First base market continues to dwindle for Nationals

All week, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has been consistent about his preference the Nationals find an external replacement for Adam Dunn at first base. If that’s the case, he’d better work quickly.

With Carlos Pena signing a one-year, $10 million deal with the Cubs and the White Sox re-signing Paul Konerko for $37.5 million over the next three years, the Nationals have few options left who could play a solid first base for them in 2011. And they’ll have plenty of competition for the ones left on the market.

The most likely bet for the Nationals at this point would be Arizona’s Adam LaRoche, who hit 25 homers and drove in 100 runs last season for the Diamondbacks. LaRoche is a solid defender who would add some left-handed power back to the Nationals’ lineup, though certainly not to the degree that Dunn did. The Orioles are still in the market for a first baseman, though, and there are several other teams -- the Padres and Rays among them -- that are back in the market for first basemen.

Atlanta’s Derrek Lee is still available, as well, though he’s right-handed and 35. Orioles president Andy MacPhail acquired Lee when he was the Cubs’ GM, and could take another run at him. The guess offered here, and probably in other circles as well, is that LaRoche ends up with the Nationals and Lee goes to Baltimore, unless another team swoops in to complicate things.

If the Nationals didn’t get a first baseman, it could increase the odds they keep Josh Willingham, whom industry sources believe the team would otherwise trade. Willingham or Michael Morse could play first base, but more importantly, Willingham becomes increasingly valuable to the team’s lineup if it can’t find a first baseman to complement Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth.

Roch Kubatko and I will be talking about the Nationals’ and Orioles’ first-base plights a little later this afternoon, so check back for a video entry.