"I mean obviously, Prince [Fielder] is a great hitter, and great first baseman to have," Washington Nationals' closer Drew Storen told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern this afternoon in an interview on Inside Pitch. "But, as I've been saying all along," the 24-year-old right-hander continued in discussing the fact the Fielder was rumored to be headed for D.C. before he ended up signing in Detroit, "... even [as] we've talked among teammates, we have all the confidence in the world in Adam LaRoche. He's a good, quality, all-around first baseman and we're going to be fine. We're still excited about the year. Our plans don't change. Nothing changes for us, that's not something we were set on happening and quite honestly, who really knows what was going on behind the scenes."
As the MLB Network Radio host and former Nats' GM explained a few weeks back in a commentary on the Fielder market, the current Nats' GM, Mike Rizzo, was maintaining throughout the process that the Nationals were perfectly comfortable going with the 32-year-old LaRoche at first in the second year of the two-year deal he inked with Washington last winter for a reason.
If things with Scott Boras' 27-year-old free agent first baseman didn't work out, "... you don't want LaRoche to sit there and say, 'What? You don't like me?'" Jim Bowden explained, "'You don't care about me?' you know, 'What about me? I signed here to play first base?'" Having never committed publicly to anything other than keeping an eye on the situation, with only anonymous sources providing writers with updates, the Nationals avoided creating an uncomfortable situation with the man who will be their first baseman in 2012 if he's healthy.
If LaRoche has any issues with his surgically-repaired shoulder, the Nationals can turn to Michael Morse the general manager kept reiterating all winter, just as Morse did in 2011 when LaRoche went down. The Nationals' closer said tonight that he and his teammates liked what they saw defensively even in the small sample size LaRoche provided last season.
"Defensively, he's unbelievable at first," Storen told Mr.'s Bowden and Stern, "In the short time that I got to see him last year, it's really a lot of fun to watch him play over there. He's got a sweet swing from the left side, with the shoulder injury he didn't really have a chance to get it going. So, I think this year, obviously there's going to be a little fire under his belt with all the attention towards Prince here, and I expect him to come out and have a great year."
Asked if the fact that they Nats were unable to land a big free agent bat has set the Nationals' timetable for competing back at all, the Nats' '09 1st Round pick said he believes the work the team has done the last few years to build a contender is about pay off. "I think this year is really where you're starting to see things fall into place a little bit more. When you have a lot of young talent, even starting back with guys like Ryan Zimmerman being one of the first 1st Round picks for the Nationals, he is a staple guy and hopefully a guy that they take care of and keep around for a long time, but you kind of see that's going to start falling down the line as some of those first round picks are getting older and the bigger prospects become seasoned, veteran guys in the big leagues, and that's when that stuff pays off."
1st Round picks like Zimmerman, Chris Marrero, Ross Detwiler, Stephen Strasburg, Storen, Bryce Harper and potentially even Anthony Rendon could contribute this year (O.K., Rendon is a longshot). The Nationals didn't add the Brewers '02 1st Round pick to the mix today, but he wasn't really in the Nats' plans when manager Davey Johnson or Mike Rizzo talked about fielding a competitive team in 2012 at the end of last year. In fact, Johnson dismissed the idea, telling 106.7 the FAN in D.C's Holden Kushner and Mike Wise that signing Fielder didn't make sense. "I think you've got to answer the question about how good are the guys you've got," Johnson said, referring at the time to someone like Chris Marrero who's since suffered an injury, "They need to be up playing and playing at their top level. Then you think about adding somebody, that's the formula. You don't go out and do it, spend a lot of money right now to get some big masher."
The Nationals didn't, but they've also failed to find (thus far this winter) the center fielder/leadoff man they said they wanted. Washington might have to wait until 2013 to find the outfielder they're after. The chance to add a once-or-twice-in-a-generation middle-of-the-order bat passed them by this afternoon. They won't get another chance to do that any time soon, now they have to hope Bryce Harper turns into one in the next few seasons.