The Repercussions of the LaRoche Signing
As soon as the news broke that Adam LaRoche had signed a two-year deal with the Washington Nationals the first thought wasn't of excitement or joy at having the first baseman back it was that Michael Morse is now on the trading block. That is the first and most important ripple from the Adam LaRoche signing, but it isn't the last.
When the 2013 off-season began and the weaknesses of the Nats roster were examined there was one that was glaring. Michael Morse as a left fielder was a -20.4 UZR/150 player. That isn't just bad it is atrocious. The Nats first order of business was to improve the outfield defense and that was accomplished when they sent Alex Meyers to the Twins in exchange for Denard Span. The outfield defense isn't so much improved by Span's 4.6 UZR/150 in center, but from Span pushing Harper into left. Harper wasn't just a good defender in center in 2012, he was a great one, and reason holds that if he was that good in center he will be even better in left.
With that accomplished the Nats could have let LaRoche walk and taken the draft pick and money, but they wanted LaRoche back. Mike Rizzo wanted LaRoche to remain with the Washington Nationals as long as it made sense and the three year deal LaRoche was seeking didn't make sense to Mike Rizzo, and so a two year one was offered. That deal sat on Adam LaRoche's table as he waited for the Red Sox or Rangers to make an offer, but they moved in other directions leaving LaRoche with little choice. Other teams like the Baltimore Orioles could have jumped into the LaRoche market at any point, but didn't because they didn't want to part with their first round pick. The Nationals had all the negotiating leverage and in the end they got their man for the price they wanted.
This is how Mike Rizzo operates as a GM. He makes the moves he thinks make sense for the team, but always on his terms, and no GM is better at sticking to their guns. Mike Rizzo said he was going to shutdown Strasburg and shutdown he was, Mike Rizzo wasn't going to part with his prospects unless he could get a young, controllable major leaguer in return and in come Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span, and Mike Rizzo wasn't going to give Adam LaRoche any more than a two year deal. Mike Rizzo has made the Nationals into not just a winner, but a team that should win for a long time, and he has done it all on his terms.
Now you can bet that Rizzo isn't going to trade Morse unless the return is exactly what he wants. The Nationals found themselves in a similar situation last off-season with John Lannan. They could have traded him for a small return, but Rizzo wanted what he wanted and instead of forcing a trade of Lannan the Nationals used him as a spot starter and to take the place of Strasburg when he was shutdown, and all for the low low cost of $5 million. That is about the salary that Michael Morse will be making in 2013, and he would provide more benefit off the bench than Lannan did in AAA, and injuries happen in baseball. LaRoche missed most of 2011 and Werth most of 2012. Michael Morse can fill in at both those positions.
A solid middle of the order bat is a much more rare commodity than a fifth starter and so it can be assumed that there is a team out there who will pony up what Rizzo wants. Whether it is the Orioles parting with Brian Matusz or the Mariners sending over Charlie Furbush the price appears to be a lefty reliever plus. How much else the Nats want is unknown, but what is known is that Mike Rizzo isn't going to view the presence of Adam LaRoche as an anchor on Michael Morse's trade value and will ask for what he thinks Morse would be worth regardless.