The Nationals Need to Sign Lance Berkman

With Adam Dunn signing a four year $56 million contract with the White Sox today, the Washington Nationals officially have a vacancy at the first base position. The club has no heir apparent with their closest first base prospect still three years away from the majors, which means that they will somehow have to find a way to replace his 38 homers and 103 RBI via free agency or trade in 2011.

Good luck…

The Nationals have now reportedly targeted Adam LaRoche and Carlos Pena as replacements for Dunn. Both hitters have ample pop in their bat, but Pena is coming off a 2010 where he hit below the Mendoza Line (.200) and LaRoche had his worst OPS since 2005 (.788). There is one player however who seems to be a no brainer for the Nats first base vacancy whose name has not been thrown around much, former all-star Lance Berkman.

Berkman, 34, is coming off of an injury shortened and hampered season that saw him hit a career low .248/.368/.413 with 14 homers and just 48 RBI in 2010. He also fell into obscurity after being traded to the star-studded Yankees half way through last season. Those two factors combine for one good thing for the Nationals, and thats a one-year $7 million asking price for Berkman. To put that in perspective, that’s a million dollars less than the Nationals paid Cristian Guzman in 2008, and they’re only committing for one season. For that price, I’m willing to believe Berkman when he says that his poor 2010 output was simply because he never fully recovered from his March knee surgery.

Berkman has a career line of .296/.409/.545 with a .403 wOBA and 56.2 WAR. At this point in his career, its probably safe to say he will be on the outside-in looking at the Hall of Fame after he retires, but that’s not to say he hasn’t been a star and can’t be a more than solid pick up for the Nationals. Bill James projects him to bat .275/.393/.486 next season with 22 homers. If he can match that projection and continue to play above average defense at first base, he could easily be the steal of the offseason. More importantly, he could serve as a place holder for the Nationals until Marrero or Norris are ready to take over at first base.

Currently the Nationals have not been mentioned in any rumors with Berkman. The thrifty Oakland Athletics however have met with Berkman’s representatives already, deciding that he was a better fiscal decision than to even speak with Adam Dunn. The Rockies are also rumored to be interested in adding him, although with Todd Helton a mainstay at first base, he would have to play outfield to fit in at Coors Field. With interest brewing, the Nationals would have to act fast.