Presumed Plan : Ryan Zimmerman will shift over to first base as the mutual option year for current starter Adam LaRoche will not be picked up and he will become a free agent. The back-up will likely be Tyler Moore, though a cheap FA acquisition is probably not out of the question
Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Injuries and contracts have forced the Nats hand. Ryan Zimmerman was signed to a long-term deal prior to the 2012 season and was expected to play 3B for the majority of that deal. But a shoulder injury in the same year led to a series of adjustments that has left him, at best, an erratic thrower and a liability at the hot corner.
Despite Adam's excellent year at the plate, letting him walk rather than paying him 15 million for 2015 on an mutual option, and letting Zimmerman take over at first seems preferable to any of the other options. You neither want to upset Rendon's growth or risk the errors that would come with Zimmerman back at 3rd and Rendon back at 2nd. Bryce is still only 22 and a good presence at the plate, which works against any sort of LF platoon idea. Span, who also has an option for 2015, helps cover for the lacking corner outfielders and just had a very good season offensively, making a more permanent move to LF with Bryce taking over center unpalatable. Adam wasn't great defensively and at 35 is likely to slide at the plate, if just a little. With no good options, this one feels like the least worst.
The Nats have always been high on Tyler Moore who has spent several years tearing up AAA. At an age (28 in January) and with the experience that indicates more time at AAA would likely serve no purpose, a full-time move to the major league bench makes sense. Matt Skole, who the Nats were high on going into 2014, had a rough year in AA and is unlikely to work his way onto the Nats. Of course as I noted the Nats may in fact go the FA route given these choices.
Problems with Presumed Plan : The biggest problem with Ryan Zimmerman is that he's an injury risk who couldn't get his body together make a meaningful playoff contribution. This goes beyond 2013 as he missed meaningful time in both 2008 and 2011. As age catches up with him (he just turned 30) it's more and more likely that these injuries linger. The Nats are currently ill-prepared if Zimmerman goes down for any extended period of time.
Meanwhile LaRoche has been far more reliable when it comes to playing time. And while LaRoche had very much lost his range (in part due to injury) he was reliable with the glove and we have no idea if Ryan will be the same.
Another issue is the loss of the left-handed bat as LaRoche was one of only 3 decent lefties in the line-up for the majority of the season (switch hitting Asdrubal would make it 4 by years end). Losing LaRoche leaves the Nats with only Bryce and Span hitting from the left-side of the plate, with Danny Espinosa, who really shouldn't hit left-handed, being a potential 3rd. While right-handed hitters tend to be less vulnerable to splits a balanced line-up does help make the opponents bullpen usage more difficult.
Since I said the Nats were ill-prepared for a Zimmerman injury you can imagine that I am not high on Tyler Moore. A AAAA batter who gets hot for short stretches and cold for longer ones, Tyler Moore's strikeouts suggest there is no big improvement coming. He also is no great shakes when it comes to defense and hits right-handed just like Zimmerman. His use as a back-up for Adam could be argued given LaRoche's splits. His use as a back-up for Zimmerman would make no sense. Unfortunately the FA 1B pickings are slim with no one you'd even consider a meh bat and good glove guy that you might look to get.
My take : The Nats are in a bad place... sort of. Keeping LaRoche on the team makes a lot of sense given his performance last year and the fact you'd only have to keep him for a year if he agrees on the option. But you do that and there's no room for Zimmerman. He can't play third. He can't play left. Either he becomes a super sub or LaRoche does. It would be 29 million put into a platoon. There are better ways to spend that 15 million. You almost have to let LaRoche walk.
Luckily for the Nats (and why I said "sort of") is that really the only bad thing for the Nats is the possibility Zimmerman isn't healthy. If he is, he can still hit and he is a little more patient than your average Nat, and you could argue their aggressiveness got exploited in the playoffs. As for the defense, Zimm's issues appear to be completely arm-based. Given that he was a plus-fielder before that it's doubtful that mastering 1B will be a big issue. Will he be great? Maybe not. Will he be as good as LaRoch? Probably so. I can easily see Zimm replacing LaRoche's contributions and it's not hard to envision him surpassing them.
As for the back-up... here's the problem. You do have to plan for a back-up for Zimmerman. It's not as much because of age or injury history as it is how he looked at the end of the season. The Nats were desperate for help and yet they wouldn't put Zimm out there on the field. That doesn't bode well. He'll have the off-season to recover but going into 2015 without a clear back-up is a big risk. That means Tyler Moore or possibly the best sensible free agent back-up you can sign Daric Barton (excellent fielder, pre 2014 injury was a LHB that hit righties well) can't really be your long-term injury plan. Unfortunately like I said there isn't a good pure back-up 1B out there. There are guys who will get paid and there are guys who are close to terrible. There are not even really DHs you can stick there in case (maybe Delmon Young but if he goes AL he'll get more playing time so that's what I expect)
So what do I think? I think you give Bryce or Werth a 1B mitt and have them get ready. The Nats have a couple of outfield prospects in Souza and Taylor that they'd like to give playing time. Werth is becoming a statue out there and Bryce is living off the fact he's 21. Rather than force a true 1B back-up into this team with an overpay or bringing in a terrible hitter, let Werth be the de facto injury replacement. That makes the most sense.
Oh and definitely sign Barton and let Moore go. That guy stinks.
Outside the Box Suggestion :
Any outside the box suggestion can't deal in a trade because Ryan's combination of contract and injury status makes him currently untradeable (unlike Ramos who just has less worth than you would want from him). So any outside the box suggestion would be making Ryan a supersub or dealing Span to make room for Ryan (because you aren't dealing Rendon or Bryce and no one is sticking him back at third). I bet the A's would love Span.
But I don't like dealing Span because I'm in "WIN NOW" mode and Span helps you win now. Plus he has a win-now deal which means he'll have to be traded to a team that wants to win now which means you aren't likely going to get something win-now back. So who can the Nats deal for good enough to force Zimm into super sub mode? While I'm intrigued by Carlos Santana, he is a big true outcome guy who the Nats kind of don't have in their line-up, I think a better get would be Edwin Encarnacion. He's a truly elite slugger, can man 1st base and is getting paid relative peanuts ($10 mill for 2015, 10 mill option for 2016) The Blue Jays could possibly be in rebuilding mode. Trade for Edwin.