Breaking down the final bench candidates

JUPITER, Fla. - The Nationals essentially have two more roster decisions to make by Sunday’s major league deadline. One involves the bullpen. The other involves the bench.

We’ve gone through the various bullpen options (which are complicated some by the possibility of the Nats carrying eight relievers until they need a fifth starter on April 13), but we haven’t spent as much time running discussing the final bench options.

There are all sorts of factors to consider here. It’s not nearly as simple as picking the best player of the bunch, or the one who has performed the best this spring. It’s about having the right balance of right-handed and left-handed hitters on the club. It’s about having the right balance of outfielders and infielders. It’s about deciding what should be a priority: Defense? Versatility? Speed? The ability to pinch-hit?

Let’s run through each of the remaining candidates, listing the pros and cons of keeping each on the opening day roster ...

den-dekker-at-bat-white-sidebar.jpgMATT DEN DEKKER
Position: Outfield
B/T: L/L
Age: 28
Contract status: Under team control, has options
Spring stats: .297 average (11-for-37), .357 OBP, .432 slugging, four walks, nine strikeouts
Pros: Impressed in all areas late last season, hitting .298 with five homers and a .949 OPS in September. Can play all three outfield positions. Has had modest success in limited pinch-hitting opportunities (7-for-28, 1 HR, .715 OPS).
Cons: Nats bench is already left-handed heavy (Stephen Drew, Clint Robinson). Has options, and thus can be sent to the minors and retained in the organization.

CHRIS HEISEY
Position: Outfield
B/T: R/R
Age: 31
Contract status: Minor league contract
Spring stats: .244 average (10-for-41), .340 OBP, .463 slugging, five walks, 11 strikeouts
Pros: Strong track record of success as a pinch-hitter: .282 average (40-for-142), .338 OBP, .936 OPS. Can play all three outfield positions. Played four seasons for Dusty Baker in Cincinnati (2010-13), where he was utilized well. Right-handed hitter would better balance out Nats bench.
Cons: Hit .182 in only 33 major league games last season with Dodgers, has a .224 average and .281 OBP over last three seasons.

REED JOHNSON
Position: Outfield
B/T: R/R
Age: 39
Contract status: Minor league contract
Spring stats: .276 average (8-for-29), .371 OBP, .310 slugging, four walks, eight strikeouts
Pros: Historically has hit lefties well (.310 average, .363 OBP, .454 slugging in career). Also has strong track record as pinch-hitter: .272 average (79-for-290). Right-handed hitter would better balance out Nats bench.
Cons: At 39, and coming off an injury-plagued season in which he only appeared in 17 games, how much does he have left in the tank? Doesn’t hit for much power, doesn’t play outfield as well as he used to.

BRENDAN RYAN
Position: Shortstop, second base, third base
B/T: R/R
Age: 34
Contract status: Minor league contract
Spring stats: .379 average (11-for-29), .400 OBP, .500 slugging, one walk, five strikeouts
Pros: Veteran utility man is having a tremendous spring at the plate. Though the majority of his career games have come in the middle infield, he also has big league experience at third base, first base, right field, left field and even pitcher. An elite defensive shortstop, he’s a chatterbox who is very popular among teammates.
Cons: Dazzling spring numbers notwithstanding, he’s a career .234 hitter with a .295 OBP and .315 slugging, and a .196 hitter over the last four seasons. With Drew already locked into one spot on the bench, do the Nats need another backup middle infielder?

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