The Washington Nationals currently have 17:2 odds of winning the 2013 World Series, according to Bet Vega. The Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers share the same exact odds of winning the Fall Classic during the upcoming season.
But what moves can the Washington Nationals make to become the odds-on favorite to win the World Series?
Will they resign first baseman Adam LaRoche? And how will their handling of LaRoche affect their plans for Michael Morse? How will they strengthen the bullpen to compensate for the loss of Sean Burnett? And could thy possibly maintain the strong bench they had last season?
Here are three moves the Washington Nationals still need to make to become the favorites to win the 2013 World Series.
Mark DeRosa batted .389 as a pinch hitter in 2012
Veteran infielder Mark DeRosa was an important part of the so-called Goon Squad last season, despite playing only 48 games due to injury. The 37-year-old had 16 hits in 85 total at-bats for a .188 average, to go with five doubles and six RBI. But as a pinch hitter, DeRosa had seven hits in 18 at-bats for a .389 average.
If the Washington Nationals resigned DeRosa, they would be well on their way to retaining their very strong bench. According to the Washington Nationals Offseason Outlook at MLBTradeRumors.com, fellow bench players Chad Tracy and Roger Bernadina are already under contract.
And DeRosa has expressed interest in returning to the Washington Nationals, as tweeted by ESPN baseball analyst and former Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden:
Mark De Rosa just told us that returning to the Washington Nationals is his first
DeRosa's exploits have garnered the attention of other teams around the league as well, including the division rival Miami Marlins. Juan C. Rodriguez of the Miami Sun-Sentinel reports that "another facet that makes DeRosa attractive to the Marlins is his clubhouse presence. He has a great reputation for helping younger players."
DeRosa showed this quality last season with the Washington Nationals, constantly mentoring younger players such as Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. This trait of DeRosa's will again prove valuable, especially with the departure of third base coach Bo Porter, whose old job DeRosa would be a natural fit for.
With a solid bench and veteran leadership, the Washington Nationals can be considered World Series favorites.
JP Howell pitched in the 2008 World Series for the Tampa Bay Rays
The bullpen was one of the Washington Nationals' greatest strengths during the 2012 season.
Now, the Washington Nationals are looking for a relief pitcher adept at retiring left-handed hitters, and who can also act as a late-inning set-up man.
JP Howell fits the bill. The left-hander is interested in playing for the Nationals and, as Bill Ladson of MLB.com reports, "he can serve as a lefty specialist or pitch in the late innings."
In fact, in a telephone interview with Ladson, Howell was effusive with his praise of the Washington Nationals:
I love [the Nationals'] style, and they are absolutely loaded. They have so much talent. They are championship contenders. ... They are truly a heavyweight. Personally speaking, I would be a great fit. I think the leader on that team, Jayson Werth, is a great guy. I know Davey Johnson from the [World Baseball Classic]. It was a pleasure to be around a guy like that. ... If I could fit on the ride, that would be amazing.
The signing of JP Howell will allow the Washington Nationals to shore up their already dominant bullpen which, like a strong bench, is another prerequisite for postseason success. This move will therefore help the Nats become World Series favorites.
Adam LaRoche is seeking a third-year in any new contract he signs
Adam LaRoche wants to re-sign with the Washington Nationals. But he also wants a three-year contract. The Washington Nationals have offered LaRoche a two-year contract, worth $25 million, and they won't budge on their offer.
But as James Wagner of The Washington Post reports, Adam LaRoche may have at least one suitor that is willing to offer him a three-year deal:
The Rangers were one of the handful of teams interested in LaRoche, who hit 33 home runs, drove in 100 runs and earned a Gold Glove last season. But they were reportedly heavily courting Hamilton, wanting to keep his power bat in the lineup. But now that they have lost out on Greinke (to the Dodgers) and Hamilton (to the Angels), it makes sense that they could extend a three-year deal to LaRoche, a potentially luring offer from a contending team. And the Rangers, who have shown a willingness to spend money, could also be motivated to pursue LaRoche harder, given their lack of success in the free agent market so far.
The Nationals can actually afford to let LaRochee walk. James Wagner states that the "Nats will have a logjam of infielders in a few years with the rise of developing prospects and will have substantial financial commitments in the future to homegrown players such as Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond."
And the Nationals have options at first base for 2013, further allowing the team to let LaRoche sign elsewhere. The team's best option is Michael Morse. Despite playing left field in 67 of his 93 total games last season, Morse does have extensive experience at first base.
Morse has played 123 games at first base in his career, enough to be his third-most frequent defensive position. In those 123 games at first base, Morse has 964 total chances with only six errors, for a fielding percentage of .994. Morse has a career range factor of 7.79 as a first baseman.
During the 2011 season, Morse payed 85 games at first base while LaRoche was injured. In 793 total chances that season, Morse logged a .992 fielding percentage with a respectable range factor of 9.26.
While it will be difficult to replace the defensive prowess of LaRoche, who has a 8.98 range factor in 10247 total chances at first base, Morse 's experience will make the transition a smoother one. This transition will eliminate the possible distraction of a positional controversy between Morse and LaRoche, allowing the Nats to set their lineup to guarantee the presence of Morse, along with the presence of other players whose playing time would be positively affected by LaRcohe's departure.
With this newly stable and still formidable lineup, the Nationals can become true favorites to win the 2013 World Series.