If Adam LaRoche re-signs with the Nationals, does that mean Michael Morse will be traded? With Denard Span in center field, Bryce Harper in left and Jayson Werth in right, is Morse the first baseman? If that is the case, is LaRoche gone?
These questions have been in play for what seems like almost a month, as teams expressed interest in Morse and LaRoche sought a long-term contract from the Nationals and others.
Here is a quick look at the tale of the tape: (We see this comparison all the time in boxing, I see it a lot in game notes when I prepare for college basketball games. I thought it would be interesting to play it out between these two players.)
Age: LaRoche, 33; Morse, 30 (turns 31 on March 22)
Height/Weight: LaRoche, 6-foot-3, 212 lbs.; Morse, 6-foot-5, 245 lbs.
Major league service time: LaRoche, nine years; Morse, just over five years.
Bats: LaRoche, left-handed; Morse, right-handed.
Throws: LaRoche, left-handed; Morse, right-handed.
How obtained: LaRoche, signed as a free agent on Jan. 7, 2011; Morse, acquired in one of the better trades in Nationals history, from Seattle for outfielder Ryan Langerhans in 2009.
Positions: LaRoche, first base; Morse, outfield, first base.
Playoff experience: LaRoche, 2004, 2005, 2012; Morse, 2012.
Number of teams: LaRoche, six. Morse, two.
Offense: Both LaRoche and Morse can hit for power. Morse hits for a little better average (.295 for career). In 2012, LaRoche hit a career-high 33 homers and matched a career high with 100 RBIs, while hitting .271. He is a career .268 hitter. Known for being a slow starter offensively, LaRoche instead had a very consistent season and made a nice bounce back from a shoulder injury that plagued him in 2011. LaRoche has 197 homers and 684 RBIs in his career. Morse’s power surge began in 2011, when he hit a career-high 31 homers and entrenched himself in the middle of the Nationals lineup. A lat injury slowed his 2012, but he came on strong in the end and had a huge homer for the Nationals in the playoffs (LaRoche hit two in the series). Morse hit .291 in 102 games last season, with 18 homers and 62 RBIs. Morse is a career .492 slugger, LaRoche .482. LaRoche has had 86 homers the last four seasons, Morse 67. The last two seasons, LaRoche had 36, Morse 49. It also seems like Morse has just started to get into a groove with his power and that he could really have some big numbers the next few seasons.
Defense: LaRoche is a better defender and saved many errant throws from turning into rally-starting mishaps. Morse has trouble getting to some balls in outfield and his throws are not the strongest. He makes a few mistakes, but not so many that it overshadows his offensive prowess. Morse’s offense is the name of his game. The question is, will a move to first base carry with it average defense? Are the Nationals willing to take that chance?
Long-term value: LaRoche is a free agent and Morse is one of the top trade chips the Nationals have available to go out and get what they want.
Leadership: LaRoche is a player the entire team looks at in every situation because he has been there. The Diamondbacks looked at him as a leader who plays the game right. Morse is a leader by example and leads by doing his job.
Available replacement: Tyler Moore. He can play left field and first base. He has the power and the potential, but not the experience. Is Moore ready to step into that everyday role if Morse or LaRoche, or both, leave?
Walk-up music: Morse’s “Take On Me” by A-Ha is a Nationals Park sensation. The crowd got better and better at singing the extended lyrics even as Morse was taking his first pitch of the at-bat and it became a staple of the Nationals Park experience. LaRoche uses a mix of country tunes (i.e., Jason Aldean’s “Tattoos on this Town”) and “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins.
If the Nationals can get LaRoche on a two-year deal, it would be a perfect scenario. The Nationals would maintain that same team chemistry and have a player in LaRoche who was critical to the clubhouse strength. He is also just two lockers down from Moore and he can continue to help the youngster as he becomes (very soon) an everyday player. But if LaRoche stays, Morse would become the Nats’ biggest trade option.
Moore is such an up-and-coming player that I believe he can break out as a star in the next year or so, and that could be another big reason as to why the Nationals can shop Morse now and not be hurt too much with LaRoche possibly leaving.
If LaRoche leaves, a Morse move to first provides Moore more experience in a utility role, and Moore can play outfield and first base in a backup role. Of course, you lose LaRoche’s lefty bat in the middle, but the addition of Span gives you a lefty bat to lead off.