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Posted at 10:50 AM ET, 12/17/2010

The Nationals' options at first base

By Adam Kilgore

With the active Nationals having signed one outfielder (Jayson Werth) and traded away another (Josh Willingham), their most obvious need remains an Adam Dunn-sized hole at first base. With teams adding free agents in a frenzy the past few days, the Nationals may need to add one soon before their options run low.

"I'm not going to describe it as urgency," General Manager Mike Rizzo said. "We've been continually looking at our options here and discussing them with players and representatives. So we've had dialogue all along with several of our options. We're moving along in that direction."

At this point, the Nationals' primary choice is to acquire a free agent, with the likeliest options still Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee. LaRoche would be an ideal fit because his left-handed bat would offset Ryan Zimmerman and Werth in the middle of the lineup. (Ian Desmond, another right-handed hitter, may well hit second.)

Still, the Nationals are not making a left-handed first baseman a must. It's less dangerous for a team to use a lineup chocked with right-handers than left-handers. Lee, for instance, had a .773 OPS against righties last year. Against lefties, it was .777.

"The Marlins were really tough on us, and they were predominantly right-handed," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "I go back to the Dodgers of the '70s - they were all right-handed, and they went to the World Series a couple years in a row.

"If you can hit right-handers, it doesn't really matter. What happens is, if you can get a couple tough right-handed relievers, they can shut you down late. But if your righties can hit them, it doesn't really matter."

Another free agent possibility, particularly if the Nationals miss out on LaRoche and Lee, is Brad Hawpe. The Nationals could use a Morse-Hawpe platoon. Hawpe has not played first base in the majors, but he played in high school and some in college -- a few Nationals scouts actually watched him play first at Louisiana State in the late 90s. Hawpe had a brutal 2010 and was released by the Rockies, but could be a low-risk candidate for a bounce-back season.

The Nationals would prefer to sign a free agent because, "it's an easier acquisition" than a trade, Rizzo said. "All that takes is money." One possible trade target is Loney, whom one league source said Rizzo covets. Loney, 26, played 161 games for the Dodgers last year, but he hit .267/.329/.395 with 10 home runs, all below average for a first baseman. While the Nationals may have interest in Loney, the Los Angeles Times reported this winter that the Dodgers do not intend to trade him.

The last option for the Nationals, one very unlikely to come to fruition, is to use an internal candidate. If it came to that, the Nationals would play Michael Morse at first base.

"That would be our backup plan," Rizzo said. "Mike Morse is a guy who has a little experience at first base and has really had a breakthrough offensively last year. So he would be a viable candidate, but it's still a backup plan."

Given the trade of Willingham, it seems even less likely Morse would play first base. He'll be needed for a left-field platoon, barring any more outfield additions by the Nationals. And besides, any resolution aside from signing Lee or LaRoche would come as a surprise.

By Adam Kilgore  | December 17, 2010; 10:50 AM ET
 
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Comments

I love that there might be a little undercover war between the Nats and Baltimore to sign LaRoche. Really hope that we stick it to Angelos on this one - Nats fans deserve it.

Also think that Loney would shine outside of that weird LA situation. And at 26, he would be an ideal fit for the Nationals future plans. I'm wary of trading young players for a non-pitcher though.

Posted by: Kev29 | December 17, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

In NatsTown its always "dumpster diving" season. Sorry folks but I'm tired of hearing the same old company line "low risk, potential reward"! Your line-up consists of RZ and JayWerth and thats basically it. I guess that might be the reason why Harold Reynolds said the Nats are on the fast track to lose 100 in 11. The Lerners get off on movie premiers, Rizzo gets off on the "maybe" prospects and castoffs and the few baseball fans left in DC get the bill. Sounds alot like the current inhabitants of the Capitol Dome!

Posted by: TippyCanoe | December 17, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Hope its LaRoche. I think Lees best is behind him.

Posted by: cokedispatch | December 17, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I don't know why Michael Morse doesn't get more love.

In just under 600 career at-bats (a full MLB season), he has hit .291/.353/.456 with 21 homers and 88 RBI.

Last season he hit .289/.352/.519 in 266 at-bats with 15 home runs and 41 RBI.

Again, based on a full season, he would have hit .289-33-90.

No, I don't think he do that well, but a .280-25-85 seems likely. He reminds me of Jayson Werth and he hopes to be a Werth clone, maturing later in life.

