, 116 SO, .227 AVG, .287 OBP, .357 SLG, .644 OPS, 10 DRS, 0.9 fWAR, 0.9 bWAR
Quotable: “I talked to him before and told him I don’t want him to think he’s forgotten, because he’s not. We don’t know what’s going to happen moving forward. He’s still a big part of our plans.” - Davey Martinez
2018 analysis: Each of the previous three seasons, Taylor found himself on the bench in April, only to be thrust into the everyday lineup after another outfielder was injured. It took three tries, but he finally made the most of the opportunity in 2017, and turned in a breakthrough postseason performance. That allowed him to enter the 2018 season as the Nationals’ opening day center fielder for the first time.
Unfortunately, Taylor didn’t make the most of it this time. At least not early enough. On May 20, he had started 41 of the team’s 46 games but owned a paltry .181/.249/.297 offensive slash line. That’s the day the Nationals promoted Juan Soto from Double-A Harrisburg, and it’s also the day Taylor finally got hot at the plate.
Over the next month, Taylor hit .372/.426/.581, making his case to remain the club’s everyday center fielder. The problem? Soto’s stunning emergence, the return of Adam Eaton from the disabled list and Bryce Harper’s eventual bounceback following a rough first half created a four-man logjam in the outfield. And Taylor proved to be the odd man out.
Taylor started only 17 of the Nationals’ final 74 games. And when he did get a chance to play (either in center field or coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter) he looked lost again, posting a .171/.227/.280 slash line during that prolonged stretch. He finished out the season as something of a bystander, watching as prospect Victor Robles also took away playing time from him in September.
2019 outlook: There’s legitimately no way to know right now how (or if) Taylor figures into the Nationals’ plans next season. This much is clear: The only way he’s going to get any kind of significant playing time is if multiple other outfielders from the 2018 roster aren’t on the active 2019 roster (because of injury, free agency or trade).
Soto is going to be the starting left fielder. Either Harper or Eaton is going to be the starting right fielder, and it’s possible the other one will be the starting center fielder. And even if one of those two ends up in another city, there’s always Robles knocking on the door and likely to force his way into the lineup sooner rather than later.
Would the Nationals keep Taylor (who is likely to make more than $3 million next year) as their fourth or even fifth outfielder? It’s possible, though they have to recognize how much he has struggled when he doesn’t get regular playing time. What, though, is his trade value at this point? It’s certainly not what it was a year ago, when he was coming off his big postseason performance.
All of this leaves the Nats in a tricky position. They’ve always liked Taylor, and nobody can match his glovework in center field. But it’s tough to see how they find room for him. And the last thing anyone wants is a repeat of this season, with Taylor stuck on the bench and unable to crack the lineup.