Dec 05

Nats boost rotation with Haren; Next moves hinge on LaRoche

For those who were looking for Nationals GM Mike Rizzo to make a blockbuster trade involving Mike Morse or sign a big money free agent, the annual baseball winter meetings must have been a disappointment. But for fans expecting Rizzo to continue his practice of finding talent at bargain prices, they were satisfying enough.

Rizzo came away from Nashville with a new No. 5 starter, Dan Haren, lured away from Anaheim with a one-year, $13 million deal. Haren, who went on the disabled list last season for the first time in his career with a back injury, must still pass a physical, but the Nats are happy with the depth they have behind him.

Haren went 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA for a disappointing Angels team last season, but went 6-5 with a 3.58 ERA in his last 13 starts after coming off the DL, stats similar to those of Edwin Jackson, the man he will replace in the Nats’ rotation. His back issues might be of concern for a team counting on him to be a No 1, 2 or 3 starter. But the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore reports that with Zach Duke signed as a long man, and with Christian Garcia and possibly Ryan Garcia able to take on starting loads if necessary, the Nats are confident Haren will work out, especially for a manager who loves to use his bullpen as 2012 NL Manager of the Year Davey Johnson does.

The main unanswered question for the Nats now is, who will play first base in 2013? The answer is either Adam LaRoche or Morse. LaRoche went unsigned during the winter meetings, and MASN’s Pete Kerzel reports that the only clubs interested are the Nats and teams that are either declining or losing, Texas and Seattle.

The main sticking point seems to be the length of the contract. The Nats are offering two years and LaRoche wants three. With Tyler Moore developing at the major league level and other prospects in the pipeline, Rizzo is not likely to budge in their stance. LaRoche’s defense and his left-handed bat remain the key factors that make him attractive to the Nats, and Kerzel believes the Nats will re-sign him.

In that case, Morse could still be traded. Even though the Nats seem to have their rotation set and are looking for only a left-handed short man in the pen to replace Sean Burnett, there is still a good bit the Nats could get for him — like a few more pitching prospects to replace the ones lost in the Denard Span and Gio Gonzalez trades — or the aforementioned relief pitcher plus a utility infielder/outfielder who can play a credible third base if Ryan Zimmerman gets injured again, and play DH in interleague games.

Knowing Rizzo’s penchant for finding top-tier talent at bargain prices, he’s bound to bring in enough talent to keep the Nats in division races for years to come.