Posted by: rushfari | December 17, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Harold Reynolds said the Nats are on the fast track to lose 100 in 11.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | December 17, 2010 11:25 AM

And I predict that Harold Reynolds is on the fast track to goose 100 MLB Network interns in '11.

Posted by: Kev29 | December 17, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

All this speculation just underlines the mistake Nats made in not re-signing Dunn when they could've. This off-season is starting to look like a wash - lose Willingham & Dunn, sign Werth & ??? at first base, lose 1 hard-throwing reliever & trade for another. No new starting pitching, the Nats most glaring weakness. And why, again, are fans supposed to be enthusiastic about the upcoming season?

Hate to be so negative, cuz I do think Rizzo is trying to do a good job here. But not much to cheer about so far. And if SS turns out to be damaged goods & ends up in the bullpen, then we've got real troubles.

Oh well, at least we'll get another top draft pick. Yay.

Posted by: nyskinsdiehard | December 17, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Give Morse the chance for once.He can do it

Posted by: chiro1623 | December 17, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

They just have to get a 20+ HR threat from the left side.

They can point to this or that club from 30 years ago managing to do it, or even oddly to the Marlins of 2010 and their below MLB average offensive stats (15th in Runs, 15th in SLG, 18th AVG, 20th OBP), all they want. They need a LH slugging bat badly and 1B is the logical place to fill the need. And with Dunn, Konerko, Pena, LaRoche and Overbay on the market, it would be a pretty glaring failure if they did not come away with one. I mean, all it takes is money, right?

Posted by: dfh21 | December 17, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Konerko was resigned. Overbay signed with Pittsburgh. Pena signed with the Cubs.

Really there is a choice left between Lee and LaRoche.

Then you can go dumpster diving for guys like Brad Hawpe that were good 3 years ago.

Posted by: RoyHobbs4 | December 17, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

This team barely had Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann last year and Willingham was non-existent for the 2nd 1/2 of the year and Dunn was never clutch so not sure where Harold Reynolds gets his predictions from.

If this team gets LaRoche, I see a real legit shot at over 70 wins. Sure, it won't be a playoff team, but lets see where we go from here in the off-season.

Still hoping to have Strasburg back in September and the surpise September callup of Bryce Harper!

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | December 17, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

And if SS turns out to be damaged goods & ends up in the bullpen, then we've got real troubles.

Posted by: nyskinsdiehard | December 17, 2010 11:41 AM

Wow - look out for that sky coming at you!

Posted by: Kev29 | December 17, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

If Morse is the starting first baseman, I'm un-resetting for the Nats. Giving up one guy who wasn't that good at first but could hit a ton for a guy who has not played first and has hit less than a ton at best would not be a step forward.

Posted by: markfromark | December 17, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I'd be amazed if Strasburg pitches an MLB inning in 2011. They are going to take it mighty slow with him. His spring training in Viera might last til October.

Posted by: Kev29 | December 17, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

I'm confident Rizzo has LaRoche. He's just waiting for LaRoche to admit he can't get a better offer, accept Rizzo's deal and sign.

Posted by: Sunderland | December 17, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Don't be surprised if Matt Stairs is at first, if LaRoche signs with o's.

Posted by: dorseylaw | December 17, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

@markfrommark,

Morse played a lot of first base in Syracuse and before. He also used to play major league short stop. Let that sink in. Could Adam Dunn have ever attempted that? Ever? NO!

I believe Morse can do the job. It surprised me how many color men from other teams throughout the season commented on Morse's raw strength. He is considered very strong. He has huge power potential as shown by 15 homers in only 266 at bats. He had some huge hits to the opposite field. He also hits for a much higher average than will Dunn. Believe me if he were left handed he probably would be the starting first baseman next year.

But Dunn hits right handed pitchers extremely well. What the Nats didn't like was his inability to get good at bats against the ace level pitcher. He needs to work on making his swing more compact and on working more walks.

So, there are similarities between Dunn and Morse. Its why Dunn is gone and Morse is still a fallback option. He needs to improve in certain areas. Is LaRoche a better solution? I don't think so. Derek Lee? For a year or two he looks like the best external solution sans a trade for a high end left hand hitting prospect.

