Wednesday, December 8, 2010, 9:55 a.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
NATIONALS PAGE NATIONALS VIDEO
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Chicago Cubs came to terms with Carlos Pena on a one-year contract early this morning, taking one of the Washington Nationals' top first base targets off the market and putting pressure on them to now sign Adam LaRoche.
Pena, whose name had been linked to the Nationals since last summer, will get a one-year, 10 million contract from Chicago, which is banking on the 32-year-old rebounding from a decidedly down season in which he hit just .196 with 28 homers for the Tampa Bay Rays. The deal is still contingent upon Pena passing a physical.
Since allowing Adam Dunn to leave for a four-year, 56 million deal with the Chicago White Sox last week, the Nationals have been in search of a replacement at first base. They prefer a left-handed hitter with strong defensive skills, someone who could break up a suddenly right-handed heavy lineup that includes Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Josh Willingham.
Pena and LaRoche best fit that bill, so the Nationals will now make a strong push to sign LaRoche. The 31-year-old has been a fairly consistent player during his seven-season career and has hit 25 homers three straight years. He also drove in 100 runs to go along with a .261 average (and 172 strikeouts) last season for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Nationals face competition to land LaRoche. Other teams still searching for a first baseman include the Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays.
If they can't acquire a first baseman through free agency, the Nationals could explore a trade. They've inquired about the Dodgers' James Loney while at the Winter Meetings, but Los Angeles' asking price is steep.
The Nationals also could stay in-house and use Michael Morse at first base, though team officials prefer to Morse as a utilityman who can start several games a week at multiple positions.