Here's a look at LaRoche's 2012 season, which is essentially the sole reason for getting ~ $12 million AAV, more than the qualifying offer the Nationals offered LaRoche a few months ago.
While LaRoche's offensive game has been up and down throughout his career, Adam's defensive prowess has not wavered. While it took a year or so for his defensive abilities to become apparent, since then, LaRoche has proven he will flash the leather and corral every semi-arrant thrown at the far right side of the infield. Here are his numbers using more advanced metrics:
So, since, LaRoche will occupy 1st base for the Nats for at least the next 2 seasons, the club is heavy by one player, Michael Morse. Immediately after the news came down concerning the LaRoche's new deal with Washington, the rumors began to fly concerning a possible trade involving Michael Morse. Morse is a righty with experience in the outfield and at 1st base, who has recently figured it out at the plate. Morse has become more than a big guy crushing pitches, hitting for a solid batting average, above-average on base percentage, and doing it against both righties and southpaws. Over the last three seasons, Morse has figured it out at the plate, dealing with some injury problems in 2012, while LaRoche had a big year.
Morse doesn't have the resume of consistency that LaRoche brings to the tabel. In addition, Morse is under control for only one season, and bats from the right side of the plate as opposed to the left. Morse provides less defense prowess despite the position he plays. Despite the appeal of LaRoche, Morse provides solid plate discipline, constant doubles power to both gaps, and a hitter with very few deficiencies at the plate. He isn't abysmal in the field, making him a trade candidate to both AL and NL teames. The main issue with Morse is his contract. A team that trades for him might decide to invest in the slugger by signing him to an extension, while some may offer less to the Nats knowing full well they will only have Morse in the lineup for 1 season. Teams that have been linked to the Morse and the Nats include the Yankees, Orioles, Mariners, Rangers, Phillies, and Rays.
New York Daily News, the Yankees will send rookie catcher Austin Romine, who missed most of last season due to injury, back to triple A, and that the team is focused on finding a right-handed hitting outfielder. Given that the Yankees have already resigned Ichiro, and have both Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson returning, the team isn't looking to trade for a player like Michael Morse who is better suited for first base and hits well against both righty and lefty pitchers. The Yankees may see how little they can trade in exchange for Morse, but Brian Cashman would rather sign Scott Hairston but remain in on the Morse talks to drive the price up in case the Orioles/Rays remain serious contenders for Morse's services.
Orioles: The Orioles farm system is currently top heavy, and I doubt Dan Duquette is willing to trade any of his top prospects for one year of Michael Morse. If the Orioles forgo a trade for Morse, their most likely option at either DH or 1st base will be lefty Chris Davis. Davis came on strong following the trade deadline in 2012, ending the season with more than 30 home runs, while playing in the outfield and at 1st base.
Orioles trade Brian Matusz and minor leaguer Branden Kline for Michael Morse. It is more likely the Orioles continue to shop J.J. Hardy for a 3rd baseman in an effort to move Many Machado to shortstop.
Mariners: The Mariners recently made a move to acquire Kendrys Morales, bolstering their abundance of prospective designated hitters. Morse originally played in the Seattle organization, and would most likely take over at 1st base for the awful Justin Smoak. The Mariners would rather find a long-term option at 1st base instead of a one-year rental, but if they could work out an extension with Morse, Jack Zduriencik could be persuaded to deal for Morse. If the Mariners make this move, you might see more pieces than just Morse moving as the Mariners might also try to clear space a position in which they have a prospect ready to make the leap to the big show. For example, the Mariners could look to trade shortstop Brendan Ryan and pitcher James Paxton to the Nationals in return for Michael Morse and Ian Desmond. The Nationals would replace the hole left when they treaded prospect Alex Meyer to the Twins with an almost MLB ready player in Paxton while upgrading defensively at shortstop. The Mariners would have a shortstop 3 years of arbitration with Desmond, which consequently makes prospect Nick Franklin expendable. Since the market for young MLB ready shortstops has been high (see the Didi Gregorius deal). More likely, the Mariners refrain from a trade altogether.
Phillies: Recently we've heard some competing reports coming from Philadelphia. Ken Rosenthal has noted that the Phillies are still looking for outfield help, especially of the right-handed persuasion, while others have noted that Ruben Amaro is done dealing. My guess is that Amaro will look to upgrade only if the right deal falls into his lap. Otherwise he'll go with platoons in the corner outfield spots including Domonic Brown, John Mayberry Jr., Darrin Ruf, and Laynce Nix. I would say that there is a popsicles chance in hell that these two teams consummate a deal. The Nationals are the reigning NL East champs with the Phillies claiming the top spot in the division the 5 seasons prior to 2012. Due to these teams' status as divisional rivals, there is no way Michael Morse ends up in a Phillies uniform.
Rays: If the Rays trade for Morse it'll for sure only for the 2013 season. 2014 marks Morses' first chance in the free agent pool, and the Rays definitely don't have the money to sign Morse. Given that his potential service time in Tampa would be for only 1 season, don't look for the Rays to give up anything special in return. My guess is the Nationals will ask for a possibly oft-injured and young high ceiling prospect in an attempt to replenish their system with a less likely to make it Alex Meyer. The Rays still don't have a DH, so if Tampa trades for Morse, he'll most likely spend his time hitting but not fielding. So, what could the Rays move in exchange for Morse? Maybe a pitcher like Jeff Ames. Ames was drafted a few times, and eventually fell from junior college to the Rays in a supplemental first round. He's got a mid-90's fastball making him a possible late-innings reliever in the majors or possible a back of the rotation starter if he develops some secondary pitches. He'll be 22 in 2013, but if his role becomes cemented to the bullpen, he could move through the minors quickly.
Adam LaRoche was the last part to the Nationals puzzle. he solidifies a position that was up in the air, and does so for a finite amount of time. Although the Nationals loved Michael Morse, he becomes expendable. Morse wants to play in order to improve his dollar value heading into 2014 free agency, so sticking it out on the National's bench would definitely make him unhappy. My guess is that he will take the first ticket out of town, with no particular penchant for one city over another. Due to Morse's recent renaissance, recent injury, defensive liabilities, and the brevity with which his free agency comes, he probably won't fetch that much in a trade. If the Nationals aren't looking for much, a deal could be made soon, but if the Nats want something more significant, it either implies a multi-player trade possibility to the chance that Morse remains for the start of 2013. If I had to guess, I'd say Morse gets traded, possibly in a three-way deal involving the Padres or a simple 2-team deal involving either the Yankees or Rangers. With LaRoche gone, Michael Bourn headlines the remaining position players on the free agent market, but look for Scott Boras to hold off until he finds what he wants, similar to Prince Fielder's situation last offseason.