In Part I I looked at what some of the big name options the Nationals will have at their disposal this offseason as they look to fill the big shoes of Adam Dunn. In Part II I will look at some of the lesser options at the Nat’s disposal. In addition we will look at what internal options the Nationals have both in the present and future.
Josh Willingham: Willingham has been a nice power bat for the Nationals over the past couple of seasons, but there are a number of flaws with making him the every day first baseman. For one thing he has only played a total of 4 major league innings at first, meaning there could be a serious defensive adjustment period. Secondly, Willingham isn’t a long term fix. He is entering his final year of arbitration and on the wrong side of 30. I think you could make a case for Willingham to be dealt this offseason (more on that later), but even if he starts the year with this team he would be in the same position as Dunn was this year. Where he would either need to be extended or traded. Even if they were comfortable extending Willingham, he does have an injury history and has never played more than 144 games in a season (many years even fewer). Also he is the surest thing in the outfield meaning you’d be robbing Peter to pay Paul in this situation. I don’t see there being any chance of the Nationals moving Willingham, even if they did acquire a top flight corner OF (Crawford, Werth, etc.).
Mike Morse: Morse got Nationals’ fans talking after he basically became an everyday player with Willingham’s injury and produced similar numbers. In 293 plate appearances Morse put together some nice numbers: .289/.352/.519 with a wOBA of .374 and a UZR of -5.9 (that was mainly in the OF, his career 1B number is 1.9 in 144 innings), and a WAR of 1.4 (solid for less than half a season’s worth of at bats). Morse defensively showed that he could replace Dunn, but there are some warning signs there. He will be 29 entering next year and has not shown more than being a utility player up to this point. While it is possible he is a late bloomer, it is also possible this season was a flash in the pan. The Nationals need a more reliable option to play 1B every day, but Morse should be penciled in for about 400-500 plate appearances next year (more if he proves himself), but it will likely be all over the diamond. Morse is a fallback option, but hopefully the Nationals trot out a safer option to start opening day.
The Young Guys:
Chris Marrero: Since he was drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft, Chris Marrero was supposed to be the middle of the order hitter the Nationals needed. While position switches and injuries have set him back some, 4 and a half years later the Nationals are still waiting for Marrero to break out. Marrero has big time power, but has yet to show that consistently in the minors. In 5 minor league years Marrero has a slugging percentage of .459 (not exactly what you are expecting from a guy you are hoping to replace Dunn). It is even worse in high A ball (.452) and Double-A (.442). With a walk rate that has been under 10% and a strikeout rate about 20%, Marrero doesn’t make up for his slugging percentage by getting on base. To make matters even worse his defense has failed to improve over the years, and it is considered pretty bad. Marrero has about no shot of being ready opening day, and might end up being a DH only type of hitter (unless his defense dramatically improves). It is even a stretch to think that Marrero could be up with the Nats, before next September and even then he might not be ready. Marrero is just 22 so you can’t close the book on him yet, but it is getting to the point where I wonder if he will ever be a part of the Nationals. His best asset to the team might be as trade bait, while he still has value, to an American League club that could use him as a DH. Regardless of where he is, Marrero needs to show more power, a little better plate discipline and much better defense. He is beginning to look like a long shot to replace Dunn long term, and plays no role in the short term needs of the Nats.
Tyler Moore: Moore was the Nationals minor league hitter of the year, as he slugged 31 homers for High-A Potomac, and has gotten a number of fans excited. Right now it appears that there is more smoke than fire here, as Moore at 23 was a little advanced for the league. His real test will be if he can repeat his power display in a tougher league this season. Further plaguing Moore is his plate discipline which is below average at best. Moore needs to learn on how to take a walk, otherwise he will be exploited by more advanced pitching. Moore also isn’t much of a defender yet at first base which also hurts his Major League prospects. While I don’t want to write off Moore just yet, he is probably a good three years off and even then he isn’t a sure thing. Moore is nice to have and if he develops great, but I wouldn’t count on him as the long-term answer for Washington.
Justin Bloxom: You could pretty much write ‘ditto’ next to Bloxom’s name if you were comparing him to Tyler Moore. He is 16 months younger, but was in a lower class this year. He didn’t display as much power, but he was a better all-around hitter. His defense is probably better than Moore’s as well, but not by much. Bloxom is a nice developmental player, but he shouldn’t be counted on long-term just yet.
Non-Free Agent Options:
James Loney: Once thought of as a corner stone of a young and talented Dodger team, Loney’s numbers have falled each and every year. In 2007 in nearly 400 plate appearances Loney looked like a stud posting a .331/.381/.538 line with a wOBA of .389. Since then his numbers haven’t been close, and despite playing full seasons he hasn’t matched the 15 home runs he hit that year. Loney just hasn’t shown the ability that he flashed 3 years ago (hence the fear about Morse) and isn’t worth the trade or the millions he will make in arbitration.
Garrett Jones: Although the Pirates themselves are looking for a first baseman, don’t be surprised if they look to move Garrett Jones this winter. Despite an additional 300 plate appearances, Jones hit the same number of home runs and saw all of his percentage stats collapse. Jones has some value with his OF versatility, but the Pirates are stocked full of corner outfielders and need a better 1B option. Jones will come cheap on the trade market, but he is probably best served as a bench bat on an AL team who can play (1B, LF, DH) exclusively against righties.
Chris Davis: Davis was at one time one of the Rangers top prospects, and when he first came up in 2008 he showed that he (seemingly) belonged. Davis in 80 games posted a .285/.331/.549 with a .371 wOBA. He had a -6.2 UZR (though most of that was at 3B where he isn’t an option) and a 1.1 WAR (not bad considering the negative defense and only half a season). While he followed 2008 up with a 21 HR campaign (in 400+ plate appearances) his .238/.284/.442 line left a lot to be desired. His number fell further last year and even with the Rangers dealing their top 1B prospect, Justin Smoak, Davis’ time in Texas may be at an end. The Rangers last year dumped former uber-prospect, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia for some younger talent and might look to do the same this year as well. Davis won’t net them much of a return, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Rangers deal him. Davis has struggled to hit lefties throughout his career, but remains an intriguing option.
I don’t think the Nationals can fill their first base role with a ‘by committee’ approach, and if they were going to rely on these options that is exactly what they’d be doing. Loney and Davis have some name recongition and Jones was coming off a monster season, but all three of them this past year should serve as a cautionary tale for why the Nationals need to find a more consistent option than Mike Morse. Like Morse all three had a big half- two-thirds of a season, where they showed the hitting ability and potential to have an every day job. Now just a few years removed (and both Loney and Davis are younger than Morse) they are likely going to be looking for a job. Jones or Davis would be a good platoon partner for Morse, but would still be a below average 1B option for the Nationals. Jones or Davis are cheap enough that the Nats could take a flier on them as an insurance policy. Most of the free agent options have had some inconsistent issues in the past (or this past year), so a guy like Davis or Jones would be good for depth purposes (particularly if they can’t acquire a young future prospect).