D.C. GM Mike Rizzo sent out a carefully worded statement when the Washington Nationals' former first baseman and big middle-of-the-order bat Adam Dunn signed a 4-year/$56 million dollar deal with the Chicago White Sox in early December, thanking Dunn for his contributions to, "...the Nationals and to the Washington, D.C. community," and wishing him well in Chicago. Reports (mostly from the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell) before and since Dunn officially parted ways with the Nats after two-years as the big bopper in the nation's capital have said that the Nationals' General Manager had a deal worked out that would have sent Dunn to Chicago in return for right-hander Edwin Jackson last July when the White Sox were desperate to add power at the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline, but a difference of opinion with then-team President Stan Kasten led to the 31-year-old 38-40 HR/100 RBI threat eventually leaving Washington when the team and its owners misjudged Dunn's intentions and the market for the slugger.
In an interview on Sirius/XM's MLB Network Radio show Power Alley with Jim Duquette and Kevin Kennedy earlier this winter, before Adam Dunn signed with Chicago, the Nats' General Manager was asked about the Nationals' interest in bringing the first baseman back, and he responded by explaining that he thought, and the Nats' as a team believed, "wholeheartedly that championship teams are built on pitching, defense, speed and athleticism," with pitching the most important aspect followed by strong defense, though, he said, "We certainly recognize that offense plays a big part in it also."
The Nationals were willing to let Dunn and his offense production go because they believed they needed a stronger defensive first baseman (though the merits of a strong defender at first have been argued often before and since it became a topic for Nats fans) and the Nats reportedly targeted former Tampa Bay Rays' first baseman Carlos Pena first, attempting to lure the Scott Boras' client to the nation's capital, but losing out to the Chicago Cubs, who signed the 32-year-old power bat for 1-year and $10 million dollars. Derrek Lee was next on the list, but he signed with the Baltimore Orioles last weekend. In Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell's latest article on the Nats' attempts to attract talent entitled, "After signing Jayson Werth, the Washington Nationals can't give their money away", Rizzo confirmed that the Nats had been interested in Lee, saying, "'We liked Lee a lot. I don't know why he went to Baltimore over us.'" "'But he did,'" Boswell added.
With Dunn and Pena in Chicago and Lee in Baltimore, the Nationals were left with one option if they wanted to add a legitimate (though as it's been pointed out repeatedly "league-average") first baseman to the roster, Adam LaRoche, the 31-year-old free agent left-handed bat and first baseman who played for the Arizona Diamonbacks in 2010 on a 1-year/$6 million dollar deal, compiling a .261/.320/.468 slash line, 37 doubles, 25 HR's and 100 RBI's with a +1.2 (Baseball-Reference.com) or +2.1 (Fangraphs.com) WAR value and a +4.8 UZR/150 at first where he made 11 errors last season and finished the year with a .991 fld%. Over the course of his seven-year career, the Atlanta Braves' year 2000 29th Round pick has averaged a .271/.339/.488 slash line with 40 doubles, 26 HR's and 93 RBI's per 162 games, with a .995 fld% and -2.6 UZR/150 as a first baseman.
The Nationals and LaRoche had expressed mutual interest in each other, at least according to unnamed "sources", who also said the free agent wanted a 3-year deal, but reports this past Friday said the Nats finally made a formal offer of a two-year deal which was correctly estimated to be worth about $8 to $9 million per year. Late this afternoon, MLB.com's Peter Gammons reported on Twitter (@pgammo) that fans in NatsTown should, "Look for Adam LaRoche @ Reagan Airport," when he comes to Washington, "for Thursday physical," before making his, "2 year deal w/ aggressive Nats," official. Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell told his colleague at the Post (Nats beat writer Adam Kilgore who reported it via Twitter (@AdamKilgoreWP) that LaRoche's deal was for 2-years/$16 million dollars and, "LaRoche has a mutual option for a third year worth $10m. #Nats can buy out for $1m. Makes $15m first 2 years."
LaRoche joins outfielder Jayson Werth, who signed a seven-year/$126M dollar deal with Washington, right-handed reliever Henry Rodriguez and outfield prospect Corey Brown, both acquired via trade, Matt Stairs, (signed as a FA) and Rick Ankiel (a FA as well) as the additions to the Nats' roster so far this winter which usher in what the D.C. GM has taken to calling Phase II of the Nationals' development as a franchise. How much better has the team gotten defensively with LaRoche at first, Werth in right and Wilson Ramos (acquired in late July) behind the plate splitting time with Pudge Rodriguez?
D.C. GM Mike Rizzo made the decision to stand firm on what the Nats were willing to give Adam Dunn, and allowed him to leave the nation's capital. Rizzo put his reputation on the line with the much-maligned overpay for Jayson Werth, and will now hear months of comparisons between Dunn and LaRoche...LaRoche might not have been the Nats' no.1 target as a replacement for Dunn, but Rizzo said he wasn't comfortable with the in-house options and he found the left-handed middle-of-the-order bat the Nats were missing...Does LaRoche's two-year deal signal that he's just a short-term solution? If he's not the Nats' future first baseman, who is? Rizzo has two years to find out.