1:55pm: The Nationals have announced the moves.
12:06pm: The Nationals will activate Ryan Zimmerman from the injured list today and open a spot on the active roster by optioning outfielder Michael A. Taylor to Double-A Harrisburg, Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com reports.
Taylor, 28, has been a fixture on the Nationals’ roster since 2017, when he hit .271/.320/.486 with 19 homers, 23 doubles, three triples and 17 steals in 432 plate appearances. He’d entered that season projected to be a fourth outfielder but wound up logging significant outfield innings when Adam Eaton went down with an ACL tear in April. His followup campaign in 2018, however, saw Taylor bat just .227/.287/.357 in 385 trips to the plate. He did manage a career-best 24 steals in 30 attempts last year.
Despite Bryce Harper’s departure in free agency, a regular spot in the outfield for Taylor hasn’t opened up. Washington has seen vaunted prospects Juan Soto and Victor Robles emerge as productive big leaguers over the past two seasons, and the veteran Eaton is still under contract and controlled through the 2021 season via a pair of club options. Taylor was already in line for a reserve role due to the presence of that trio, but he’s seen his playing time reduced even further by the team’s signing of Gerardo Parra.
The option is of note on many levels for Taylor, who agreed to a $3.25MM salary this offseason in arbitration. He entered 2019 with four years and 10 days of Major League service time, meaning he needed another 162 days at the MLB level to cross the five-year threshold in service time and remain on track for free agency following the 2020 season. Presently, he’s only accrued 91 days of service, so he still needs another 71 days in the Majors to reach that level. There are only 95 days between now and the end of the season, and Taylor will need to stay down for a minimum of 10 days unless he returns in place of an injured player. That creates a real possibility that this optional assignment could push back his free agency by a year. The move will also burn his final minor league option.
Even with his struggles at the plate over the past two seasons, Taylor seems likely to be tendered a contract in the offseason. He’s a well-regarded defensive outfielder who can handle all three spots and offers some of the best speed in the game. His forthcoming arbitration raise won’t be especially large, either, and his excellent 2017 season is not yet that far in the rear-view mirror. As such, the potential delay of his free agency is all the more noteworthy. Taylor has also been a speculative trade asset in the past, and this demotion could prompt some outfield-needy clubs to inquire about his availability (if they haven’t already).
As for Zimmerman, he’ll step back into a lineup that has seen Matt Adams enjoy a recent homer binge while Howie Kendrick has hit well all season long in part-time duty at first base. Brian Dozier has heated up recently as well, further crowding the mix on the right side of the infield. Zimmerman wasn’t hitting well when he was placed on the injured list due to plantar fasciitis in late April, but he was quite productive in 2017-18, so he should give manager Dave Martinez another solid bat to add to the mix.