Discussion: The Nats’ First Base Backup Plan

After shocking the world by signing Jayson Werth, the Nats have been looking to make a second, albeit smaller, splash to fill their first base vacancy.  The club has talked extensively with Adam LaRoche but the two sides seem to have hit a wall as the SFX client seeks $21MM over three years.  They've also been linked to 35-year-old Derrek Lee who is willing to take a one-year deal.  Lee hit just .260/.347/.428 with 19 HRs in 2010 but finished out the year in solid fashion with the Braves.  Like LaRoche, Lee is also being looked at by the Orioles.

It seems likely that Washington will end up with either Lee or LaRoche at first base but they do have other options.  It has been said that the Nationals could look into signing Casey Kotchman as a Plan B.  The M's let the 27-year-old hit free agency back in November after he turned in a .217/.280/.336 slash line in 2010.  Kotchman made a shade over $3.5MM last season and can probably be had for less in '11.  His bat may be suspect but his career 8.8 UZR/150 at first base helps to offset his recent offensive shortcomings.

Kotchman might not be a real upgrade over Mike Morse at first base but he could be a nice complement to the burly slugger.  While Kotchman has always performed better against right-handed pitching, Morse has shown that he has a knack for hitting against lefties.  While he only made 99 plate appearances against southpaws in 2010, the 28-year-old impressed by hitting .295/.374/.625 with eight homers.

ESPN's Jason A. Churchhill suggests a different platoon option: ex-National Nick Johnson.  The oft-injured 32-year-old missed the bulk of 2010 with a wrist injury and predictably had his '11 option declined.  It's hard to say what kind of contract Nicky J will fetch on the open market but it's safe to say it'll be for less than the $5.5MM he made last season.  There isn't a great disparity in how Johnson hits against lefties and righties but he tends to hit for a little more power against right-handers. 

There's obviously a significant drop-off in talent after LaRoche and Lee in what remains of this year's free agent class but the Nats could fill their gap at first cheaply while addressing other needs.


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