Inbox: When will Nats make big moves?

Beat reporter Jamal Collier answers questions from Washington fans

May 13th, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- The Nationals are 16-24, checking in at the quarter mark as baseball’s most disappointing team -- and perhaps its most puzzling.

Injuries have derailed some of the Nats' 2019, while most of the team's plans this offseason have also not come to fruition. Washington's bullpen has been a mess all season, with an ERA well over 6.00. Its top three starters have been dominant and the back-end shaky, but Nationals’ starters still own the second-best FIP (3.47) in the National League; the Reds are first at 3.39. The Nats' defense is one of the worst in the Majors, though. Their lineup had been so decimated by injuries that they had to turn this week to journeyman Gerardo Parra, who hit a go-ahead grand slam Saturday.

As the team returns home after a 3-7 road trip, and with an off-day to regroup before a six-game homestand against the Mets and Cubs, it’s a good time to check in with the fans for the latest Nationals Inbox.

When do you get the feeling that this team is going to make sizeable moves, either with management, front office or players?
-- @TheNatsFanatic

Regarding manager Dave Martinez’s job status -- a question I got in some form numerous times this week -- it’s true that the Nationals have not performed to their expectations under Martinez for what is now the second consecutive season, his overall record with the team sitting at just 98-104. That’s a far cry from the 97-65 record Dusty Baker achieved in 2017, his final season as manager before his contract was not renewed by the team. Are the current issues Martinez’s doing? I wouldn’t list him as one of the top reasons for why the season has gone wrong, but as the dismissal of pitching coach Derek Lilliquist a few weeks ago showed, when a team fails to live up to expectations, changes are often on the horizon.

General manager Mike Rizzo has continued to give Martinez his full support at every turn. He did so when he discussed Lilliquist’s firing. He did it again when speaking to the Washington Post and during a radio interview to 106.7 the Fan just days after. For now, the chatter about dismissing Martinez seems to be largely outside the organization, or at least not from the GM’s chair. Martinez has not lost the Nationals' clubhouse (i.e., like Matt Williams in 2015) and the players and front office still seem to support him.

It’s also worth pointing out, however, that Rizzo threw his full support behind Baker at the end of 2017, yet Baker still did not return as manager when ownership decided to make a change.

As far as any sizable moves with the 25-man roster go, it takes two to tango. Rizzo is aware of his team’s shortcomings in the bullpen, and he will pursue any viable options to fix them. We’re only about 40 games into the season and the only teams that own a worse record than Washington play in Miami, Baltimore and Kansas City; Toronto began Monday with the same 16-24 record. To make a “substantial” trade for a reliever would require another team also to be ready to deal someone of consequence. It’s probably too early for the Nats’ annual midseason reliever upgrade.

And it’s also time to take stock of what that yearly move has cost them. To make these midseason upgrades in the bullpen, the Nationals have traded away to the Phillies for in 2015, to the Pirates for in '16 and and to the A’s for and in '17. Add in shipping away and last summer without much return, and it’s easy to see why the Nats’ farm system does not have the depth to withstand the number of injuries they have had this season. It’s also probably worth mentioning that Washington still does not appear interested in exceeding the competitive balance tax, which will likely put limitations on how much it can add this season.

If a turnaround is coming soon, the players on the roster and returning from the injured list are going to be responsible for it.

What is Michael A. Taylor's future with the team? He's been given every chance to perform, but he has not shown he is capable of hitting MLB pitching. The strikeout rate of over 50 percent is ridiculous.
-- Brian G., Arlington, Va.

I’ve been wondering what the Nationals are going to do with because he is off to such a miserable offensive start. He's posted a dismal .163/.250/.209 slash line while striking out 23 times in 49 plate appearances (46.9 percent) with little power (no homers, two doubles). The swing adjustment he worked on all offseason and honed during winter ball in the Dominican Republic is not working, and Taylor owns minus-0.3 WAR, according to FanGraphs. With injuries still taking their toll on the roster, Taylor probably still has a place on this team for now, at least as an elite defensive center fielder.

Here’s something else that hasn’t worked out how the Nationals intended: keeping Taylor and trading to the Royals last year to sort out the outfield logjam in D.C. Although Goodwin was cut out of Spring Training in Kansas City, he is hitting .304/.377/.487 with 0.6 WAR, according to FanGraphs, for the Angels right now.

Doesn’t it make more sense to put Taylor in left field when Juan Soto sits, instead of moving both Victor Robles and Adam Eaton off their natural position?
-- Zay

I’ve seen a few people wonder this as well, and I completely disagree. Taylor should absolutely be playing center field when he’s in the game -- he’s been one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball with a much better arm than or , and with much better range. The key should be to put the best defensive alignment on the field, and sticking the best defensive outfielder in the corner does not do that.

Has anyone gotten an up-close look at Trevor Rosenthal in Florida or during his appearance the other night? Did he tweak his mechanics enough to throw strikes?
-- Aron G., Myrtle Beach, S.C.

I have not been to Florida or Harrisburg to see , but the reports from the Nats after his first outing were encouraging. He threw a scoreless inning, and eight of his 11 pitches were strikes, which is about all you can ask for. He’ll meet the team in D.C. this week and throw a bullpen session before he continues his Minor League rehab assignment for at least a couple more appearances.

Eventually, Rosenthal is going to find his way back into Washington's bullpen, and that’s when he will have to prove he can throw strikes and get batters out. Until then, I’m not sure what to make of extended spring outings or appearances against Double-A hitters.