Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
If the Washington Nationals fail to sign Adam LaRoche this winter they can move Michael Morse to first, but can the defending NL East Champs start the year with Tyler Moore in left field?
In explaining the decision to bring then-19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper up to the majors in late April in favor of another option from the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs' roster, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told reporters at the time that, "It was a choice between a couple of players on the farm, Tyler Moore and Bryce Harper. Tyler Moore just didn't have the experience to play left field at the major league level yet."
Moore would end up debuting one day after Harper. The 25-year-old '08 16th Round pick played his first game in the majors on April 29th, after back-to-back 31 HR seasons in 2010 at Class-A Potomac and 2011 at Double-A Harrisburg in the Nats' system.
In 29 games and 115 PAs at Triple-A in 2012, Moore had a .307/.374/.653 line with six doubles, a triple and nine HRs. In the majors, Moore had a .263/.327/.513 line in part-time work, with nine doubles and 10 HRs in 75 games and 171 PAs over which he was worth +0.6 fWAR as a rookie. Moore was one of eight outfielders to play left field for Washington in 2012, finishing the year tied with Roger Bernadina for 3rd on the NL East Champions' roster in games played with 33 games in left behind Michael Morse (62) and Steve Lombardozzi (36). Moore played four games total in the outfield in Triple-A.
Should the Nationals decided to let Adam LaRoche walk this season, the prevailing wisdom is that the Nats would simply move Michael Morse to first base. The now-30-year-old, range-challenged OF/1B had his best year in the majors in 2011 when he played first base in place of the injured LaRoche, putting up a .303/.360/.550 line over 146 games and 575 PAs in a 36 double, 31 HR, +3.3 fWAR campaign. Morse could fill in for LaRoche again in 2013 if the Nats fail to sign the 33-year-old free agent, and as Rizzo put it in a recent interview, move into, "... his most comfortable defensive position where he plays defense very well."
Moving Morse to first leaves the Nationals with a mix of Moore, Bernadina and maybe Lombardozzi again (or possibly Corey Brown?) in left field barring any additional signings or trades. Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell wrote earlier this week that if Morse were to move to first in place of LaRoche, the Nationals could give, "... Moore the playing time he’s earned in left field."
In discussing potential moves this winter to bring a first baseman or outfielder in, the WaPost writer noted in a chat with readers, after talking to both the Nats' GM and manager, that, "... Rizzo did emphasize that he is more inclined to action than Davey, who tends to love what he has -- possibly because he has so much confidence in his ability to bring out talent." Davey Johnson praised Moore after the outfielder/bench bat came through big with a two-run single late in Game 1 of the NLDS with St. Louis.
"He's got a great stroke," Johnson said, "He's short through the ball. He's got a great future. He's done ‑‑ all of my young guys have done a great job, out of position and not in a regular role." Is Moore ready for a regular role if the Nationals let LaRoche walk? Roger Bernadina had his best year in the majors as a fourth outfielder, putting up a .291/.372/.405 line with 11 doubles and five home runs in 129 games and 261 PAs over which he was worth +1.9 fWAR in 2012. Lombardozzi, playing the outfield for the first time as well, finished the year with a .273/.317/.354 line with 16 doubles, three triples and three home runs in 126 games and 416 PAs in a +0.8 fWAR campaign.
Davey Johnson told ESPN980's Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro in a recent interview that he wanted LaRoche back at first in the nation's capital in 2013, but said that if LaRoche was at first with Morse in left it might be difficult to get players who deserve it sufficient at bats. "I really like the depth that we have in the system," Johnson said, "the one problem we have coming in next year is we're going to be more of a set lineup and I've got guys that are going to be on the bench, Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore and [need] to get them more playing time."
Is Moore ready for an everyday role in the majors if the Nationals need to turn to him? Can the Nationals get by with Moore, Bernadina and maybe Lombardozzi (or Corey Brown?) playing left with Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth in center and right, respectively? Would the Nats need to sign an outfielder if LaRoche walked and Morse moved to first? All of these questions hinge on whether or not Adam LaRoche returns of course... any day now...