Updated at 6:23 p.m.
VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals made several major decisions this afternoon, nearly finalizing their Opening Day roster after cutting infielders Tyler Moore and Jamey Carroll, plus pitchers Ryan Mattheus, Xavier Cedeno and Chris Young.
Moore, Mattheus and Cedeno were optioned to Class AAA Syracuse, where they will open the season. Carroll and Young, who were in camp on minor-league contracts, were released and immediately become free agents.
The domino effect: Rookie reliever Aaron Barrett will make the club as the final man in the Nationals' bullpen, the loser of the Tanner Roark/Taylor Jordan battle for the fifth starter's job will be sent to Syracuse and the final spot on the bench will go either to utilityman Jeff Kobernus or catcher Sandy Leon.
"None of them were easy," manager Matt Williams said of the five cuts made shortly after the Nationals' 7-3 exhibition win over the Mets. "But they're moves we had to make, and I wanted to let them know certainly today so they can make plans for anything they need to make plans for."
The biggest surprise of the day: Neither Moore nor Carroll will make the Opening Day roster, despite plenty of indications up to this point that those were the two competitors for the final spot on the Nationals' bench. The decision, though, came down to the fact Williams didn't believe either guy would get much — if any — playing time, aside from pinch-hitting opportunities.
For the still-developing Moore, a chance to get regular at-bats as Syracuse's first baseman and left fielder better prepares him for an eventual call-up down the road.
"Tyler's history is that when he has consistent at-bats, he does well," Williams said. "It's tough when you're not getting those at-bats. He's a player that needs them to stay sharp. I can understand that. So that's the reason behind Tyler. He needs at-bats, and he needs to be ready if we need him."
Williams called the decision to release Carroll "the toughest one I've had so far." The 40-year-old infielder was hoping to make a triumphant return to Washington nine years after holding a key role on the inaugural 2005 Nationals club. But with Danny Espinosa now positioned to back up at second base and shortstop, Williams didn't foresee a scenario in which Carroll would get much opportunity to contribute and wanted to give the veteran time to potentially sign with another club before Opening Day.
"There are other teams out there that are looking for a middle infielder," the first-time manager said. "I certainly want to allow him to do that, and help him to do that if we can. I think there's more in the tank for him, and I think he'll land somewhere and get a big-league job and continue to do what he does. He's a pro in every aspect."
The Nationals now either must acquire another position player who may be available at the last minute or choose between two unforeseen candidates for the last spot on their bench: Kobernus and Leon. Kobernus, who can play second base, left field and center field, would bring speed to the table and could be used in pinch-running situations. Leon would wind up as the third catcher on the roster, an usual configuration but one that would free up starter Wilson Ramos to pinch-hit on days he doesn't start.
"I want to get — if at all possible in that scenario — Wilson Ramos as many at-bats as I can," said Williams, who added the decision may not be made until after the club heads north Thursday night. "He's one of our best RBI guys. He can certainly drive a run in. And if that's the way we go, it frees us up to go ahead and do that, earlier in a game than we normally would do that. So that's a consideration we're looking at."
In selecting Barrett over Mattheus, Cedeno and Michael Gonzalez (who was released earlier in the day) as the final member of their bullpen, the Nationals decided to reward one of their own top prospects for a dazzling performance this spring. Barrett, 26, has not allowed a run in 9 2/3 innings, striking out seven without walking a batter. The right-hander posted a 2.15 ERA with 26 saves last season at Class AA Harrisburg, and club officials are convinced he's ready to make the leap to the majors.
"When it came down to it, Aaron has showed us that he's able to compete at this level," Williams said. "He's attacked guys. He'll be a valuable piece to our bullpen and get into a lot of games for us."
Barrett joins closer Rafael Soriano, fellow right-handers Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen, plus left-handers Ross Detwiler and Jerry Blevins in the Nationals' Opening Day bullpen. That group won't include the loser of the down-to-the-wire battle between Roark and Jordan for the final spot in Washington's rotation.
Both right-handers are remaining in camp for now, with the Nationals waiting to make sure No. 4 starter Doug Fister is going to be fully ready to open the season on time after missing three weeks with elbow inflammation. Assuming that happens as planned, Williams said whoever isn't selected between Roark and Jordan will begin the year in the Syracuse rotation.
As was the case with several players who made the difficult walk to his office this afternoon, Williams will make sure to tell either Roark or Jordan that his services will almost certainly be needed sometime this season.
"We all know that you go north with 25," the manager said, "but it's never just 25."