A ton of options at the corners

I mentioned yesterday that if the Nationals want their 2013 roster to closely resemble their 2012 roster, they can make that happen.

Re-sign Adam LaRoche this offseason, opt not to add a center fielder via free agency or a trade and keep Michael Morse in left.

Bing, bang, boom, you’ve got the exact same outfield and infield alignment that we saw this season.

Of course, general manager Mike Rizzo has plenty of other options that he can consider if he wants to shake things up a bit, the majority of which center around the first base and left field spots.

The Nationals could choose not to bring back LaRoche (or he could choose to go elsewhere), which would then allow either Morse or Tyler Moore to become the Nats’ everyday first baseman.

If Morse moves to first, Moore could take over in left if the Nats feel his outfield defense is adequate and that he’s worthy of playing every day at the major league level. Moore impressed the Nats in his first major league season, putting up a slash line of .263/.327/.513 with 10 home runs in just 156 at-bats.

Playing both Morse and Moore, however, drops a left-handed hitter from the lineup. LaRoche proved valuable in the middle of the order this season not just because of his production, but because his left-handed presence helped balance out the lineup.

If the feeling from those in the front office is that they would like to give Moore more time to develop before giving him a starting job, Morse could take over at first base, and the Nats could look to add another outfielder.

They could open up the checkbook and go get either Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton, giving them the speedy, proven center fielder they’ve coveted for the last couple of years. Such a move would then allow Bryce Harper to move from center field to left, putting him in a less physically demanding defensive position.

Adding a center fielder from outside the organization, however, would block some young talent that the Nats have emerging at the minor league levels. Brian Goodwin, who had an excellent first year of pro ball this season, headlines a solid crop of center field prospects within the organization. Assuming the 2011 first-round pick continues to progress on schedule, he could be ready to take over the starting center field job in 2014.

The vibe I’ve gotten is that the Nats would prefer to leave Harper in center for the time being, hopefully serving as a bridge to Goodwin or another emerging young center fielder. Once an in-house option is ready in center, Harper could move to left and hold down a corner outfield spot for years to come.

One other option here involves using Morse as a trade chip. The power-hitting 30-year-old is owed $6.5 million next season (the last year on his two-year deal), a reasonable price tag that could help draw some interest from teams in need of some pop in the middle of their orders.

The Nats could choose to deal Morse, either freeing up left field for Moore or allowing them to move Harper to left and then sign a center fielder.

There are a ton of questions here.

How big a priority is LaRoche? Do the Nats feel Moore is ready to play every day? Will Morse be placed on the trade block? Are Bourn/Upton legitimate targets?

Things could be very simple if LaRoche returns to play first and Morse remains in left. Or, if Rizzo wants, the Nationals could look a lot different at the corners next season.

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