First off, here's why we think Adam LaRoche is very likely to have another good season in Washington. For one thing, even though he's seen as kind of a 2nd-tier player, Adam LaRoche has been very consistent throughout his career. You can count on him to hit 25-30 HR (maybe even 35-40 HR this season - more on that later) and drive in 85-100 RBI year in and year out.
Another factor for LaRoche is that having the Washington Nationals re-sign him will give him a boost of confidence, feeling as though, finally, someone appreciates that he can be counted on to perform at the major league level. LaRoche started his career with the Atlanta Braves at 24 years old and hit 65 home runs in his first three seasons, including the classic breakout year at the age of 26 with 32 home runs. Naturally, the Atlanta Braves immediately traded him, cashing him in at what they saw was his peak price. Even worse than being traded, they traded him to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates where baseball talent goes to die. This type of transaction can weigh on a player's mind: "Did they trade me because they think I can never do that again? Are they right? Do they know me better than I know myself?" Of course, we can't say for sure whether Adam LaRoche, himself, thought any of those things, but coaches, pundits and fantasy owners all wondered if he was the real deal, as they should with a young guy experiencing success for the first time at the Major League level.
In Pittsburgh, LaRoche's performance was consistent: 21 HR, 88 RBI in 2007; 25 HR, 85 RBI in 2008. In 2009, in a free agency year, he was again traded, this time to the Boston Red Sox (for 6 games), then back to the Atlanta Braves where he hit 12 HR in his last 57 games in Atlanta. In 2010, LaRoche signed on as a free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks for about $2.5-million less than what he made in the previous season. Naturally, with Arizona, he promptly hit his usual 25 HR, but he also drove in a career-high 100 RBI. The following season, LaRoche landed in Washington DC to play with the young and talented Nationals and hit just 3 HR while missing over 70% of the season.
Finally, let's bring us to last season where Adam LaRoche emerged as not only a legitimate power threat, he also became a respected power threat. Not only did LaRoche hit 33 home runs, he also hit a lot of clutch home runs when his team needed them the most. Suddenly, when Washington (and LaRoche) had the spotlight shine on them, people started calling LaRoche a "sweet-swinging lefty" and a "clutch hitter." The Washington Nationals recognized all this, so they ponied up and re-signed LaRoche for the next two seasons.
And now for the big caveat: his name is Mike Morse. When you look around the horn in Washington DC, there's no room for Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche. Either that, or there's no room for Morse and Jayson Werth... or there's no room for Morse an Bryce Harper . And dig this: Mike Morse has even played 57 games at Shortstop over his career, so you could play him there... except that Ian Desmond plays there, and he's a super-stud. Maybe if you more Michael Morse to third base?... There's Ryan Zimmerman who may be emerging as the best offensive third basemen in the game. On top of all that, the Nationals also signed Denard Span to cover center field and hit leadoff, so Morse isn't going to fit in there, either. So what does all this mean for Adam LaRoche, let alone Michael Morse?
Does the term "trade bait" mean anything to you? The bad news for LaRoche and Morse is that the Nationals can trade either one of them for even more pitching arms, or even a super-stud catcher (no offense, Kurt Suzuki ). Both of these guys are too good to be platoon players, and they're both too good to bench. The truth is that Adam LaRoche is a more-patient hitter than Morse, so he's the better bet for the Nationals. However, despite Michael Morse's atrocious walk-to-strikeout ratio (16 walks to 97 Ks in just 102 games last year), he is a ridiculous power threat, and he's three years younger.
The real factor as to which one is more-likely to be traded, is the recent contract given to LaRoche. LaRoche got a 2-year deal while Michael Morse is in the last year of his, meaning he's eligible for free agency at the end of this season. This means that, for one thing, Morse will want to play as much as possible this year so he can cash in a huge contract for the 2014 season. If LaRoche is hogging playing time in front of him, he'll very likely want to be traded, and the Nationals will be happy to do so, especially since they're a contender for the playoffs and the World Series. The only hope would be to bench the recently-struggling Jayson Werth in favor of Morse, but then the Nationals will be stuck with Werth who's signed for a hefty contract through the 2017 season. In other words, their only option for a trade is to trade Morse, unless Jayson Werth suddenly hits .325 with 40 HR and 120 RBI (which isn't going to happen).
Look for the Nationals to deal Michael Morse since he's a free agent at the end of this season, and look for the Nationals to really cash him in for some quality talent that can help get them over the hump and possibly into the World Series in 2013... and, since we started this post with Adam LaRoche, look for LaRoche to pitch in with his usual 30 HR, 90 RBI and .270 batting average. LaRoche is money well spent in DC.