Taylor’s time with Nats ends after outfielder clears waivers

Michael A. Taylor spent the better part of six seasons teetering on the fringes of the Nationals roster, perpetually in danger of losing his spot but always managing to stick around because of the club’s needs and his penchant for playing well enough at just the right moments to merit it.

The outfielder’s time with the Nats, though, finally ran out today when the club announced he cleared outright waivers and elected to become a free agent.

As they embark on what is expected to be a significant roster overhaul this winter, the Nationals determined there was no longer a place for Taylor, whose inconsistent offensive performance and lack of minor league options always left him vulnerable. Having committed themselves to Victor Robles (despite the young center fielder’s struggles this season) and having seen Andrew Stevenson raise his profile as a stronger fourth outfielder candidate, Taylor became the odd man out.

The Nationals could have waited a bit longer to make a move, but Taylor figured to be a strong candidate to be non-tendered later this fall. Had they kept him past that deadline, the Nats would’ve been required to offer him arbitration, which would have carried a salary commitment of $4 million or so with it.

Instead, the club placed Taylor on waivers within the last week. When no other club claimed him, he was outrighted to Triple-A, coming off the Nats’ 40-man roster. As a veteran, Taylor had the choice to either accept the outright assignment and remain with the organization or become a free agent; he chose the latter and now will be seeking employment this winter.

The 29-year-old had a memorable career in Washington, not so much for his overall performance but for the timeliness of his biggest moments and for his soft-spoken personality and facial expressions that endeared him to fans.

A sixth-round draft pick in 2009, taken 171 slots behind Stephen Strasburg, Taylor began his minor league career as a shortstop. The lanky, 6-foot-4 South Florida native soon moved to the outfield, where his speed and agility made him an elite defensive prospect.

Taylor made his major league debut in August 2014, and over the next three years kept finding his way into the Nationals lineup after other outfielders were injured (Denard Span in 2015, Ben Revere in 2016, Adam Eaton in 2017).

His peak came during the 2017 season under former manager Dusty Baker, when he posted career highs with 19 homers, 23 doubles, a .271 average, .320 on-base percentage and .806 OPS over 432 plate appearances. He then delivered the first of his two memorable postseason performances, hitting a pair of homers (including a grand slam off Cubs closer Wade Davis) in the National League Division Series.

Taylor never was able to sustain consistent success at the plate, though. His high strikeout rate and constant tinkering with his swing left him too unreliable to merit an everyday spot in the lineup unless someone else was injured.

It was Robles’ hamstring injury during the 2019 NLDS against the Dodgers, though, that again opened the door for Taylor to shine in October. He wound up starting five consecutive postseason games across the first two rounds, making a diving catch in shallow center field for the final out of the NLDS-clinching win in Los Angeles and homering both in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series in St. Louis and Game 2 of the World Series in Houston.

All told, in 16 career postseason games, Taylor hit .316 (12-for-38) with four homers, 10 RBIs and a 1.027 OPS.

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