Nats face tender decisions before deadline tonight

So much of what the Nationals do this winter is dependent on something else they do. They won't know if Trea Turner is their center fielder or shortstop until they either acquire another outfielder or not. They won't know if Danny Espinosa is still their shortstop until they know if Turner is switching positions.

There are dominoes lined up all over the place, but most of them can't fall until the first one does. Which may finally begin to happen today.

Whether they're able to consummate a potential blockbuster trade for Pirates star outfielder Andrew McCutchen or not, the Nationals do have to make a couple of decisions before day's end. With an 8 p.m. Eastern time deadline looming to tender contracts to all arbitration-eligible players, the Nats can't wait any longer to determine the fates of Espinosa and Ben Revere.

Those two are among five unsigned arbitration-eligible players subject to tonight's deadline. The Nationals don't have to think twice about tendering contracts to Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Tanner Roark. All three will, of course, be retained, with their 2017 salaries determined at a later date.

But Revere and Espinosa's futures in D.C. are less certain and will be the notable names hanging in the balance today.

ben-revere-back-white-sidebar.jpgNon-tendering Revere seems like a strong possibility, given the outfielder's struggles this season and the fact he's likely to make about $6 million next season via arbitration.

Acquired from the Blue Jays for aggrieved reliever Drew Storen last winter, Revere was expected to serve as the Nationals' leadoff-hitting center fielder for two full years. But after straining his oblique muscle on opening day, he never found his hitting stroke and wound up batting a career-low .217 with a .260 on-base percentage and .560 OPS that ranked last among all major league players with at least 350 plate appearances.

Once he was supplanted in center field by Turner in late July, Revere's future with the Nationals turned tenuous. It's possible club officials could feel he deserves another shot, that his dramatic decline in production was an anomaly and perhaps a result of his injury. But the club may also decide it's not worth the risk and choose to cut ties with the 28-year-old later today.

The decision on Espinosa is more complex. The 29-year-old infielder still has supporters within the organization, those that value his strong defensive play and ability to get on power streaks (like his nine-homer June this season).

But there's also an understanding that the shortstop position needs to be opened up for Turner, who after playing infield his entire life wound up taking a crash course on center field last summer when the Nationals had a more pressing need there (the result of Revere and Michael A. Taylor's struggles).

Espinosa, who has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining before he can become a free agent, is due to make $5 million or so in 2017. Can the Nationals justify that kind of salary for a backup infielder if Turner ends up starting at shortstop?

We'll begin to get answers to those questions, which could set in motion more falling dominoes, sometime later today.

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