Nationals Baseball: The Prince of the next few free agent 1B hot stoves

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Prince of the next few free agent 1B hot stoves

While some are fully on board the "sign Prince" bandwagon, others are wondering why the Nats would do such a thing. They have a decent first-baseman in Adam LaRoche (assuming he's healthy), and they have a back-up plan everyone loves in moving Mike Morse to the position. Why bother with Prince?

The possible answer lies in not in what Prince is, but what the other guys available are. In the next two seasons the pickings at 1B will be slim. Next year the "prize" is probably Mike Napoli, but he appears to be in line for a contract extension. After that... a position switched 37 year old Lance Berkman? James Loney? Ty Wigginton? No long term answers here.

Before 2014, there are a couple names that might sound good but who knows who'll test the waters by then.  Joey Votto looks to be the big fish.  But if he re-signs (or you fail to get him) then what? A 37 year old Paul Konerko? A possibly concussed out of baseball Justin Morneau?  A Kendrys Morales who hasn't played in so long because of injury baseball-reference lists him as having a "final game"? 

No, if the Nats don't get Fielder, there is next to no chance they can get an impact first baseman through free agency. Trade is always a possibility but also very hard to rely on. So that becomes plan B to Bryce coming up and moving Morse. If you're looking to go on a successful run of playoff appearances you don't want your "Plan A" to be bringing up a rookie and forcing a guy exiting his prime with less than two full seasons of success in the majors to switch to a position he barely played the year before (assuming LaRoche plays out his contract). Of course, maybe Morse will repeat 2011, and maybe Bryce will tear up the minors and the majors next year.  It's not the best bet, but it's certainly not a bad one.  Thing is, good teams don't bet like that. Good teams bet that the guy they just signed that's awesome doesn't break his leg in a freak vegetartian food truck rodeo accident.


mwyche said...

Another option for 1B the Nats have is Anthony Rendon.

Harper said...

possible but I wouldn't put any stake in it. First base is to easy a position to shift people into. You figure if Rendon can field like they say, they'd be looking at him for 2nd. We'll know soon enough on this front though.

Plus while unanimous #1s like Bryce seemed destined for success, the mlb draft is littered with #2 on "can't miss" guys that failed to live up to their potential.

Positively Half St. said...

I'm afraid a lot of us have arrived at the point where we will be greatly disappointed if the Nats do not sign Fielder. I know that Boras is patient, but I have to think that something will get done by next week, no matter where Fielder ends up. Boras has everybody's attention now, and you have to figure that it will start to hurt his leverage if he can't bring the hype to a climax soon.


mwyche said...

I know you can't count your chickens before they hatch. Just throwing out another option for 1B.

With all the options the Nats have at 1B and the impending Zimmerman extension and Werth already signed long term it just doesn't make sense to sign Fielder for a mega deal I'd only sign him in the 4-5 years at 21-22 million.

I know there just prospects but Rendon and Harper are both Top 10 prospects in all of baseball. Some of the BA guys said they'd have taken a healthy Rendon over Harper. So we have bats coming to help the offense and three good/great starters now. As long as we upgrade the bench we should see how this year plays out and spend on maybe one more vet starter next offseason.

Donald said...

While I don't think Prince makes sense if it means we can't keep Zim (or Stras or Znn, etc...), I have to believe signing him moves the Nats from a potential wildcard team in 2012 to a wildcard lock and the potential as a division winner.

Harper said...

+1/2st - Definitely. Though I think the fanbase will be more understanding that you think if Prince inks a 10 yr 250 million dollar deal with someone else.

mwyche - And obviously someone is going to offer him better than that.

The Gio trade though kind of sets the current contention window to 2012-2015 as he and ZNN (and Clip and Desmond) will be FA after that year. Maybe you go a year further but Storen, Espinosa, Ramos, and Strasburg would all hit the market after 2016. If you are good enough to contend in thie time frame it's almost certainly because most of these guys were good and that means losing some and taking a step back for at least a year or two at this point.

Also in 2013 the number of impact bats avaiable in FA is minimal. Again trades always possible but it looks more like an offseason to create a deadly rotation than it is to bolster the offense.

Anyway - point being if you don't sign Fielder (and I'm not sure I would based on what it would take) you are putting a lot of faith into enough bats developing quickly enough to get the team to the next level before you lose a few key players to FA.

Anonymous said...


Good point on the Prince vs. Morse/Harper Plan B. I think too many folks on the 'don't sign him' side are overvaluing Morse (though I love him) and his production this year. Morse is essentially found money - he had a great year, maybe he can repeat it and maybe he slides a little. In either case, he's not a lefty, he's not a natural 1b, and he's two years older than Prince. Those betting on Morse as a replacement for LaRoche either in June or in 2013 are betting that Morse is better in his age 31-34 seasons than Prince is in his age 29-32 seasons. I worry about Prince's sustained levels after age 31, but if we have a chance to get him and lock that spot down for the 2013-2016 run with a guy in his prime, we should do it.

