Figuring Out the Nats Lineup

A Nats discussion was a small part of Dave Schoenfield’s chat on ESPN.com yesterday, in which I tried to quickly lay out what the Nats plans should be for the future, in terms of their position players. When I say future, I am intentionally vague, but I’m thinking beyond just 2012. I tried to write relatively succinctly, given the medium, but I’ll lay out a little more here.

  • Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos are relatively set where they are. During the chat, someone named Adam made the excellent point that without a contract extension for Zim, everything is moot. But let’s go with the assumption that they do want to re-sign him for now.
  • Ian Desmond has yet to put together a starter-level season at SS, and while his defense did improve last year, his bat was terrible. The idea of moving him to the outfield strikes me as almost laughable – right now, he can’t hit for a SS. For now, it is hard to think you can rely on him as a starter
  • Bryce Harper will be up very soon, and he’ll play RF. He hasn’t played much CF, and he’s got a cannon, so let’s slot him into RF.
  • I am ignoring Adam LaRoche, because I can’t see him being with the team beyond the end of 2012

I think most people would agree with the above sentiments. You might argue that Desmond really is going to be great, but you’re just hoping. So let’s get to the more questionable parts. Here are my feelings on what should be done with the rest of the roster, as it stands.

  • Jayson Werth is not a CF on this team. He may be temporarily, but I can’t imagine Rizzo, a staunch advocate for good defense, wants a guy who has regressed in RF patrolling CF long term. I think he is destined for LF or even 1B, and he’s probably flexible enough to go wherever he’s needed more
  • Mike Morse is a LF/1B, again wherever he is needed more. If it’s between him and Werth, Morse belongs at 1B and Werth in LF
  • Anthony Rendon is probably not a 2B. I would love it if he was, mostly because it would solve roster issues, and he’d project to be one of the best hitters at the position. But I’ve read enough from guys who know scouting (Goldstein and Law) as opposed to other guys who are just baseball minds, to make me think he won’t play there. His injury history, and his fielding ability, would give pause to simply putting him there and sliding Espinosa over to SS.

So what this means is that Werth, Morse and Rendon are all fighting over the two spots in LF and 1B, and this is a problem. It’s not the worst problem in the world – you’d much rather have too many guys at a position than too few, as the Nats can tell you from experience. And nothing is set in stone, especially because Rendon hasn’t actually hit at all in the majors, or even minors.

But, if Rendon does show up and do what most think he can – move quickly up thanks to his major league ready bat, then something has got to give. Jayson Werth, thanks to his contract, is virtually untradable. Sure, things happen, but he should be on this team for close to the length of his contract, probably all of it. But one of the other two guys probably should be moved.

What makes the most sense would probably be to trade Mike Morse, because he’s going to be 30 this year, his contract only gives the team two more years of control, and he has only had one great year. With a crystal ball showing you that Rendon is a great hitter, you do that trade right now. But we don’t have a crystal ball. And we need to see if Rendon can hit first. That may not happen this year. By then, Morse will be less desirable in the trade market, but he should still be movable. It is, of course, blasphemy to think of moving one of the players that actually contributed to this team last season. But if the rest of the team matures as projected, and he can bring in a starter at 2B/SS or CF, then it would be worth it.

Alternatively, Morse could continue to be one of the top 10 hitters in the NL next season. If that is the case, the Nats should seriously consider extending his contract beyond 2013, probably before the end of 2013 when he’d ask for a many year deal. If they tried to give him 3 years from 2013-2015, they might be able to get him, and it would likely be prior to a decline. They’d have to pay, but they could probably avoid a 36 year old Morse on their roster and still have him when he’s 33-ish. If they do that, then they could try to move Rendon instead. He should bring in a bigger haul if he hits, and filling one of their lineup holes by trading him would also be possible.

Either way, they have too many corner types, and unless the problem gets solved by someone playing badly enough to ride the pine, they probably have to make some sort of trade.

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