Beyond the obvious tremors about what the Nationals’ signing of Jayson Werth means for the team next year, there’s a more practical question to be answered: How does the Nationals’ outfield shape up now?
The starting lineup, at this point, looks clear enough: Werth in right, Nyjer Morgan in center and Josh Willingham in left. But the team also has Michael Morse, a player who’s been called a poor man’s Werth and hit 15 homers in 298 at-bats last year. He could play first base if the Nationals don’t sign anyone, but the guess here is they will. So Morse and Roger Bernadina will end up fighting for at-bats as reserves, which is what many argue they should be doing anyway.
But what if Willingham gets traded? It seems like a decent possibility now that the Nationals have Werth, and if they could get a pitcher in return for the left fielder, who will be a free agent after this year, they’d likely move him. They could probably platoon Morse and Bernadina in left and get away with it, while strengthening another part of their roster by moving Willingham.
Looking down the road, though, there’s a more interesting question to be asked: What does this mean for Bryce Harper?
Remember, the No. 1 overall pick is being groomed as a right fielder, and Werth will still be a central figure in the Nationals’ lineup by the time Harper is ready for the majors. The fact that Werth has experience at all three outfield positions presents an easy solution: Move him to left or center and put Harper in right, when he’s ready. It makes it all the more obvious that Willingham’s days in Washington are probably numbered, and outfield corners of Werth and Harper would give the Nationals plenty of arm strength. Things just got more crowded for prospects like Michael Burgess and Destin Hood, though, so maybe one of those players ends up in a trade package.
You’ve probably noticed I haven’t addressed much of the future in center field, and that’s simply because the Nationals don’t have a long-term answer there yet. They still control Nyjer Morgan for four more seasons, but I don’t know if he’s a fixture there. They could also move Werth to center eventually, but that’d be a gamble he doesn’t become a liability as he ages. Either Morgan would have to improve his play from last year or Werth would have to hold center field down in the future; otherwise, the Nationals still need to search for a solution there.