Posted by: periculum | December 17, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Bernadina probably will produce 20 homers from the left side. His weakness is the same as Morgans: they are completely hapless and helpless against left handed hitting. Whereas Morse is good against both righties and lefties ... but not so good against the top of the rotation types. He seems to kill relievers.

Can Bernadina improve against left handed pitching. Can Morse make his swing more compact, be able to detect and handle the best breaking stuff. Can Morgan learn to hit left handed pitching consistently? Can Corey Brown push Morgan or is he an upgrade for Syracuse this year?

In the end it really doesn't matter who plays first. They have options. What most of baseball is looking at is what will Rizzo do about the starting rotation? Pavano is not an improvement. Grienke, Garza, Shields, and yes, Edwards might be. The top of the rotation is the great unknown for the Nats sans Strasburg.

Posted by: periculum | December 17, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

"Loney, 26, played 161 games for the Dodgers last year, but he hit .267/.329/.395 with 10 home runs, all below average for a first baseman."

Loney career at home: .268/.334/.377
Loney career away: .307/.361/.493

His ISO power jumps about 100 points outside of that massive park. I really am intrigued with him as a legitimate option, who might be had relatively cheap.

http://nationalsreview.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/getting-james-loney-in-scatterplot/

Posted by: CharlieF | December 17, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure what's going on with the Washington DC professional sports teams but these owners and general managers are drinking the same koolaid! They all make some of the dumbest moves I have ever heard of. So sure of themselves and, at the end of the day (or beginning of the season) they are left empty handed or duped. Disgusting!

Posted by: burnie4241 | December 17, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Are there not any first basemen in any of the Gnats minors' clubs?

Posted by: iliwai34 | December 17, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Here is what Rizzo believes winning NL teams have in abundance:

1. Power arms out of the bullpen.
2. Good defenders at every position.
3. Youngish starting pitching that does not have too much mileage on it.
4. Versatile offensive players who can manufacture runs in a variety of ways.

Here's what he believes are overrated:

1. One dimensional offensive players
2. Power hitters who cannot play defense.
3. Players who are "comfy".

I happen to agree with him. I know Dunn and Willingham were Zim's boys, and they all caught a lot of fish together. One thing they didn't do together was win. High energy, energetic, athletic baseball is around the corner.

Sign LaRoche.

#4

Posted by: db423 | December 17, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Is there any news on improving the starting rotation?

Posted by: cr8oncsu | December 17, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

While Laroche makes the most sense, my guess is that he's looking for three years and probably around $30 million. That's too much for such a streaky hitter. The hitting streaks are nice but the slumps are painful. I'd give the job to Morse and use the money to sign a starting pitcher.

Posted by: bupbups | December 17, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Sorry but this needs to be screamed out, what about Jesus Flores or even Ramos at first base? They are both players that could be the future of the Nats and could play at first, adding something to the mix.
Why hasn't anyone really mentioned this?????

Posted by: Golfersal | December 17, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Golfersal:
- Ramos will never hit enough to be an average 1B, and asking a guy to learn a new position, even 1B takes time.
- Flores is a possibility that I like, but the guy's had 100 ABs in the last 2 years. He's not what you'd call "reliable"

Posted by: CharlieF | December 17, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Kev29: Yeah, I know, I can be pretty pessamistic about DC teams. Try to be patient: I lived throught the Bob Short/Senators era & remember hearing the same types of promises every year from them that we've been hearing from the Nats for 5 yrs now. So that's where I'm coming from. I remember the Senators consistantly trading fan favorites for prospects, only to turn around & trade the prospects once they were ready for the bigs. So I'm a bit cynical about Rizzo's promises & just hope that he does a better job of building a contender than what we've seen so far.

Posted by: nyskinsdiehard | December 17, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

>Hawpe had a brutal 2010 and was released by the Rockies

Then by all means, sign him Pants! Float that Brad Hawpe rumor after LaRoche signs for three years with the O's! You'll look like a genius if he hits his weight. I'll bet he's athletic around the bag. Pants is well on his way to destroying any offensive possibilities for the team. He talks all this garbage about defense, and if your pitchers can't hit their spots it doesn't matter if you have 15 people out in the field. Another reason the defense was so bad last year is because of all the 100-pitch, 4-5 inning efforts that had everybody back on their heels to begin with. Talking about how getting free agents 'only takes money' - except when there's nobody decent left. Pants 2 koo koo ka choo

Posted by: Brue | December 17, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Adam, I really appreciate the excellent reporting you're doing for us on this site.

