Why Michael Morse over Adam LaRoche at first base for the Washington Nationals? He's younger. He's under contract for just one more year at a reasonable $6.75M. Morse will become a free agent after the 2013 campaign and if he leaves to sign elsewhere the Nationals (if they make a qualifying offer) will get a draft pick as compensation just as they will if LaRoche leaves via free agency this winter. While Davey Johnson and D.C. GM Mike Rizzo have openly expressed a desire to see LaRoche return, they've drawn a line and know they have options at first base in Morse, Tyler Moore and eventually potentially Matt Skole with an obligatory mention that Ryan Zimmerman may have to move to first at some point.
LaRoche is a left-handed power bat, but Morse hits RHPs and LHPs equally well to tune of .292/.343/.487 vs RHPs in his career with a .303/.357/.503 line vs LHPs. In 2012, Morse had a .291/.326/.478 line vs RHPs, with a .290/.306/.449 line vs LHPs. LaRoche had a .273/.353/.511 line against RHPs last year with a .268/.319/.506 line against LHPs and he has a .274/.348/.495 career line vs RHPs, with a .250/.305/.445 line against LHPs.
Of course, Morse's numbers have been accumulated over the course of 485 games and 1,690 PAs in eight seasons in the majors, with the 2011 campaign the closest he's come to a full season's worth of work. LaRoche's consistent output is one of the things the Nats' general manager cited when he signed him in January of 2011. Before 2011's torn labrum/shoulder damage, LaRoche averaged 141 games a year in his first seven major league seasons and he returned in 2012 to put up a .271/.343/.519 line with a career-high 33 HRs in 154 games and 647 PAs over which he was worth a career-best +3.8 fWAR.
LaRoche's shoulder injury in '11 in the first year of his 2-year/$16M dollar deal with Washington provided Morse with the opportunity to show what he could do given the chance to start on an everyday basis (.303/.360/.550, 36 2B, 31 HRs, +3.3 fWAR). The White Sox' 2000 3rd Round pick acquired by the Nats from the Mariners in a June '09 trade for OF Ryan Langerhans earned a role in the Nationals' lineup with his work in 2011, but a strained lat and hand/wrist issues limited him to 102 games and 430 PAs in 2012.
While LaRoche brings a Gold Glove and excellent first base defense to the lineup, when the Nationals' GM talked about the possibility of the 33-year-old infielder leaving this winter he noted in an MLB Network Radio interview that first base is, "... [Morse's] most comfortable defensive position where he plays defense very well. Not Adam LaRoche-caliber, but very well." Comfortable as the Nationals are with their position in 2013 and beyond it should not be a surprise that they've stood their ground and refused to go beyond a two-year offer to LaRoche this winter:
Nats not worried about Orioles or Texas or anyone else giving LaRoche a third year...go ahead and make my day we'll take the [draft] pick— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) December 21, 2012
Nats line in sand on LaRoche not going to give 3rd yr... just like they didn't give Buehrle 4th yr...and just like they shut-down Strasburg— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) December 21, 2012
(ed.note - "The Nats won't receive a "#1 pick" if LaRoche signs elsewhere as noted in the first tweet, but a supplemental pick between the 1st and 2nd Rounds.")
Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore reported this morning that the Nationals may soon press LaRoche to either accept or reject their two-year offer (which Mr. Kilgore's colleague at the post, Thomas Boswell, said was for 2-years/$25M) so that the Nats can, "... move on with their offseason and commit to Michael Morse at first base." Losing the Draft pick compensation is apparently a concern for some potential LaRoche suitors and deals are going down involving teams in the market for 1B/LHBs the Washington Post reporter notes. LaRoche wants to return, but wants the a three-year deal. Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo want LaRoche back if he'll take the two-year deal. Not much has changed since the sides started discussing a deal late last season, but a decision might come soon... any day now...