Last year it was Strasburg. Shut him down at 160 innings or let him pitch through the playoffs? That was the pre-season quandary that never went away.
This season’s dilemma will resolve, one way or the other, between now and the start of spring training. What do you do with Michael Morse if Adam LaRoche returns to the Nationals?
The Nats have too many good players.
They are too big for their britches.
Their cup runneth over.
When the Washington Nationals traded a highly regarded minor league pitching prospect for Center Fielder Denard Span, they added a speedy, leadoff-hitting CF that filled a long-missing link in the roster. GM Mike Rizzo has continuously coveted a true CF with range in the outfield that could also hit first in the lineup: a fast-running on-base machine. Span is that puzzle piece. He is an excellent defensive outfielder, rarely strikes out, and fits the leadoff spot well. Acquiring him also gives us an exceptional defensive outfield, with Bryce Harper moving to right field and Jayson Werth in left field. Plenty of speed, Harper’s arm in right, and good gloves everywhere.
But where does that leave Morse, their 30-homerun, .300-hitting slugger?
If Adam LaRoche gets lured away in free agency by a longer contract commitment than the Nats are willing to offer him (say an extra 10 to 15 million dollar season), Morse will slide back into his best defensive spot, first base, and the lineup logjam is resolved. But if LaRoche re-ups here to help Davey Johnson end his career pursuing the 2013 World Series Championship for DC, here is my suggestion:
Don’t trade Morse. The 25-man roster for 2013 will be amazing, 1 through 25. This is an opportunity for an historic season and Davey Johnson is just the man to make it happen. Like this:
Pencil in five players as starters in four positions and use the extra man to give everyone a regular day of recuperation but still available on the bench. In addition to Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche at first base, Jayson Werth, Denard Span and Bryce Harper can complete a 1B-outfield four-position unit. And the 80% playing time for each is increased, again, when Morse can serve as designated hitter for games played in American League ballparks.
The alternative is to trade Morse, possibly for minor league prospects. That would mean the trade that brought Denard Span here will have given us a great defensive outfield and more speed in the lineup, but less power. Morse can flat-out hit and I fully expect him to surpass his 31-homerun 2011 season.
Over a six-month, 162-game span, injuries and slumps happen. We would miss Morse badly then. Keep the Beast.
The same principle can be applied in the infield to keep everyone fresh and involved. The Nationals have four infielders – Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi – that produce at a high level. Rotating in a day of partial rest for each could have a big payoff physically over the course of the season.
Davey, what do you think?
By Zev Feder, a long-time Southwest resident with a life-long passion for baseball as a player, coach and, above all, fan.