“Problem” has a negative connotation. It implies that something is going wrong and needs to be fixed. What the Nationals are having to deal with at first base is having to decide between two players who have recently hit over .285 in past seasons.
Coming into 2011, newly-signed Adam LaRoche was supposed to bring an offensive spark to the plate. After suffering an injury in Spring Training, he never full recovered, and performed poorly in the 43 games he played before deciding surgery was necessary.
Enter: Michael Morse. Over the two seasons before 2011, Morse saw his average rise as he got more games, from .250 in 32 games in 2009 to .289 in 98 games in 2010. When his number was called to replace LaRoche, he exploded for a .303 average in 146 games, the most of his career.
Fast forward an off season and here we are. Two MLB proven bats looking at the same position.
With the Nationals’ deficits in the outfield, the plan to start is reportedly to have Morse play in the outfield while LaRoche starts at first.
LaRoche has more experience both in the league and at the position. He has proven consistency throughout his career at it. Morse is more of a risk since he hasn’t been tested long-term, but he appears to be on the up-swing of his career, even though he isn’t exactly young at 29.
The pressure will be on for LaRoche. If he doesn’t perform, the Nats now have the option of replacing him at first base. That wasn’t the case last season when he went down with injury. And if neither LaRoche nor Morse can get it done, likely minor-leaguer Chris Marrero is chomping at the bit to get a piece.
It is possible any of them could eventually be replaced by 2011 first-round pick Anthony Rendon, who will be auditioning at all four infield positions this spring. Like we said, not a bad problem to have.
What it gives the Nats more than anything is options. For a club that used to not have many major-league options, this is huge. The best way to build s good team is to have competition at as many positions as possible. That’s what we have in 2012.
With the expansion of the playoffs to 10 teams likely to come in 2012, that competition is even more likely to lead to a playoff spot.