As the third day of baseball's Winter Meetings come to a close, I'm going to make a couple of assumptions regarding the future of the Washington Nationals. Perhaps neither will occur, but let's assume for a moment that they will.
First, I fully expect that the Nats will sign Adam LaRoche as the team's first baseman, probably a two-year deal for $15 million or so.
Second, I think that Josh Willingham will remain as the team's left fielder in spite of reports that he will be traded if the team signs a significant bat to play at first (like LaRoche).
Take a look at the Nationals probable lineup for next season, assuming LaRoche and Willingham are with the team.
The statistics are the player's 2010 numbers based on them playing a full season. I chose to use Nyjer Morgan's career average over 162 games because I don't think it is possible for him to have another season as bad as last year:
CF Nyjer Morgan: .283/.344/.360 2 HR 36 RBI 44 SB
SS Ian Desmond: .269/.308/.392 10 HR 65 RBI 17 SB
3B Ryan Zimmerman: .307/.388/.510 29 HR 98 RBI 4 SB
RF Jayson Werth: .296/.388/.532 27 HR 85 RBI 13 SB
LF Josh Willingham: .268/.389/.459 24 HR 81 RBI 8 SB
1B Adam LaRoche: .261/.320/.468 27 HR 109 RBI 0 SB
2B Danny Espinosa: .214/.277/.447 35 HR 87 RBI 0 SB
C Pudge/Ramos: .267/.298/.355 7 HR 62 RBI 3 SB
A couple of caveats regarding the numbers: all eight players' stats are based on 162 games so Zimmerman's numbers for example reflect four additional home runs and 13 more RBI.
Secondly, Espinosa's stats were based on a relatively small sampling, so his home run total (35) and stolen bases (0) are skewed. I expect him to hit 25 homers and steal 25 bases next year if he's playing every day.
That can be a very productive lineup in 2011 if Nyjer Morgan returns to form, something I think he can do. And any team that can bat Adam LaRoche sixth is going to score a lot of runs.
If Willingham stays, manager Jim Riggleman will have to find a way to get Michael Morse into the lineup. He said earlier this week that he hoped to find 300 at-bats for the developing slugger. There is a way he can come close to that.
Though LaRoche hits pretty well against lefties (.264/.297/.462), Morse could play 15 or so games at first against the top lefties in the league. And with Willingham's problems remaining healthy, Riggleman could give him regular days off throughout the season, allowing Morse another 20 games in the lineup. When you add in pinch-hitting and perhaps a few games relieving Zimmerman at third, the 28-year-old could get 200 at-bats in 2011.
If Willingham is traded—a distinct possibility—I would guess that that Morse would be the everyday left-fielder. Had he played 162 games last season, he would have batted .289-30-85. In reality, a full-time Morse would likely hit around .280-25-75, roughly the same as Josh.
How good will the Nationals be in 2011? It depends on the starting pitching. Both the offense and the bullpen seem strong enough now to give the team a chance to win every night.
Right now, the starting rotation includes John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmermann, Livan Hernandez and either Yunesky Maya, Ross Detwiler or J.D. Martin. Late in the season, of course, Stephen Strasburg returns.
Add one quality arm, someone along the lines of Matt Garza, and the Nationals are at least a .500 team, maybe better. If they do the impossible and somehow sign Cliff Lee—or trade for Zach Greinke—they could come awfully close to 85 wins.
It it difficult to believe that the Nationals could be that improved in 2011, but that of course is predicated on the team signing Adam LaRoche.
And hopefully, we'll know in just a few days.