As we used to say, you're "on it like a duck on a June bug."

Posted by: JohnRDC | December 17, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

db423--you are spot on, those are the qualities players need to have to win in the NL. There's only two problems with that scenario. The Nats don't have any of these players in the minors and they cost big bucks in the open market. Easier said than done!

Posted by: bupbups | December 17, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Adam writes "their most obvious need remains an Adam Dunn-sized hole at first base."

Wrong. Their most obvious need is another starting pitcher, maybe two. Morse can play first if necessary, but he can't pitch.

Posted by: Meridian1 | December 17, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Rizzo loves to have multiple ongoing conversations at the same time regarding the same position. He calls it "moving in the right direction."

Everyone else calls it paralysis by analysis.

Keep talking Rizz...pretty soon you'll be down to you last option. Isn't that how we got stuck with Jason Marquis?

Posted by: howjensen | December 17, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

2010 Stats
Mike Morse .269/.355/.519
Derrick Lee .260/.347/.428

What's wrong with Mike Morse? Why is Lee an improvement?

Posted by: cr8oncsu | December 17, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

@howjensen:
We got stuck with Marquis because Garland turned down a higher offer from the Nats to sign with the Padres. The same thing happened recently with Jorge De La Rosa and the Rockies.

Posted by: bertbkatz | December 17, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Has our fantasy sports culture made us forget the importance of defense? Mike Morse is the worst defensive player on the team now that Dunn is gone. I think back to the old Yankees. They hit home runs, but they had impeccable fielding. (Can you imagine the hue and cry if the Nats traded for Clete Boyer? "His OPS is miserable!") The Dodgers of Alston and Lasorda were the same way.

Derrek Lee is a really good fielder and would help make the Nats infield really, really good. That is hard to resist after six years of putrescence.

Posted by: paulkp | December 17, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Morse hit .289, not .269 as erroneously stated above.

Posted by: bupbups | December 17, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

db423,you nailed it.I thought all along that Zimmermam wanted Dunn re-signed because he was his buddy.He's also one of the most one-dimensional players in the game.Keep the score down with defense and good pitching,and you win.The Giants had the most ordinary position players of any recent Series team,but their pitching is terrific and they catch the ball.Give Rizzo time,he knows what he's doing.

Posted by: seanmg | December 17, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

2010 Stats
Mike Morse .269/.355/.519
Derrick Lee .260/.347/.428

What's wrong with Mike Morse? Why is Lee an improvement?

Posted by: cr8oncsu | December 17, 2010 4:07 PM
-------------------------------------------------------

Guys get labels. Lee's been an All-Star, more than once. Morse is a career utility/minor-leaguer. It's hard for GMs to think beyond that box, when their jobs depend on finding dependable producers.

Posted by: fischy | December 17, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

@cr8oncsu:
I'm sympathetic to your comparison of Mike Morse and Derrick Lee. I would like to see what Morse would do as an everyday player after his performance in 2010. In Lee's defense, he was playing with an injured hand this past year. It was operated on immediately after the season and a full recovery is expected. So the comparison with Morse is not as clear-cut as you have laid out.

Posted by: bertbkatz | December 17, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

I say sign Lee...... I think he improves with a healthy thumb. He has 3-4 good years left. He has credibility. He's been there... He has power and plays defense. Morse? Feasts off of bad pitching.... Can't hit good pitching... Is one dimensional.... I like him off the bench.... Lee buys us time.... Can hit in thte 5 spot..... LaRoche struck out over 170 times - way overrated.... Leave him to the birds if they're that stupid.

Posted by: Capitalist-1 | December 17, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, Rizzo sucks...bring back the days when we would start Milledge, Kearns,and Dukes in the outfield, with Guzman and Belliard up the middle and LoDuca behind the plate. How about Odalis Perez as your opening day starter?

Rome was not built in a day. We are starting to accumulate young talent. We actually have young major leaguers that other organizations want: Desmond, Espinosa, Storen, Ramos, JZ, and oh yeah, two of the best prospects in baseball in a decade, not to mention our minors which are finally starting to get restocked.

Bash now, jump on the bandwagon in 2012.

Posted by: sollazo | December 17, 2010 9:43 PM | Report abuse

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