Does free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche have any options? Will the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winning infielder just return to the nation's capital? And what does his decision mean for Michael Morse's future in D.C.?
Texas Rangers' Assistant GM Thad Levine spoke to MLB Network Radio host Jim Bowden today, with the former Washington Nationals' general manager taking to Twitter (@JimBowdenESPNXM) to report that the Rangers' executive said the team had not discussed adding Adam LaRoche this winter. "Adam LaRoche does not have an offer from the Rangers," Mr. Bowden wrote in another tweet, "and does not have a third year offer from anyone. Expect him to sign 2-year deal [with] Nats." The reasons the Rangers were never "in" on LaRoche or other free agents like Nick Swisher, who signed with the Cleveland Indians on Sunday? The Rangers were, "... not interested in long term deals for them or yielding draft picks for either player," according to Mr. Bowden.
The Rangers aren't the only ones who are reportedly unwilling to part with a draft pick this winter. According to Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo, who discusses the Baltimore Orioles' interest in Seattle Mariners' 1B Justin Smoak in an article this morning, "The Orioles also have been linked, along with the Red Sox and Nationals, to Adam LaRoche, but the Sox and Orioles are hesitant to give up a draft pick to sign him." Several reports this week have now discussed the O's, Sox and Rangers' reluctance to give up their 1st Round pick if they sign any of the remaining free agents who turned down qualifying offers from their respective 2012 employers. There were previous reports that the Red Sox might return to LaRoche as a possibility if their 3-year/$39M dollar deal with Mike Napoli wasn't officially announced.
According to a report by FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal this past week, the hold-up with Napoli involves concern about his hip, but as Mr. Rosenthal wrote, "The Sox apparently do not think Napoli’s condition is that serious; otherwise, they probably would have backed out by now." A reworked deal which protects the Red Sox is a more likely solution according to the writer, who also notes that neither Napoli or any free agent the Sox signed this winter received a qualifying offer and therefore did not cost Boston a draft pick while Swisher or LaRoche would have cost them a 2nd Round pick since their 1st Round pick (no.7 overall) is protected under the new rules of the CBA.
Does LaRoche have any other options? Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore wrote on Friday that the Nationals would prefer an answer sooner than later from the 33-year-old first baseman who declined an option that would have paid him $10M dollars in 2013 and turned down the 1-year/$13.3M dollar qualifying offer before becoming a free agent. MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote Saturday that the two sides had made some progress in negotiations though there were no details about what concessions may have been made to get the team and its 2012 Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winning infielder closer to a deal.
So what does it all mean for Michael Morse if the Nationals do sign LaRoche? Before last season, the Nationals signed the 30-year-old slugger to a 2-year/$10.5M dollar extension after a .303/.360/.550, 36 double and 31 HR 2011 campaign in which he was worth +3.4 fWAR over 146 games and 575 plate appearances. In an August 2011 interview on 106.7 the FAN in D.C., GM Mike Rizzo said that Morse had, "... done enough to solidify himself to hit in the middle of [the Nats'] lineup, that's for sure."
"In a perfect world," the Nationals' General Manager continued, looking forward to the 2012 campaign, "we get the Adam LaRoche that we signed that's a 25-HR, 100-RBI Gold Glove [caliber first baseman]. Mike Morse goes to left field and is a 25-35 HR, 100-RBI left fielder and we've really replaced two powerful bats in the lineup." LaRoche hit a career-high 33 HRs in 2012, drove in the 100 runs Rizzo was looking for and finished the season at a career-best +3.8 fWAR while winning his first Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger. Morse started the season late after suffering a lat injury and dealt with wrist/hand issues that limited him to 102 games and 430 PAs over which he hit 17 doubles and 18 HRs while finishing at 0.3 fWAR after his +3.3 fWAR breakout campaign.
A year after his best season in the majors, with one year (at $6.75M) left before he becomes a free agent, Michael Morse's name has been mentioned often as a potential trade candidate with no room in the Nationals' outfield after the Denard Span trade and LaRoche possibly returning to first base in the nation's capital. The Nats parted ways with their top pitching prospect, '11 1st Round pick Alex Meyer in the Span deal and dealt three pitchers to Oakland last winter to bring Gio Gonzalez over from the A's, so they could use Morse's middle of the order bat to get bullpen help or young pitching prospects to help restock organizational depth, but it isn't likely, at least according to Davey Johnson, that both players will be on the roster in 2013. As has been the case all winter, however, it all depends upon what happens with Adam LaRoche...