The Washington Nationals' quiet offseason was granted some new life on Tuesday as the team re-signed their 2012 first baseman Adam LaRoche. It was a drawn out process between LaRoche and Rizzo, but ultimately, everyone knew that LaRoche had limited options.
LaRoche’s deal is for two years at $24 million, which is an extremely reasonable rate for arguably the best first baseman in the National League last season. There is an option for 2015 with a $2 million buyout, and the Nats stockpile of corner infielders (Tyler Moore, Anthony Rendon, etc.) seems to indicate a buyout is already the likely outcome. But on to the immediate ramifications of the deal.
The Nats seemed to know they would be re-signing LaRoche from day one of the offseason, and that patience paid off. They got a power hitting left-handed bat, for exactly the deal they wanted, who is still in the heart of the lineup without immediately putting pressure on Bryce Harper to fill that role. They also have one of the absolute best defensive first basemen in all of baseball on what should be the best defensive infield in baseball when you consider LaRoche, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, and Ryan Zimmerman.
Inevitably, when you get something good, something bad must come. LaRoche’s re-signing likely means the end of the Michael Morse era in DC. With a stacked outfield of Harper, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth and a fully solidified infield, there’s no place for The Beast to go. It’s not often you see a .300 hitter with significant extra-base power unable to crack an MLB lineup, but that’s exactly Morse’s situation right now. Oh, how far the Nationals have come in just one season.
I fully expect Morse to be traded in the next few weeks, and unfortunately for the Nats, they have absolutely no leverage in getting something good in return. Every team in baseball knows he’s not a bench player and that the Nats don’t have a spot for him. It’s possible that they would consider keeping Morse around until spring training as an insurance policy in case an outfielder, or LaRoche, gets hurt, but it seems unlikely. There should be enough teams clamoring for a player of Morse’s caliber.
At the extremely reasonable cost, I do believe that the Nats made the right move in signing LaRoche, but I say that with mixed feelings if and when Morse is finally traded. Morse is really the first player to provide significant personality to a team on the rapid rise to success. Between the brilliant “Take On Me” walk-up song/sing along at Nationals Park, The Cobra before walking into the box, the helmet slap rounding first base on his home run trot, and even his awkward jumping-in-place catches in the outfield to end innings, his personality will be sorely missed for fans and players alike.