I said i wouldn’t mention LaRoche again until he signed somewhere, so now I will open my trap again. I welcome him back, with a smirk on my face of course. What he may lose in productivity for being another year older, we will likely get back in continuity, defense, and locker room presence. Thankfully the initial reaction is that we do not necessarily have to trade away Morse. I really hope we keep him. Although he deserves to play every day, he will be a great asset to have in case someone gets hurt. Not to mention that he can spell both Werth and LaRoche fairly regularly, as they both have a lot of seasons on their bodies and can use some days off. Speaking of Werth, as clutch as that homer was in the playoffs, I’ll note again what an albatross that contract will be in the coming years. It would be interesting to see if we could get anything for him in a trade, then play Morse and/or Tyler Moore in that third spot. I realize that would upset team chemistry, but it would be yet another forward-thinking move by GM Mike Rizzo.
My last comment on Adam LaRoche for a while. Promise. I’ve come to the conclusion that I almost hope he goes elsewhere, such as the Rangers or Orioles. Why? Because 1) he’s not worth that third year and 2) we will get a first round sandwich pick from whichever team signs him. I know we’ve only been to the playoffs once in this reincarnation of a baseball team in Washington, but we do need to think long-term if we’re going to keep this success going. Let Morse and Tyler Moore play. There is a lot of pop in those 2 bats. Not as much glove, but definitely more pop. And younger pop.
That comment brings me to this: For the second time in the past few weeks, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post has penciled in Bryce Harper as the cleanup hitter for the Nats next season. I will eat crow if he is correct, but I do not think the Nats will put that kind of pressure on a 20-year old guy who has less than 1 full season on his resume. You can pencil in Morse (or LaRoche) as your cleanup hitter next season. Write that one down.
And that point leads me to one more thought. The Nats made a good move in acquiring Span to bat leadoff. But compare his last season to Harper’s first season. In 139 games, Harper put up a .270 average, 9 triples, 18 stolen bases, 56 walks, and a .340 OBP. In 128 games, Span had .283 average, 4 triples, 17 stolen bases, 47 walks, and a .342 OBP. Harper had significantly more strikeouts, but made up for it in HRs and OPS. Just think of what he’ll do with some more seasoning and better pitch selection. It’s scary. He could bat anywhere in the lineup, but my guess is it will be 2nd or 5th, not 4th.
When I saw that Jack McGeary had been taken by the Red Sox, my first reaction was surprise. It seems like yesterday that we drafted him in the 6th round, but paid him first round money and paid for his education at Stanford, granting him a unique schedule as well so that he could go to college as well as pursue minor league ball. Time flies, and that was five years ago. It’s also one UCL surgery later, and his stats last year in the minors were not impressive. Perhaps a fresh start in Boston will motivate him to live up to his lofty expectations of 5 years ago. If not, he won’t make the team and he’ll be offered back to the Nats by rule. We lost 4 other players as well, which is always unfortunate, but at the same time a compliment to our scouting staff and minor league system
A quick note on some recent free agent signings, specifically Scutaro and Victorino. I’m so relieved that we are not a team overpaying for a past-his-prime player that will have a very difficult time living up to his contract. I was shocked by the money those two got. And as for today’s Josh Hamilton signing, I’m just glad he stayed in the American League!
A couple of things just give me a warm feeling. Mike Rizzo saying they’ve pretty much laid their offer to LaRoche on the table and are not changing it. We’ve come a long way from a few years ago where we had to way overpay to sign a ‘big’ free agent in Werth. Haren signed a 1-year deal to play here because he wants to win. Rizzo is now holding fast because he believes LaRoche feels the same way. With Loney and Napoli being signed and filling 1B needs for other teams, the market for LaRoche is growing smaller. I’d welcome him back, but again only for the 2 year deal.
