The Washington Nationals' magical 2012 run officially came to an end last week, and now general manager Mike Rizzo has no choice but to look ahead to next season.
The only major deals Rizzo must choose if he wants to work out are Edwin Jackson and Adam LaRoche. Jackson seems like a sure-fire bet to come back if Rizzo offers him a fair deal, but LaRoche is a different story.
LaRoche had a breakout season in 2012. He hit a career-high 33 home runs and drove in a career-high-tying 100 runs. He did this while sporting a line of .271/.343/.510 and playing great defense at first base (just seven errors on the season).
The Nationals do hold on option on him for 2013, but they have a few options to explore before picking it up. Allow me to explain.
Washington has been linked to center fielders for years now. With both B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn available this offseason, there's no doubt Rizzo will be very interested.
Currently, the outfield is comprised of Michael Morse in left field, Bryce Harper in center field and Jayson Werth in right field. This is not at all a bad defensive outfield, but it does lack some serious speed.
Upton or Bourn could easily provide that speed in center field.
Should either of them be signed, Morse could slide to first base. If LaRoche is retained and Upton or Bourn is signed, Morse becomes expendable.
The question essentially becomes this—Upton/Bourn and Morse, Upton/Bourn and LaRoche or simply Morse and LaRoche?
What should Rizzo do?
Werth was the leadoff man for Davey Johnson after he returned from injury, but it's easy to see he's not a prototypical No. 1 hitter. His power and run production are too valuable to leave in the top spot for a full season.
That being said, I think it's wise to make a push for either Upton or Bourn. Of the two, Bourn is probably the best option. Upton strikes out way too much for a leadoff man, and Bourn is capable of stealing 50-plus bases per season.
With Bourn patrolling center field, Rizzo now needs to make a decision about first base.
LaRoche will be 33 by the time next season starts, while Morse will be 31 by Opening Day. Age clearly shouldn't be an issue in this decision.
I think the decision should come down to consistency. LaRoche and Morse have both been injured for extended periods of time while with the Nationals, but LaRoche has been the far more consistent player in his career.
He has driven in 80-plus runs six times, while Morse has only done so once. Of those six times, two of them were seasons in which LaRoche racked up 100 RBI. Morse's career-high is just 95.
Defensively, Morse isn't terrible. He has made just six errors in 964 chances in his career at first base. Fielding percentage may not be the best judge of defensive talent, but Morse's numbers are good enough for a .994 fielding percentage.
LaRoche has played significantly more time at first and has compiled over 10,000 chances. He owns a fielding percentage of .995. He's the better option defensively.
Morse's ability to play outfield along with first base definitely makes him an attractive option, but I think LaRoche is the best bet in the end. He's too consistent to pass over.
Morse could also fetch a nice return in a potential trade, so Rizzo could look to add to his already strong bullpen in a deal.
The Nationals are in a good spot this offseason, as there are plenty of options to consider. Rizzo should be excited for the offseason about to unfold.