In the Washington Nationals’ short franchise history, few positions have created more controversy than first base. From the consistent injuries Nick Johnson suffered, to allowing star Adam Dunn to leave via free agency, the list is exhaustive. Just this past offseason, the most recent occurred.
After signing with the Nationals in 2010, Adam LaRoche performed dreadfully in his regular season debut. Eventually he was diagnosed with a major tear in his shoulder requiring surgery that would end his short lived season. Luckily for Washington, Michael Morse stepped in and pretty much saved the season. When this past offseason came around, there was a lot of speculation as to what the Nationals would do with two huge first base free agents on the market, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Although they still had one guaranteed year left with LaRoche, they were rumored to be involved with both Fielder and Pujols. Ultimately they decided to stick with LaRoche and saved a lot of money in process.
This season, his last guaranteed contract year, LaRoche has been a key part of the offense. In the beginning of the season where he is historically weak, he was very strong in a time when the Nationals needed a lot of help. With time he’s regressed back to his old numbers, but he still holds the club lead in both homeruns and RBI. This has left a huge decision for the front office this upcoming offseason. Pick up LaRoche’s $10 million option or rely on another young player?
Tyler Moore is one of those young options. Moore, a 16th round draft pick in 2008, has become a highly valued player for Washington. Before 2008, the Nationals had actually drafted him in both the 2005 and the 2006 draft, failing to sign him both times. He started his career with the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters, moving through the minors at the pace of a level per year. After two consecutive seasons with 31 homeruns and at least 90 RBI in both Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg, he was called up to Triple-A in 2012. Through 22 games, he continued to produce with seven homeruns and 20 RBI leading to his call up to the majors in late April. Although he was optioned once and called back up this season, he’s been a very consistent bench player. In 130 at bats this season, he has seven homeruns, 22 RBI, a batting average of .285, and an OPS of .857. He’s done this all along with playing a new position, outfield.
The Nationals’ other option that many have forgotten about already is former first-round pick Chris Marrero. Marrero, 24 years old now, played with the Nationals during the regular season last year but suffered a torn hamstring this winter. This has caused him to miss the majority of the season. In 109 at bats in 2011 though, he was batting .248 with 10 RBI as a bench player.
These two players have made the front office’s decision very difficult, but what it may come down to is money. LaRoche’s mutual option is set at $10 million, a hefty sum. Tyler Moore and Chris Marrero on the other hand would be significantly cheaper. That extra money could be spent to extend other important players or fill needs in other positions. Moore also has a tremendous upside.
For all we know, he could become one of the best power hitters in the league. By starting him, the team could really tell if he’s cut out for the majors. If it doesn’t pan out, they could always fall back on another player with a big upside like Marrero. It wouldn’t be a surprise though, if LaRoche’s option gets picked up mainly due to his consistency when he is uninjured. With that said, the future at first base for the Nationals is bright, unlike in the past. In the coming years, there should not be as much controversy surrounding the position like there was unless Moore or Marrero don’t turn out as planned.