Big time players recognize when a market is falling to them. As much as I'd hate to see Morse go, if they sign Prince and turn some combo of Morse, Lannan, LaRoche and Flores into a solid CF, then they've made a great move, I think.

mwyche said...

Harper: Yeah that's basically what it comes down too. If you believe in the Harper and Rendon you don't see the necessity to put a ton of money into Prince when that will financially strap the team in the long run.

Rizzo preaches pitching and defense so it'd make more sense for him to make his big splash next offseason on a pitcher. Lerner loves Strasburg so I think it's likely if Zimnn and Stras perform they will both get extended atleast a couple of years past 2015.

Anonymous said...

I think Anonymous makes a good point about most people expecting Morse to take over for LaRoche at the break and assume that a 31-34 Morse will be just as good as a Prince 28-32...I'm not sure that's accurate.

When Morse comes up for FA, what would we expect his contract to be-last year being the standard for him over the next two seasons? He'll be 33 and we'll be in the middle of our window and expect to keep him as a power bat, something that may not be available in FA/trade. Basically, what will the total cost to keep Morse these next two years, plus the 3 yr deal he will sign when he comes up for FA...vs the deal required to sign Prince. Unfortunately Morse in a Prince signing is the odd man out.

What is the total payroll the Lerners have given Rizzo to work with through "our" window 2013-2016(7)? That is the answer to the Prince question. Because if he can't tie up 60-70 million in three players for those years + some, then obviously he shouldn't do this deal.

I'm of the mindset if Prince's contract can come off the books after 2016, through an option or other mechanism for a 115/120 million/5 yrs it probably would be a worth while signing. I don't think he'll sign a five yr deal. So moving on.

We really need to solve our outfield. It looks like Rizzo has moved on from Cespedes. He really screwed the pooch with Aoki.

DezoPenguin said...

I guess it comes down to "how much can you improve the team per dollar spent"? Fielder is, no questions asked, the best guy and the real star on the market, who'd make nearly any team (Boston springs to mind as an exception) better. The problem is, he plays a position where the Nats are already strong. Unfortunately, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Kemp, Dustin Pedroia, Troy Tulowitzki, and Jose Bautista are not available on the market to shore up the team's actual weaknesses. The question is, is the difference between LaRoche and Fielder in the lineup worth the difference in their salaries, or could that money be spent to get something that will add more wins, whether by trade or otherwise?

(One note: if we do sign Fielder, then LaRoche immediately becomes available to add to trade packages, which is something worth thinking about.)

Martin Brady said...

Are you people seriously discussing LaRoche as a valued player for the Nats? He's a notorious slow starter, the good numbers he DOES put up are deceptive (i.e., too little too late) and last year's injury was retarded. Good timing, Adam! The guy should have no future with the team so long as they are serious about trying to win the NL East. If Prince isn't an option, Morse at first is just fine, so long as the young talent can pick up the outfield.

Harper said...

donald - Prince could cost the Nats Stras (or ZNN) down the like. Well really WERTH could cost the Nats players down the line.

Anon #1 - Morse looks better the more you see him but you're right that when you include ages in the comparison it just becomes silly to favor Morse. Of course its not just Morse v Fielder but Morse + whatever the money spent on Fielder brings in vs Fielder, but one v one is a joke.

mwyche - Which is why I'm not going to be terribly upset if the Nats don't sign Fielder (and he goes for 10/250 somewhere else). I'll hold out hope they are looking to make a huge splash next offseason and create a Big 4 that could dominate from 2013-2015.

Anon #2 - check out Zuckerman's latest at Nats Insider for a good rundown on future payrolls. We have no idea what Rizzo is given but the end result is he likely COULD tie up that much until 2016... it's that last year of Werth's deal - first year of Strasburg's FA that could be tricky. We'll have to see if Rizzo really screwed up by not bidding on Aoki. If we went for so little you have to assume a lot of teams didn't care for him... (though most of those teams don't have the Nats need for a CF)

Dezo - only if your payroll is limited in a way that you have to squeeze every win you can out of a dollar. If you can bump the current payroll (70 mill) by 100 mill for a couple years down the road, then the marginal improvement is moot. (and once again I'll come out hard against value being more heralded than wins. That happens and that's silly.)

Brady - young talent can't pick up the OF. At least not yet. LaRoche can field and hit... in a very average way. I will agree though going with LaRoche means they aren't serious about winning the NL East. More hoping to get a WC.

Anonymous said...

I think Fielder will be another big bust like Werth is. The Nats seem to be doing a better job growing their own talent rather then trading or going the free agent route.

I say give the money to Zim. If Rendon is as good as they say he is you can always move Zim to first base and extend his career.