If that happens, some baseball minds are saying that we’ll trade Michael Morse. I would hope that only happens if we get some solid value in return, not just a few low level minor league guys. Sure, he’ll be a free agent next year and if we lose him we’ll get nothing. But these are the new Nats. We don’t have to wring every piece of value at every turn. In past years, we did this to prepare for the future. Well, the future is here. I’d be happy keeping morse. There will always be injuries on any given team. Look at the outfield last year. Morse himself missed significant time, as did Werth. While I don’t wish for injuries, they do happen and it would be great to have Morse around for insurance. I really like his bat, and I believe he’s well-liked by teammates and an important part of the clubhouse. The biggest issue may be a roster crunch, with Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina both needing bench spots as well. But it’s still early in this process, and the roster numbers are a long way out from being detemined.
First off, I like to see the addition of Dan Haren to the pitching staff. I expect he’ll be an almost identical plug-in for Edwin Jackson, in terms of eating innings and hopefully hitting a double-digit win total. He brings some solid veteran experience to the staff and team. But he’s also a few years older than Edwin, and he had some injury issues last season. Let’s hope he does not break down this season and leave us with a hole there. Kudos to Mike Rizzo for getting him on a one-year deal. Also great that we did not have to surrender any draft picks, since he was non-tendered by the Angels.
On the flip side of this, the move apparently puts to rest for now the rumors of an Espinosa for Shields deal with the Rays. I’ve been meaning to examine our second base situation, and this provides a good opportunity. Simply put, Espinosa needs to cut down on his strikeout total or he needs to be traded or moved into a utility role. He’s a great fielder, but his batting average and strikeout totals need to improve if he is to remain an everyday player. Hopefully the rumors will serve as a wakeup call to him and he will work on his hitting in the offseason. I’d be interested to see what Lombo could do in a full-time role. Obviously you lose some power, but his average might make up for it in other ways. His range is also similar to Espinosa’s. We’ll see what happens in this regard over the next few weeks.
The Nats traded for Denard Span today, dealing Alex Meyer to the Twins. The move likely means the Nats weren’t feeling good about re-signing LaRoche. That either means Michael Morse will play first base, or he will be traded. While his defense at first is nothing close to LaRoche’s, I kind of hope he stays there, in the spirit of team continuity and clubhouse cohesiveness. The Nats have great chemistry in their clubhouse, and to me that’s one of the biggest intangibles in baseball. I’d hate to see a lot of disruption there. As for losing Meyer, I hate to see a young pitcher with such promise get traded, but since it’s for a bona fide starter whom the Nationals control for the next 3 seasons, I can see why they made the deal. You need to give up quality to get quality. As for LaRoche, it will be interesting to see where he ends up. If it’s with a bottom-dweller, he may find himself wishing later he hadn’t demanded an additional year and a few extra million for his last big contract versus a chance to get to the playoffs for the next 2 years. Some guys are motivated by competing for a title, and some just want the big money. I thought he was the former, but time will tell if he is the latter.
It’s been long enough since our heartbreaking end to the season that I can compose some thoughts without letting my emotions run roughshod over my writing. I can find solace in the fact that we are a team on the upswing and not an aging squad that was giving it one last hurrah this season. We were the second youngest team in the majors this season, which makes the team’s accomplishments that much more admirable. Congratulations to the 2012 team. You really provided us with a great season.
Moving on to our potential offseason moves, thankfully we don’t have a ton of holes to fill. We do have some interesting questions though. The first is obviously first base. I was at the game where the crowd cheered loudly when LaRoche got his 100th RBI. But that subtle uptick from a 2-digit to 3-digit total, combined with his subsequent Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, likely made his new salary demand jump by a few million per year. I believe the key here is not the money though. If he would sign for 2 years, I’d love to have him back. His glove was truly impressive and saved a lot of potential errors this year. But I would not want to get locked into a deal longer than that. His offensive production is bound to drop substantially in a third or fourth year, and at something like $15 million per year, we don’t need that albatross in those years. Additionally, we have a capable young rising star that could play there: Tyler Moore. The guy needs a plce to play, and has some real nice pop in his bat. The big question is his glove. I have not see him play enough at first base (I don’t get to see any minors games where he played there extensively), so I don’t know his true fielding skills. But if that’s his natural position and the Nats had him paying there in the minors, then they must believe in his glove. Michael Morse could also be an option. Although he played capable defense as a regular there in 2011, he was not a gold glove caliber fielder. Whichever way the chips fall, I believe we’ll have a more than capable solution at first base.