Washington Nationals Editorial: With Denard Span unlikely to return, Michael Taylor is the future at CF


When the Washington Nationals decided not to extend a qualifying offer to Denard Span, the team not only demonstrated that they don’t want to take a risk on an injured player, but they also showed that they have full faith in Michael A. Taylor as the future in center field.

Prior to yesterday’s 5 p.m. deadline to give qualifying offers to eligible free agents, many predicted that the Nationals would offer deals to their top-3 free agents: Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, and Span. Doug Fister was also a qualifying offer candidate, but it was less likely the team would offer him one after his sluggish 2015 campaign.

As expected, the Nationals extended qualifying offers to Zimmermann and Desmond. Both players are among the top free agent options at their positions this winter and are likely to get lucrative long-term deals, so it’s highly unlikely that either will accept the $15.8 million qualifying offer. In a somewhat surprising move, however, the team did not extend a qualifying offer to Span.

Of course, it makes sense that the team was apprehensive about committing so much money — even on a one-year deal — for a player that spent the bulk of 2015 on the disabled list and is recovering from hip surgery. Span has arguably been the best center fielder in Nationals history during his three-year stint with the ball club but he only played in 61 games last season, and with no guarantee that he can be fully healthy by Spring Training, it wasn’t worth risking $15.8 million.

It should also be noted that no player has ever actually accepted a qualifying offer. But given the circumstances surrounding Span’s impending free agency, there was definitely an argument to be made for accepting the offer.

From Span’s perspective, his value undoubtedly dropped after his injury-riddled 2015 campaign, and a one-year deal could’ve helped him prove that he’s healthy enough to command a better deal next offseason. For the Nationals, having Span on board for one more year would assure them a proven center fielder and leadoff hitter and a much-needed left-handed bat in the lineup every night.

Of course, Taylor was essentially an everyday player last year and he’ll be ready to play center field in 2016. But if the Nationals didn’t think Taylor was ready to play everyday, having Span on a one-year basis could help bridge the gap until Taylor is ready.

All of these factors likely went into the Nationals’ decision to not give Span a qualifying offer. The team clearly believes — rightfully so, perhaps — that Span is not worth $15.8 million, and that if they had offered him the deal, he might have actually accepted it. Further, it’s clear that the Nationals are fully confident that Taylor is ready to be a successful everyday player in 2015.

The 23-year-old played well in his rookie 2015 campaign, hitting .229 with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs. While his offensive output wasn’t great, he showed flashes of greatness at the plate and came through in several high-pressure moments. He also played elite defense in center field all year long.

Next: Washington Nationals 2015 Player Review: Trea Turner

If Taylor can take things a step further in 2016 and become an offensive threat, the Nationals won’t have any issues in center field. With Span likely moving on to another team, the future at that position lies solely on Taylor’s shoulders. We won’t know for sure if Taylor can make up for the loss of Span until next season. One thing’s for certain, the Nationals are convinced that he’s the guy — all he has to do is prove them right.