The latest victim of the dark cloud hovering over the Nationals outfield is Nate McLouth, the veteran outfielder who spent much of last season as the team’s fourth outfielder. It was reported just a few days ago that McLouth is still experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired throwing arm, leaving his availability for Opening Day in doubt.
This would have been bad enough news without the issues with Jayson Werth and Denard Span. Now, it’s near devastating. The Nationals outfield is quickly running out of bodies to fill it. Michael Taylor has already been selected to take the place of Span; Jayson Werth is still on schedule to return for Opening Day; and Bryce Harper is still healthy in right.
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But who will the Nationals keep on the roster as the fourth outfielder? Will they select someone from their current crop of outfielders in spring training, or will they bring in a veteran free agent? That still remains to be seen.
There’s plenty of merit to bringing in a veteran outfielder. The Nats need someone who can be ready quickly. There’s only two weeks left before Opening Day, and someone with big league experience would be more likely to step in and make an immediate impact on the team.
With that being said, the better option for Washington is to stick with the players currently on their roster because they already have what they need.
First, there’s Tyler Moore, the 28-year-old who’s played in 180 games for the Nationals, logging time in both left field and right field. As District on Deck co-editor Pablo Roa wrote, Moore is a good player who’s hitting the ball well this spring and deserves to be on the Opening Day roster for the Nationals. Moore also brings versatility to the Nats dugout. His ability to also play first base offers them the ability to rest Ryan Zimmerman occasionally to keep him fresh.
But there’s also another more intriguing option for the Nationals as a fourth outfielder, and it’s someone who also has the requisite veteran experience.
Tony Gwynn Jr. joined the Nationals March 1 after spending last year with division rival Philadelphia. Over the course of his eight professional seasons, Gwynn has also played for the Brewers, Padres, and the Dodgers, logging a triple slash line of .238/.309/.310. He hits well, though his power numbers may leave something to be desired.
Gwynn is also an above-average outfielder. He’s played all three positions, and in every season except his rookie year and 2014, he’s posted a positive UZR/150, according to FanGraphs. That offers the Nationals the option of resting their other everyday outfielders whenever the need arises.
While Gwynn’s offensive numbers were down last season, some of that may at least be attributed to the off-the-field issues that Gwynn was going through as his father passed away. It’s reasonable to assume, especially given the way he’s played this spring, that Gwynn should have a bounce back year in 2015.
There’s also the connection with Stephen Strasburg to consider. Tony Gwynn Sr. coached and mentored Strasburg at San Diego State, where Stephen and Tony Jr. saw plenty of each other. It would be a treat to see those two take the field together, and there’s something to be said for that.
So, while the Nationals outfield continues to suffer from injuries, there’s no need to panic and rush out to sign or trade for another outfielder just to weather the temporary rash of injuries that have hit the Washington outfield. The Nationals already have two viable options for a fourth outfielder on the roster in the persons of Tyler Moore and Tony Gwynn Jr.