The Washington Nationals made a 1-year/$13.3M dollar qualifying offer to Adam LaRoche late last week. The 32-year-old, left-handed hitting and throwing first baseman and middle-of-the-order bat is coming off a Gold Glove-worthy, .271/.343/.510, 35 double, 33 HR, +3.8 fWAR 2012 campaign that set the veteran infielder up for a big payday and (he hopes) a long-term deal this winter after an injury-shortened season in the first year of his 2-year/$16M dollar deal with the Nats in 2011.
If LaRoche leaves as a free agent this winter, the conventional wisdom says Michael Morse could take over at first where Morse filled in during his best season in the majors in 2011. [ed. note - "The conventional wisdom keeps saying it over and over you'll see."] After signing with Washington, LaRoche went down with a torn labrum that year and created an opening and an opportunity at first base in the nation's capital. Morse stepped up with a big year and followed up on that .303/.360/.550, 36 double, 31 HR, +3.3 fWAR season with an injury-filled 2012 campaign in which he put up a .291/.321/.470 line, hit 17 doubles and 16 HRs and was worth +0.3 fWAR on the season. But Morse played just 102 games and made 403 plate appearances in 2012 after playing 146 and making 575 PAs the previous year.
Between the 2011 and '12 campaigns, Morse signed a 2-year/$10.5M dollar extension that payed him $3.25M in 2012 and will pay the 30-going-on-31-year-old, eight-year MLB veteran $6.75M in 2013 before he hits free agency.
If the Nationals sign Adam LaRoche to a long-term deal, are Morse's days in Washington, D.C. numbered? It's a question that's being asked frequently this winter. ESPN.com's Jayson Stark brought up the possibility that Morse could be traded as far back as last September, writing in one of his Rumblings and Grumblings columns about the way things might play out if LaRoche returns to the Nationals. With LaRoche at first, Mr. Stark wrote at the time, a rival team official who'd spoken to Washington said the Nationals would consider keeping Bryce Harper in center field in 2013 or, "... signing Michael Bourn this winter, shifting Harper to a corner and trading Michael Morse."
MLB.com's Bill Ladson too wrote in mid-October in a post season wrap-up and 2013 preview that Morse was the most likely fill-in at first should LaRoche leave, but also noted that a baseball source he spoke to, "... left open the possibility that Morse could be traded, meaning the Nationals would let [Tyler] Moore try to win the job in left field."
Both Morse and Moore, however, are, "... better suited at first base," the MLB.com Nats beat writer noted, and, "The source also said that opposing teams have expressed interest in Moore." Moore, a 25-year-old '08 16th Round pick made his MLB debut in 2012, playing mostly left field for the first time in his career after making a name for himself by hitting 31 HRs in back-to-back seasons in 2010-11 while playing first base. In his first major league season, in part-time work, Moore impressed, putting up a .263/.327/.513 line with nine doubles and 10 HRs in 75 games and 171 PAs. Are the Nationals, who clearly think of themselves as contenders in 2013, going to take their chances with Moore starting in left or at first in 2013 though?
CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman wrote earlier this week that his sources were telling him the Nats are interested and, baseball sources told him, the favorites to land free agent center fielder Michael Bourn. Signing the outfielder would allow Washington to move Bryce Harper to a corner OF spot, Mr. Heyman wrote, "... with Michael Morse moving to first base," but, he added, "If the Nats are able to re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche as they hope, they could then trade Morse."
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal too brought the possibility of trading Morse up on Sunday night in an article on the free agent market, writing that Adam LaRoche remaining in the nation's capital could leave Morse as the odd man out in the D.C. "A number of teams covet Morse’s power," the bow-tied FOXSports.com reporter noted, "and he is affordable at $6.75 million next season before becoming a free agent." Moving Morse to first if LaRoche leaves, however, would allow the Nats to pursue an outfielder, Mr. Rosenthal argued, and thus far he said his sources told him, "... the Nationals to this point have been reluctant to offer [LaRoche] more than two years."
Will LaRoche return on a 2-year deal? Maybe with another option for a third like last time? Would that mean the end for Morse in D.C.? What does it all mean for Tyler Moore? Will the Nats go for a center fielder if they sign LaRoche? The hot stove is just warming up, but the Nationals have a big decision to make before going forward...