In spite of reports of interest on the behalf of some America League teams, Washington Nationals' General Manager Mike Rizzo told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore earlier this month at the GM Meetings in the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes in Orlando, Florida that he had no plans to make a change at first base in 2014. Adam LaRoche is under contract for another year, and, as Rizzo said, he will be the Nationals' first baseman next season.
LaRoche had a disappointing 2013 season, putting up a .237/.332/.403 line with 19 doubles and 20 HRs in 152 games and 590 plate appearances over which he was worth +0.6 fWAR coming off a .271/.343/.510, 35 double, 33 HR, +3.4 fWAR campaign in 2012 which earned him another two-year deal from the Nationals worth $24M after he signed for 2 years/$16M in 2011.
"'Adam LaRoche is our first baseman,'" Rizzo told the WaPost's Mr. Kilgore. "'I think he’s going to bounce back to have one of his career-norm years. That’s the guy we signed, and hopefully that’s the guy we get this year.'"
So LaRoche, according to Rizzo, will play first base in 2014. Ryan Zimmerman will play third. There was a lot of chatter last season as Zimmerman's throwing issues didn't immediately disappear following offseason surgery to, "clean out an arthritic section of bone in the acromioclavicular joint in his right shoulder," as the Washington Times reported in October or 2012.
Zimmerman finished strong in 2013, posting a .275/.344/.465 line with 26 doubles and 26 HRs in 147 games and 568 PAs over which he was worth +3.0 fWAR. Rizzo told reporters, including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, that in spite of the throwing issues and speculation, he had never thought about moving Zimmerman across the infield to first base:
"I never had any discussions or thoughts about anyone else. He was our third baseman of the future and a middle of the lineup hitter, and I knew that as his shoulder was rehabbing and getting better each and every day that he’d be the defensive guy that we’ve had in the past and hopefully we’ll have in the future."
Rizzo's declarations haven't stopped the speculation about the Nationals potentially shifting things around in the infield in 2014. ESPN.com's Jayson Stark mentioned the Nats this weekend in an article about the market for free agent second baseman Robinson Cano.
While most of the executives Mr. Stark spoke to seemed convinced there was no reasonable destination for the 31-year-old infielder outside of New York coming off a .314/.383/.516, 41 double, 27 HR, +6.0 fWAR season with the Yankees, the writer threw out a couple of possibilities, including Seattle, Texas, Los Angeles and the nation's capital.
The Nationals, he writes, "... have numerous dollars in the checking account to blow up the headlines with a move like this," though any theoretical deal would, of course, involve the Nats, "... shifting Anthony Rendon from second to third, moving Ryan Zimmerman from third to first and trading Adam LaRoche."
Mr. Stark also wonders whether Washington would risk harming their relationship with Scott Boras, "... by handing over $200 million or so to a player represented by his new archenemy, Jay-Z?" One anonymous exec, who uses a colorful, adulterous analogy, says he doesn't see it happening.
ESPN.com's David Schoenfield too considered the possibility of the Nationals targeting Cano, suggesting the same sort of infield changes in an article on how Washington could improve, and adding that though the addition of Cano, "...leaves Adam LaRoche without a job," the Nats, "could keep him around for bench strength or trade him to a team that needs a first baseman, like the Pirates."
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Mr. Schoenfield's other suggestion involves adding an arm to the starting rotation. Adding Ubaldo Jimenez, who he suggests would be a less expensive, durable starter at the back of the rotation, makes sense in theory, but he would, however, cost the Nationals their top pick in the 2014 Draft since he received a 1-year/$14.1M qualifying offer from Cleveland.
Rizzo told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore at the GM Meetings that after parting with their 1st Round pick last year when the Nats signed Rafael Soriano, he would, "'... be more reluctant to give a draft pick than I did last year. I would never rule it out. But I’d be more reluctant this year than last year.'"
Would the Nationals give up th 20th overall pick to sign Jimenez? Though the Nats are rumored to be interested in pitching, the WaPost reporter noted that Rizzo, "... felt no intense pressure to add a starter with Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan and Nate Karns able to fill two spots behind Stephen Strasburg, [Gio] Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann."
Matt Garza is going to be expensive but he wouldn't cost the Nationals any prospects since the Rangers acquired him mid-season and therefore couldn't make a qualifying offer. Masahiro Tanaka would be expensive, but wouldn't cost the Nationals any prospects if he is actually made available this winter. A deal for David Price would gut the minors. The same with Max Scherzer. Are the Tigers even considering dealing him now that Prince Fielder is gone? How about Rick Porcello? Even a trade for the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija would likely have to include top prospect Lucas Giolito according to a WaPost report this week.
Rizzo told MLB.com's Bill Ladson this weekend the Nats have the prospects to make a trade, but added that, "'... anything we do has to make sense for us, not only for this year, but for the long haul.'"
We've heard that before from the Nationals' GM. His tendency to "run silent" in the offseason leads to endless speculation. So far it's been all minor league deals and chatter for the Nats this winter. Is there a big deal or signing coming for the Nationals?
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