Adam LaRoche vs. Not LaRoche

The history of first base for the Washington Nationals is almost as depressing as their history at centerfield and catcher. Nick Johnson stands alone at the top with 11.2 fWAR and then it is Dunn, Morse, and LaRoche in a virtual tie at 3.7-3.9 fWAR. After that things get bleak with names like Dmitri Young, Adam Kennedy, and Daryle Ward, and then comes the collection of below replacement level talent and we aren’t going there. The history of first base for the Washington Nationals is bleak, and trading LaRoche could send them right back to those days. The internal solutions either aren’t good enough, Tyler Moore, or need more time in the minors, Matt Skole/Steven Souza Jr. There is no one good enough or ready to take LaRoche’s spot in the Nationals organization and with Mike Napoli having resigned with the Red Sox there is no one available outside the organization either, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. 

There are several contenders for LaRoche’s job on other teams or in the free agent market that people have mentioned as first base options for the Nationals, but none of them represent an actual upgrade. Let’s start with the trade options. The name that seems to excite people the most is Mark Trumbo and my best guess on that is it is people that don’t know how to look up a players stats and only watch the highlight shows. Mark Trumbo hits long, impressive homeruns and is a fun player to watch in batting practice or a homerun derby. The Nats once had a player like that. His name was Wily Mo Pena. He could hit long homeruns but had no defensive position and couldn’t get on base. A lot like Mark Trumbo who has a career batting line of .250/.299/.469. He was a positive fWAR player at 2.5 in 2013 and would be a nice addition for the right price, but the Angels aren’t looking for the right price. They are looking for major league ready starting pitching. For the Nationals it would take either Ross Detwiler or Taylor Jordan to get Trumbo and that is simply too much for an MLB average position player. 

As soon as the Marlins signed Garrett Jones and announced that Logan Morrison was available there were people very eager to replace LaRoche with Logan Morrison. The problem here is that Logan Morrison, like Trumbo, has a slash line worse than Adam LaRoche’s career .264/.337/.474 line at .249/.337/.427. That is a significant loss of power with no upgrade in on base skills and Morrison can’t stay on the field. In his brief four year career Morrison has averaged 90 games a season. He is only 25 years old and could be a late bloomer, but that can’t be counted on and isn’t worth the inflated price the Marlins would ask for an in division trade. The positive to Morrison is he has served a back-up role at times during his young career and the Nats need a left handed bench bat. Morrison can back up at first base and left field in an absolute emergency. As of right now the ceiling for Logan Morrison is Adam LaRoche and trading talent to replace a player you have with a similar player doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Now we head to the remaining free agents. If the Nationals were an established baseball team with an established and educated fan base the talk this off-season would be, “I hope Mike Rizzo doesn’t overreact to Adam LaRoche’s career worst season and do something stupid like giving up a draft pick for Kendrys Morales.” The Nationals don’t have that fan base and there are some that think that, not only should the Nationals sign Morales, but that they need Morales. For the second straight season the Nationals should sacrifice their first round pick for a player that fills a nonexistent need. I don’t think that is the way smart teams build. Let’s look at what type of player Morales is. First he is one with no true defensive position, second he has a career OPS a whopping .002 points higher than Adam LaRoche’s, and lastly and most importantly it would cost the Nationals a draft pick to sign him. If this move were to happen it would be the worst move of Mike Rizzo’s tenor as GM. Yes, it would be even worse than the Willingham trade.

Now we come to the elephant in the room. The player who may be the most famous and beloved member of the Washington Nationals, Michael Morse. I can understand this somewhat. Most of the current Nationals fans started watching the team late in 2011 when they were playing pretty well, Adam LaRoche was out with a shoulder injury, and Michael Morse was the team’s best offensive player. Then during the 98 win season of 2012 Morse was the personality of the team. He was a fun player and everyone enjoyed singing along to his walk-up song and watching him hit, but Morse can’t play defense anywhere close to the ability of Adam LaRoche and his career .808 OPS is below that of Adam LaRoche. This would be making a move for the sake of making a move and having Morse on the team at this point can’t do anything good. He would come in as a bench player and platoon partner for LaRoche but it would be like bringing back a popular former QB to serve as the back-up QB and you know fans would be booing LaRoche and demanding his head for any slight misstep just because Morse would be waiting on the bench and he is the darling of the fan base.

That finishes with the names that I’ve heard people demanding to replace LaRoche. Not one of them represents a real upgrade and coming off his career worst season it is more than likely that whatever LaRoche produces is better than any of those guys. I do have to say that Mike Rizzo has surprised us before. Look at the Fister trade. Who mentioned Fister as a trade candidate at all? That move came out of nowhere. Maybe Rizzo can find a way to get Eric Hosmer from the Royals or Brandon Belt from the Giants, Bruce Bochy did favor Aubrey Huff over Belt and Adam LaRoche could be his new Aubrey Huff. If Dayton Moore and Brian Sabean are smart then neither of those guys are available and the collection of guys Rizzo can trade for or sign remain the same unimpressive bunch of non-upgrades.    

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