Revisiting the Nationals’ first base situation

The Nationals’ picture at first base next season got a little more uncertain this week, with the news that Chris Marrero had surgery to repair a torn hamstring and will miss the start of the 2012 season. When paired with the fact that Adam LaRoche is coming off shoulder surgery, Marrero’s surgery is certainly an unnerving development at a position where the Nationals looked like they had plenty of depth.

Does that mean the team will become a player for Brewers slugger Prince Fielder? It’s still hard to see that from here.

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal has reported that the Nationals have serious interest in Fielder and have identified him as their top offensive target. Team officials have downplayed the club’s interest in the 27-year-old, though, citing concerns about his longevity and the type of contract he’d get.

That could all be posturing - and it certainly wouldn’t be out of character for Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, to do a little posturing of his own - but the math still doesn’t add up for Fielder to reach Washington.

For starters, the Nationals still have depth at first base; Michael Morse played admirably there last season, and LaRoche is expected to make a full recovery by spring training. They also have Tyler Moore, who’s hit 31 homers in each of the last two seasons and should start next year at Triple-A Syracuse. And there’s the matter of the contract Fielder is likely to get; Can the Nationals afford to give him more than $150 million when they’re probably going to spend more than that on an extension for Ryan Zimmerman and they still owe Jayson Werth more than $110 million over the next six years?

Finally, it’s hard to see how the Nationals could manage to put Fielder, Morse, Werth, Bryce Harper and the center fielder they’d like to get in the same lineup. Somebody would be out of a spot, and unless the Nationals plan on shopping Morse at some point, there doesn’t seem to be another way to get everyone on the field at the same time.

Now the Nationals could decide all this calculus is nothing more than hot air when compared to the prospect of getting Fielder, a transformational slugger who’s still five months from his 28th birthday. They could move LaRoche if he proves to be healthy in spring training, and deal with the Harper question once it becomes necessary to do so. If they went into next season with Zimmerman, Fielder, Morse and Werth in the heart of their order, trying to hold up leads for Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, they’d have every reason to think they would be playoff contenders.

But if it turns out that Fielder is in the plans, it would represent a departure from what the Nationals have been saying all along.