The Nationals have activated veteran second baseman Daniel Murphy from the disabled list, per a club announcement. He’ll bat fifth and serve as the DH in today’s interleague contest. Murphy takes the roster spot of infielder Adrian Sanchez, who was optioned down to Triple-A.
The 33-year-old Murphy has been out all season while recovering from offseason microfracture surgery to his right knee. Indications are that he’s not at full speed in the field and on the bases, but evidently the team determined that he was ready to chip in at the MLB level and would not unduly risk further injury.
It’s a tough spot for all involved. Entering the year, the plan was for Murphy to take his time working back to health, with veteran Howie Kendrick filling in for the meantime. But Kendrick is among the many notable Nats players who have gone down with injuries of their own, and Murphy has seemingly not come along quite as smoothly as might have been hoped.
In the meantime, even despite the various losses, the Nationals have a bit of a roster logjam on their hands. It’s still not quite pressing, particularly since Murphy is likely not to resume playing every day immediately upon his return, but all the makings of a tough call are in place. The D.C. organization is working with a five-man bench that won’t be sustainable once Ryan Zimmerman is ready to be activated and when the team is finally forced to add some pitching back onto the roster, which will happen in short order.
If and when the Nationals are at full health on the position-player side, the team will have to make some tough decisions. One or two current position players will need to be moved out. Reserves Mark Reynolds and Brian Goodwin could both be at risk, but both would have to be exposed to waivers if removed from the active roster. Optioning Wilmer Difo is a possibility, but that’d mean going without a reserve capable of playing shortstop. Michael Taylor also has an option year left, but he’s been on fire and is the team’s best defender in center and lone right-handed-hitting outfielder.
That leaves one glaring, but unappealing possibility: optioning young outfielder Juan Soto. The nineteen-year-old was called up to the majors as something of a desperation move when Goodwin, Adam Eaton, and then Kendrick went down, representing the culmination of a remarkable early-season sprint through the farm. Having played in only 32 games in 2017 due to injury, Soto opened the current season at Class A. After 16 games there, he moved to High-A. He played 15 more before a quick bump to Double-A, with his promotion coming on the same day that Eaton’s surgery was announced. After just eight contests at the Double-A level, Soto was in the majors. Through 19 big-league games, he carries a .328/.431/.541 slash with three home runs and as many walks as strikeouts (11 apiece).
Generally, it’s preferable to deal with this situation than the one that presented itself earlier in the season, when the position-player picture looked rather bleak for the Nationals. Perhaps the club will even find a way to resolve some of its roster crunch in a manner that will help bolster its pitching staff, which is newly in need of buttressing even as the health situation improves on the other side of the roster.
In the meantime, the Nationals and their medical staff will watch Murphy closely to see how he’s progressing. If he can produce anything like the .334/.387/.569 output he carries through two seasons in D.C., it’ll be easy to look past some limitations in other aspects of his game. Other teams will be watching as well, as Murphy is slated for a return trip onto the open market at the close of the 2018 campaign.