The Nationals could get a close-to-the-majors pitcher, but would not likely receive a top-tier prospect for Morse. He is a legitimate middle-of-the-order power hitter who has slugged 49 homers with an .858 on-base percentage in 928 at-bats over the past two seasons. But he only has one year of team control remaining on his contract, and teams interested in him are leery of his ability to stay healthy. Morse missed the first 50 games last year, and he has played in more than 102 games only once, in his breakout 2011 season.
The Seattle Mariners, the team that traded Morse to the Nationals in the middle of 2009, could be a solid trade partner for the Nationals. Seattle is desperate for offense, and it has a bevy of advanced starting pitching prospects. Some team officials said they could package Morse with another player if they want an upper-echelon prospect.
The Nationals are targeting free agent left-hander J.P. Howell, who pitched the past seven seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, to replace Burnett. Howell, 29, posted a 3.04 ERA in 502
3 innings last season. The Nationals believe his mid-80s, sweeping fastball makes him effective against right-handed batters, and they want a lefty who, like Burnett, can retire hitters from both sides of the plate.
The Nationals figure to compete with the Milwaukee Brewers, who are also looking for left-handed relief help. On Tuesday, Howell told MLB.com he would like to play for the Nationals in part because, “I like their style, and they are absolutely loaded.”
The moves the Nationals have made echoed around the sport. The online bookmaker Bovada installed the Nationals, at 8-1, as the lone favorite to win the 2013 World Series. Both Philadelphia Manager Charlie Manuel and Atlanta Manager Fredi Gonzalez, two division rivals, conceded the Nationals’ status as the team to beat in the National League East.
By adding Span’s affordable contract and signing Haren to a one-year, $13 million deal, the Nationals maintained financial flexibility whether or not they sign LaRoche. Using estimates for players owed raises through arbitration, the Nationals have roughly $97 million committed to players under contract for 2013. Add on LaRoche and a lefty reliever to polish off the winter, and the Nationals’ payroll should level off at about $115 million – by far the highest in team history but still only enough to rank ninth in the majors.
The Nationals plan to remain mostly quiet for the remainder of the offseason, the winter meetings behind them earlier than usual and the spring starting to feel closer and closer.