Nationals’ opening at first base could be filled this week

The first base question for the Nationals should be answered sometime this week, according to club sources.

Negotiations with Derrek Lee are pretty close on a one-year deal, but he’s also being sought by the Orioles, as is Adam LaRoche. Lee also reportedly prefers to stay in the National League, not a major surprise since he’s had his greatest success in the NL, and if he’s playing for one more big payday, he would obviously want to do it where he’s most comfortable.

Attempts to acquire first baseman James Loney from the Dodgers were derailed when Los Angeles signed free agent catcher Dioner Navarro, since a Washington package would have included a catcher. Free agent Casey Kotchman is also on the Nats’ radar, but only as a fallback option to platoon with Michael Morse.

Lee’s willingness to sign a contract for a single season makes him all the more attractive to the Nationals, who feel they have other first base options beyond 2011. No one should be terribly surprised to see Jayson Werth move to first base in 2012, with Bryce Harper taking over in right field. Fans should also look for Derek Norris to get playing time in the outfield this year as well as behind the plate. Scouts think Norris’ bat will play in the major leagues, and feel he can transition to left field without much problem.

The Nationals’ quest for another starting pitcher has yet to bear fruit, and there’s now word that Brandon Webb has eliminated Washington from consideration. Webb’s a gamble, to be sure, for any club that signs him, and the guaranteed money his agent was looking for didn’t interest the Nats.

Carl Pavano is another matter. Pavano, who made his big league debut with the Expos in 1998, is coming off a strong season with the Twins, but is looking for a three-year deal. He’ll be 35 in a couple of weeks, and is looking for a deal along the lines of what he got from the Yankees in 2005. Free agent pitchers are a much bigger gamble than position players, and Pavano’s comparables don’t place him among the game’s elite arms. Still, he’s an innings eater and a .500 pitcher with a 4.50 ERA has never been worth more than he is today.