Nats rumored first base target Carlos Pena signed with the Cubs on Tuesday for $10 M, and since I never thought it was a good idea to sign him, I am obviously ok with this. I’m not going to get into the value of his contract too much – I always make the argument that I don’t care about it, so I’m going to use this one to say that he doesn’t deserve this – I just don’t think he’s that great of a hitter anymore. Keith Law said “Since 2008, however, he’s been baffled by even moderate-quality offspeed stuff” and I don’t think he’s going to be an OBP machine anymore. You may be able to look back at the end of the season, see 25+ homers in hitting-friendly Wrigley and think the Nats missed out, but if he came to DC his hitting numbers would have to be adjusted for the park.
Many had penciled him in as the starting 1B for the Nats, so take out your erasers and start over. What are the choices left for the Nats?
Josh Willingham – Willingham has hit .263/.377/.479 in his two years with the Nats, and has probably been the third best hitter on the team in that span. His bat’s fine for a 1B, not spectacular but very good at times, and he’s not exactly a great defensive outfielder. There’s no knowing whether or not he’ll take to the position, and it may not be wise to move a guy with durability issues. Then again, a move away from the OF may keep him healthier. The problem with him is that he is a great trade chip, and even if they want to move him in the summer as opposed to now, they probably don’t want him to look bad learning a new position.
Mike Morse – Morse might be a full time player, and this year his .289/.352/.519 actually gave him the third highest OPS on the team. He isn’t a great outfielder, and has spent some time at first. Limited time means small sample size, but his numbers there have been good. Whether or not he can play first base is one question, but it also remains to be seen if Morse, who turns 29 in March, is actually a full time hitter or if last year was aided by luck.
Adam LaRoche – He may be the cream of the remaining crop, although that isn’t saying much. Last year he hit .261/.320/.468, his lowest full season OPS total since he was 25. He’s only going to be 30 next season, and he’s shown in previous years that he can hit. If last year was more of a fluke than a sign of things to come, than you might expect him to have an OPS similar to 2007-2009 when he recorded insanely similar numbers of .841, .843 and .844. He’s a notorious second half hitter, which means he’s usually hitting extremely poorly through mid-May. He’s a pretty good fielder, and remains that at age 30, even if his bat is questionable.
Derrek Lee – I don’t see him as much different than Carlos Pena, an aging 1B who used to be a very good fielder. But Lee’s dropoff has been more gradual, and he’s adjusted better. He aint gonna hit .300, and unlike Pena he won’t ever hit 30 HRs again, but he does have an opportunity to be a middle-of-the-pack first baseman for another year or two if things go well.
Jesus Flores – I’m not saying Flores should be the answer right now, thanks to his injury history. But if he is healthy enough to play, it might make sense for the Nats to see if he can spend time there. They have 2 strong catching prospects besides him, and playing first base may keep him healthy. If his arm continues to be problems, this may be a solution. He is a .260/.313/.406 career hitter, but the vast majority of those ABs came as a 22 and 23 year old catcher. In 2009 he hit .301/.371/.505 in 106 PAs, indicating improvement – that .877 OPS is probably not to be expected over a full season, but he looks like a strong young hitter that needs to get on the field.
Lyle Overbay – Overbay had a nice age 29 season – he hit .312/.372/.508 and looked like a decent hitting first basemen to go with his good fielding. That season, however, was 2006. Since then he’s hit .255/.344/.427. He isn’t the worst hitter out there, but for a 1B, he pretty much is. He’ll be cheap, though, and could be last minute add. He also might be cheap enough to sign in case moving one of the guys on the current roster doesn’t pan out.
Troy Glaus – Glaus went from a consistent mid-.800s OPS from 2005-2008 before spending almost all of 2009 on the DL. 2010 was not pretty, he only hit .240/.344/.400 in 483 PAs. He showed that he still has power, and he’ll be cheap. His fielding is not very good anymore, and there are questions about durability. That being said, he’s only 2 years removed from being an above average 1B.
Nick Johnson – Hey, he’s out there. And he could be a great left/righty platoon with Morse. He might be amenable to to only 300 PA, thanks to his ridiculous injury history.
There are a few other options out there, but I’m not sure that they are realistic. Rizzo has said that he still wants to fill the position from an external candidate, but maybe that’s not the best route. So what are your thoughts?