Will Yoder: LaRoche's shoulder surgery renews questions about first base

MASNsports.com's Ben Goessling reported Tuesday night that Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche will, in fact, need season-ending surgery to repair a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder.

The left-handed slugger had hit just .172/.288/.258 for the Nationals in 177 plate appearances before the club made the move to shut down the first baseman late last month. After an attempt to rehab the shoulder over the past few weeks, the club decided to have LaRoche undergo surgery in order to be 100 percent for next season.

LaRoche's poor performance early on this season, coupled with his troublesome contract, leave questions about the first baseman's future with the club going forward. This past offseason, the Nationals signed LaRoche to fill the hole that Adam Dunn left when he signed with the Chicago White Sox. The club awarded LaRoche a two-year $16 million contract in order to give Washington a plus glove at the position while hopefully getting a replacement level performance on offense. However, after failing to hit above the Mendoza line, it's unclear how the team will handle him and the remaining $8 million he is owed next season.

Since LaRoche was taken out of the lineup a month ago, Michael Morse has been asked to fill in at first base. Morse had been dreadful early in the season, but in his second chance as a starter he has been the club's best hitter. Since taking over at first base he has hit .347/.410/.674 with eight home runs and 27 RBIs in 95-at bats, raising his overall numbers to .303/.347/.519 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs. He has also seemingly switched to first base flawlessly and could be playing defense as well as LaRoche was before he went down to injury.

As a former shortstop, it seems like Morse is just more at home in the infield than he was when he was as the starting left fielder. In the outfield, he would often seem lost on fly balls, and for some batters, it is hard to focus at the plate if they are not in every play of the game, as an infielder is.

Morse's play, coupled with the organization's well-known faith in him, indicates there's a good chance there will be a major competition next year for the first base job. The club could consider moving Morse back to the outfield, however the Nationals have made it know they are trying to acquire real, athletic outfielders, which Morse is not.

Another option is to attempt to trade LaRoche and award Morse first base for the foreseeable future; however, Morse's $8 million will not be easy to move anywhere, especially when you consider he will have missed almost the entire season, and in that season he failed to hit above .200.

The Nationals also have expressed some interest in being players this offseason for a major bat like Prince Fielder or even Albert Pujols, both of whom could be free agents and both of whom play first base. These two hitters would be major catches for the franchise, but it would further complicate the building logjam at first base.

Will Yoder blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints this week as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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