The whole of Taylor was a confounding, high-ceiling outfielder who never found his footing here. The outfield formed without him, with Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton settling in by 2019. Taylor’s chances became scarce and rushed. In September, near the end of Taylor’s seventh major league season, Andrew Stevenson supplanted him as the fourth outfielder of Washington’s immediate future. That left Taylor on waivers this week, then with a decision once he cleared and was outrighted to the Nationals’ Class AAA affiliate.
He could accept the minor league assignment or elect free agency. He chose the latter.
In all, Taylor is the sixth player to do so since the Nationals’ down year ended. Relievers Javy Guerra, Aaron Barrett, Roenis Elías, Paolo Espino and Sam Freeman cleared waivers and became free agents. James Bourque, Austen Williams, Adrián Sanchez and Raudy Read were outrighted to Class AAA, shaving the 40-man roster to 33 players before a handful of others hit the market in November. But Taylor’s departure is the most significant to date.
The Nationals drafted Taylor as a shortstop in the sixth round of the 2009 draft. He debuted in 2014, having already been shifted to the outfield, and was a regular by the next season. Taylor hit 15 doubles and 14 homers in 511 plate appearances in 2015. He was an excellent defender in center field. He profiled, at best, as an everyday player. If not, his glove, arm, speed and power made him a natural fit off the bench.
His peak in Washington came in 2017, when he had a strong year in place of the injured Eaton. Taylor hit .271 with a .320 on-base percentage and .486 slugging percentage and 19 homers. In Game 4 of the NLDS, he famously lifted the Nationals with a grand slam through the wind and rain at Wrigley Field. Then he crashed down from that high.
He struck out 116 times in just 385 plate appearances in 2018. The next year, when injuries offered another chance, Taylor couldn’t regain his timing and was sent to the minors. The Nationals recalled him in September and carried him for the NL wild-card game. More big playoff moments followed. First, Taylor pinch-hit against Josh Hader in the eighth inning of that wild-card contest. He was grazed by a fastball, sparking a rally, and scored on Soto’s three-run single.
But his time with the Nationals wound down as 2020 did. Taylor, like many players, struggled to find a rhythm in the shortened season. Stevenson, though, made a strong and steady push for Taylor’s role. The 26-year-old Stevenson finished the year on a 12-game hitting streak. He had a 1.321 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 10 extra-base hits in that stretch. It made it easy for Washington to envision Stevenson behind Soto, Robles and a free agent acquisition, should the club decline Eaton’s option for 2021.
That left no room for Taylor. So he leaves a mixed legacy behind.