Morse could be Nats' ticket to another starter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - My flight out of BWI this morning was delayed nearly two hours, getting my 2012 Winter Meetings off to a stellar start.

The fun began early this year.

I'm now all checked into my hotel and set up here at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, the site of the meetings. Only a little over 12 hours until things really start getting under way.

There are a number of free agent starting pitchers on the market who could be in play for the Nationals in the coming days and weeks. You know all the names by now. If you don't, here you go.

But free agency isn't the only method by which the Nats can add a fifth starter to their rotation.

In fact, one industry source believes it's more likely the Nats land another starting pitcher via a trade involving left fielder/first baseman Michael Morse than by picking someone off the free agent market.

General manager Mike Rizzo said last week that the Nats have gotten calls on Morse, and Rizzo will have a chance to talk shop with rival GMs face to face over the next four days. If Morse is shipped elsewhere, the Nationals could then re-sign Adam LaRoche to play first base, or could turn over the reins to 25-year-old Tyler Moore, although that scenario appears less likely.

Morse is a valuable trade chip for multiple reasons. He's been quite productive over the last two seasons (his .303 batting average, 31 home runs, 95 RBIs and .910 OPS in 2011 are still fresh in the minds of many around the game) and would provide power-needy teams with a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat.

He can play a serviceable left field, but showed two seasons ago that he's a pretty solid first baseman, as well.

And perhaps just as importantly, Morse is very affordable; he's set to make $6.75 million this season in the last year of his contract.

The Nats could dangle Morse to a team stocked with major league pitching, like the Rays, who are looking to improve at first base and the outfield and add some pop to their lineup.

Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler are locked into the Nationals' rotation for 2013. The Nats will look for another starter through free agency, but they might end up acquiring another arm by dishing Morse at a time when he holds a lot of value.

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