The annual circus that is baseball's Winter Meetings begins Monday in Nashville, Tenn. For four days, general managers, owners and agents are all in close proximity at the same hotel complex, scheming to sign free agents or make blockbuster trades that will, in theory, boost their fortunes in 2013.
For the Nationals, however, the major decisions are relatively clear even before the meetings begin. They already added center fielder Denard Span in a trade with the Minnesota Twins last week. Their outfield will consist of Span, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth.
That leaves Michael Morse, the primary left fielder in 2012, as the odd man out. Or does it? Morse would be a better fit at first base and gives the team leverage with free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche. A Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award winner last season, LaRoche has said repeatedly he wants to return to Washington. But it may have to be on the Nats' terms. The 33-year-old, as good as he was last season, may not get the long-term security he seeks, and his replacement is in house.
If LaRoche does re-sign, then Morse is an obvious trade candidate. He is entering the final year of his contract and will have value as a power bat for a relatively cheap $6.75 million contract. But this is a team on which even the backup catcher spot is accounted for thanks to the summer trade for Kurt Suzuki. The bench has a lefty pinch hitter (Chad Tracy), a fine defensive outfielder (Roger Bernadina), a useful utility man (Steve Lombardozzi) and a power right-handed bat (Tyler Moore).
The remaining big need is a fifth starting pitcher now that Edwin Jackson has been let go and John Lannan has been nontendered. Morse and a prospect could bring such a return. Then again, Washington could go after a star free agent such as Zack Greinke, whom they tried to trade for two winters ago. He will cost serious money, but even a $22 million deal there -- with LaRoche also on board at another $12 million or so -- equals a reasonable payroll just above $100 million. General manager Mike Rizzo has plenty of options and the luxury of not having to go crazy at baseball's market bazaar.
- Brian McNally