Washington Nationals Offseason Questions: The Corner Outfield Situation

Washington Nationals Outfield

The Washington Nationals are heading to the offseason early this season as they failed to reach .500 for the first time since 2011, where they went 80-81. The Nationals have already made major moves in the dugout as they extended manager Dave Martinez, but did not retain Paul Menhart, Chip Hale, and Kevin Long.

Heading into a critical offseason, the Nationals have many questions across their roster, including the corner infield spots, the back-end of the rotation, and the corner outfield situation. Despite a disappointing season, Victor Robles should be the starting center fielder next season. Juan Soto will be at one of the other spots. Soto, who has been a left fielder in the majors, played six games in right field in 2020. With Adam Eaton‘s $10.5 million player option, and Andrew Stevenson’s tear at the end of the season, and the lack of a power bat, the Nationals have a major question in the outfield heading into 2021.

Adam Eaton’s Team Option

When Adam Eaton was acquired in 2016 from the Chicago White Sox, it was championship or bust for the Nationals over the course of his contract. The Nationals gave up a consensus top-three prospect across MLB in Lucas Giolito, another top 50 prospect, Reynaldo Lopez, and a soon-to-be top 100 prospect, Dane Dunning.

After tearing his ACL in 2017, Adam Eaton has played in 269 games from 2017-2019. He hit .288, had an OBP of .377, and slugged 22 home runs over his tenure. Despite the non-flashy stat sheet, Eaton was instrumental to the Nationals’ success, with his quality at-bats and solid walk to strikeout ratio. Eaton was a staple at the top of the order with Trea Turner, setting up the Nationals daunted middle of the order that had Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, and Anthony Rendon over his tenure. In the 2019 postseason, Eaton was very valuable to the Nationals World Series victory as he hit .320 with two home runs, and had six runs batted in the Series.

However, Eaton had a dreadful 2020 season, the worst season of his career. Eaton mustered career-lows in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS as he hit just .226 on the season. He had almost three times the number of strikeouts than walks, striking out 32 times to just 12 walks. To cap off Eaton’s struggles, Eaton ended the season on the IL with a broken finger. This offseason, the Washington Nationals will most likely not pick up Eaton’s $10.5 million club option. Washington could sign him at a lower price as they did with Yan Gomes the last offseason.

Andrew Stevenson’s Big Surge

Andrew Stevenson was one of the most unlikely stories of September. Often shuffling between the minors, Stevenson got consistent starts once Adam Eaton went down with an injury. Heading into September 18th, Steveson had yet to get a base hit in 2020. However, Stevenson went on a tear. He ended the season on a 12-game hitting streak, batting .417 with 10 extra-base hits in just 10 starts. Nationals’ manager, Davey Martinez took note of Stevenson’s emergence late in the season. Not only was Stevenson a consistent bat at the top of the lineup, but he also plays solid defense in both right and left field, with speed on the basepaths. 

From 2017 to 2019, Stevenson had just a .241 batting average with one home run. It may be difficult to head into the 2021 season with him pegged as a starting fielder with a sample size of just 12 games. But, Stevenson does play hard and could be a spark that the Washington Nationals are looking for to potentially replace Adam Eaton. With Michael A. Taylor a free agent, Stevenson should at least be the fourth outfielder, despite Taylor’s excellent defense and power. 

Impactful Free Agents in 2021

Perhaps the biggest loss for the Washington Nationals after the departure of Anthony Rendon was in the power department. They were 21st in baseball in home runs with just 66. The Nationals counted on Eric Thames to produce the longball in the middle of the Nationals lineup, but he had a frustrating 2020 campaign as he went deep just three times. Since Eaton and Stevenson are not power bats, the Nationals could look towards big-name free agents to fill the gaping hole in the middle of the order. Given their big investment in starting pitching and reluctance to re-sign Anthony Rendon, Washington may not be willing to pay top dollar for a bat. But, it should definitely be a conversation. 

The top four names on the free-agent market are George Springer, Marcell Ozuna, Joc Pederson, and Michael Brantley. Springer had an MVP-caliber season in 2020 and has been a three-time all-star with the Astros. While Springer and Ozuna will be more in the upper-tier of free agents, Michael Brantley and Joc Pederson would be intriguing options for the Nationals. Brantley played right field for the first time in 2019, so Juan Soto would most likely need to transition to left field. However, with the age and production taken into account, Joc Pederson seems to make the most sense for Washington. He had a down 2020 season, which could lower the price tag, but he has a massive upside and is relatively young, at 28-years old. 

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