Inbox: Who's in the outfield for 2018?

Beat reporter Jamal Collier fields questions from Nationals fans

Inbox: Who's in the outfield for 2018?

WASHINGTON -- With the Major League Baseball offseason officially underway, the Hot Stove is heating up for the Nats. So to explore some of the biggest questions the team faces this offseason, it's time for a Nationals Inbox.

This week's edition takes a look at some potential needs, targets, and whether a franchise stalwart will return.

 

First off, neither side has said they have ruled out a reunion. Jayson Werth spent seven years in Washington and started calling it his home. Werth wants to play in 2018 and would almost certainly be happy to work something out to remain with the Nationals next season. But honestly, I would be surprised to see Werth return to D.C.

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Werth receives ovation in finale

The organization played a tribute video for Werth on the video board during the final home game of the regular season -- not something a team does for a player it is trying to re-sign. Plus, Werth will be 39 years old in May and the Nationals' outfield is already somewhat crowded. Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper will start, and after his breakout season, Michael A. Taylor seems likely to be a starter, as well. Even with an injury, the Nationals have Victor Robles -- their top prospect and the No. 2 overall prospect in MLB as rated by MLBPipeline.com -- who should be just about Major League-ready, and Brian Goodwin showed he was a serviceable outfielder last season. So there just does not seem to be much room for Werth.

Robles shines in Fall Stars Game

The Nats had 11 free agents hit the market earlier this week, many of whom will likely not be back in Washington next season. However, there are a few I could see the club pursuing, such as Brandon Kintzler, Matt Albers and Howie Kendrick.

Kintzler makes sense as bullpen depth behind Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. Albers might be less likely to return, considering he will be 35 years old next season, and the Nats might not be willing to commit multiple years to him. Kendrick's availability will depend largely on if he believes he can find a starting spot -- or at least a role with more playing time than the Nationals can give him. Otherwise, he would fit perfectly into the kind of utility and bench role the Nats will be looking to fill next year.

Joe Ross had Tommy John surgery in July, which will keep him out at least until the middle of the season, if it doesn't jeopardize his 2018 entirely. It is possible that the Nationals, always focused on building for more pitching, could decide to go out and spend for another big starter at some point this offseason. More likely, however, is that there will be some sort of competition in Spring Training between non-roster invitees and in-house options to determine who opens the season with the job. Expect players such as A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde to receive a shot, but also the Nats could bring in a few veterans to audition, such as Edwin Jackson, who ended the season as the No. 5 starter.

Nats' Pipeline pitcher of 2017

A lot of catching questions this week, especially considering Matt Wieters exercised his player option that will pay him $10.5 million in 2018 to remain in Washington. It would be difficult to see a scenario where the Nats commit any sort of significant additional money to the catcher position. So I would expect the Nats to count on a bounceback year from Wieters and use Pedro Severino and Raudy Read to complement him. Otherwise, perhaps the team could explore some of the veteran catchers on the free agent market to serve as a backup, guys like Alex Avila, Nick Hundley or Miguel Montero.
 

If the Nationals can get good trade value, it's possible the club could trade either outfielder offseason, knowing that Robles is waiting in the wings and there is good outfield depth in general in the organization. Both Taylor and Goodwin took significant steps forward in 2017, but I'm not sure what the Nats would receive in exchange or what they should be aiming to receive.

Taylor's eight RBIs in NLDS

So in that case, I would probably not make this move right away, considering Harper's uncertain status after the 2018 season and the nature of injuries in the outfield. I'd begin the season with Taylor, Eaton and Harper in the outfield, with Goodwin as the fourth outfielder, and adjust whenever Robles forces his way to the Majors.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.