Werth is about to have surgery. The upside is he's supposed to be ready in 2-3 months. That makes the best case that he returns in time for the bulk of Spring Training and the worst case he returns just a week into the season.
The downside is everything else.
Jayson Werth is no
spring chicken. He'll be 36 in May and things tend to have more impact
the older you are. The recovery can take longer and the return to
previous skill level can take longer. If he's not ready by that 3 month date then things start to get a little hairy on who replaces him (we'll get to that in a minute). Worse would be if he is ready to play but not at his typical level. Last year after he sat out he came back hot - hitting .367 with 4 homers in just 15 games. But then all the power went away and he hit zero homers in his last 20 games. The optimist sees someone that can rake if his shoulder feels right. The pessimist sees someone who's a 17 million dollar Singly Joe if it's not.
Let's now assume he looks to be reaching that 3 month limit on recovery. As noted in the last post, the presumed replacement, Souza, was traded away. That's fine, it was a good deal, but it wasn't made in a vacuum. You lose Souza and you do have to replace him. The quick answer right now on who gets Werth's week of playing time is McLouth but if it's more than a couple weeks you don't want McLouth eating up those at bats. Taylor is a possibility for a longer replacement, but there's the flipside problem. You don't want to bring him up to get a few at bats for 2 weeks. You also have no idea if he can handle major league pitching yet. So you can't really plan on that right now. Tyler Moore has been floated out there as well. But no. No. Stop trying to make Tyler Moore a thing.
There isn't a good option, the 4th OF who you wouldn't mind playing for a week or if needed, a month. Instead the Nats have two different options for two different scenarios. All isn't lost but the Nats are going to have to make sure they have a good grasp on Jayson's recovery time so they can use the right player.
This also doesn't bode well for down the line. I talked about it just last post. Werth is an injury risk. Zimm is. Bryce is a lesser one. Span even has had concussion issues that caused him to miss a ton of games a few years ago. That's a scary one where one bump on the head might cost you a season. The Nats need a solid bench with at the very least no OF holes and a 1B who can play everyday if needed. Injuries have a way of causing more injuries and we shouldn't just assume if Werth is ready by Opening Day that he'll be playing 154 games. I think, in fact, you have to assume the opposite and pencil Werth in for 120.
Who makes the most sense? As has been the case for the past couple months, Zobrist does. He plays OF. He plays 2B. Perfect. Supposedly the asking price is high. Well there's a difference between Cole and Goodwin high and Giolito and Taylor high. Find out what high it is. As for the FAs whenwe just look at the OF - Colby Rasmus would be a pretty decent fit. He's the Danny Espinosa of the OF, better suited to the bench than a starting gig, but able to hold his own playing everyday. But it's likely he'll hold out for a starting job. (maybe with the O's - things look iffy over there - the Nats 4th OF possibility is their hopeful Nelson Cruz esque savior). The remainder of the players available are pretty much the same. Roughly 30 year olds who aren't particularly bad at offense or defense, but certainly not good. One of the nearly dozen of these guys will have a good year. Good luck figuring out which one it is. They like Nate SheerHoles? Sure. Whatever. Honestly, if you are going to go with a cheap guy ... I suppose Eric Young might be ok. He checks the marks for that last OF role - good fielder, can steal a base, not huge strikeout guy. Or if he'd do it, Ichiro is an interesting play here (another guy the O's might use to start... man they better hope everyone else is healthy) But that's filling a role on a team with Werth, not potentially without him.
Truth is, as you might imagine, it's hard to find a back-up OF who would be ok starting because they are most likely going to find a starting job somewhere else. That's why we like Zobrist so much. The Nats have a guy who might hold his own starting, but you'd rather have him on the bench. We just talked about him. Danny Espinosa. Get Zobrist, push Danny to the bench and then if an OF injury happens and he's forced into duty, well oh well, you deal with it. You get Zobrist and those 40 games without Werth you expect are now 40 games of Danny at 2B, rather than 40 games of McLouth or Hairston or Reed Johnson or whoever in the OF, very possibly contributing nothing, not even good D.
I guess I'd end this by saying Werth's injury is no cause for panic. He should be ready for the vast majority, if not all of the season, and even a singly Joe Werth has value. This isn't going to derail the year by itself. However, I would take it as a giant sign to get Zobrist on the team. It makes too much sense not to do it.