The Nats still don’t have a first baseman, and while Derrek Lee is still available, it’s been pointed out that the Nats would be more interested in a lefty. Werth, Zimmerman, Desmond, Willingham, Morse, Ramos, Flores, and Pudge are all righties. Danny Espinosa is a switch hitter. Of the potential starters, Nyjer Morgan and Bernadina are lefties. That’s a serious lack of middle of the order LH hitters.
Here are some guys that might be available on the cheap, either through free agency or via a trade. I’m not including real studs or young guys with years of control. I’m thinking more of guys that could be actually acquired.
Adam LaRoche – Let’s mention him first, as he’s the lead dog in the race. He’s a free agent, and he may be the best available. Here’s what I said about him a month and a half ago: “If you believe Pena had a down year, why not LaRoche? He only had a .788 OPS this season, but was just above .840 for the 3 seasons prior.” He can field, and he’s hit most seasons, so as long as last year can be thought of as flukey – his BABIP is no excuse, it was .330 last year, a career HIGH.
James Loney – He’s been linked to a few trade rumors already, and part of that is because he’s a first baseman without much power. He’s had an OPS of .751 in his last 3 seasons, pretty awful for a 1B. Playing in LA may have something to do with that. His numbers at home in his career (all with the Dodgers) are a lousy .268/.334/.377. Away from the cavernous Chavez Ravine, he hit an impressive .307/.361/.493. It makes one think he could be an effective, even good, first basemen if he were to have a home park slightly smaller than Dodgers Stadium. 2400 PAs makes me almost sure of that, as does that fact that he has double the HRs away than at home.
Conor Jackson – He looked like a rising star at the end of 2008. At that point he had finished his third full season and had hit .292/.371/.451 over those three years. His HRs hadn’t increased though, and he ended up hurt the next two years. He only getting 351 PAs from 2009-2010, and in that time hit a measly .616. He’s on the A’s now, and they’ve said that they don’t want to move him. But he’s a 1B/OF and that team has a crowd there. He’s owed more than the $3.1M he was paid last year thanks to arbitration, and then his contract ends. The A’s aren’t necessarily LOOKING to move him, but he might be had for a song.
Dan Johnson – He just signed a 1 year deal with the Rays, avoiding arbitration. But he’s probably not going to be their starting 1B, so they might be up for a trade. Of course, he only hit .198/.343/.414 last season, but that was after missing all of 2009, and not coming back until August. He hit better in September, so there are potential signs of promise there.
Garrett Jones – His numbers aren’t always pretty, and last year he followed up a 21 HR, .293/.372/.567 season with a 21HR .247/.306/.414 season. Everything dropped including his ISO, which is not a good sign. Still, it’s quite possible that neither of those sets of numbers are the real Jones, who lies somewhere in between. He’s set to platoon in the OF this year, and he mashes righties, so if the Nats are looking for a platoon of their own (ahem, Mike Morse), he’s a possibility.
Nick Johnson – No seriously, he’s out there. He’s a lefty. And maybe he would be willing to split time with someone (Mike Morse) against righties? He’ll sign a cheap, incentive laden-deal. And I’d rather not trade away any real talent to plug a hole. Unless it is a long term, effective plug.
So Who Should It Be?
In the end, I think LaRoche is probably the most likely candidate. But those home/away splits for Loney are a revelation to me. I’m sure Rizzo knows about this, of course, I’m sure the Dodgers do, too. I don’t know how much it would take to get him, but he may be a legitimate target for a trade. Who could they trade for Loney? Well I am wary to speculate on trades because I know I’d never get the value right, but I know they have Jay Gibbons penciled in as their left fielder. Willingham may not be quite enough, but if they like Gibbons, they could always move him to first, upgrading Loney who can’t hit in 82 of their games, and Gibbons with Willingham.