Having locked Davey Johnson up for the 2013 season, bringing the 69-year-old veteran of 16 MLB seasons on the bench back for one more run in the nation's capital, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden this afternoon on the debut episode of their new show "The Front Office" that the 2012 NL East Champion Washington Nationals' no.1 goal this winter is figuring out whether or not 33-year-old first baseman Adam LaRoche will return for his third season in a Nats uniform. "I think bringing Adam back makes the winter easier for everybody," Rizzo told the show's hosts, "Because he's a known commodity. He's a terrific player. He's a -- except for 2011 when he was hurt for the first time in his career -- he's been an ultra-consistent player. [He] really stabilizes our defensive effort in the infield and balances our lineup with his left-handed bat."
The Nationals and LaRoche's representatives have discussed a deal, though reports last week said they hadn't talked in the last few days. The Nats' GM confirmed this afternoon that the team wants to get a deal done with the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winning infielder. "If the numbers work for both of us I'd love to get him done," the Nationals' 51-year-old general manager and Executive Vice President of Baseball operations told "The Front Office" hosts.
"With that said," Rizzo continued, "We also have options at that position. That's the one spot that we're fairly deep. We can shift Michael Morse there to his most comfortable defensive position where he plays defense very well. Not Adam LaRoche-caliber, but very well. We also have a young kid that's primarily a first baseman in Tyler Moore. We've got a left-handed bat in the farm system named [Matt] Skole [who] probably profiles as a left-handed power bat at first base. So we're very deep there, but we would like to get Adam under contract."
Tyler Moore, 25, in his rookie season in the majors after back-to-back 31 HR seasons in the Nats' system in 2010-11, put together a .263/.327/.513, nine double, 10 HR, +0.6 fWAR 2012 campaign in part time work in the Nationals' outfield and off the bench as a right-handed bat in 2012. Before that he'd played 438 of his 443 innings on defense over five seasons in the organization at first base. Matt Skole, 23, put together a .291/.426/.559 season with 28 doubles and 27 HRs in 129 games and 524 plate appearances between Class-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac, was named the Nats' Minor League Player of the Year and he's currently playing first base in the Arizona Fall League.
"I think it's more about term, about years," Rizzo explained, when asked what the hold-up was with LaRoche. "For some of the reasons I just gave you," the GM said, referring to the depth in the organization he'd mentioned, "It makes more sense to go on a shorter-term deal. But Adam is coming off a terrific season. He's going to get some MVP votes. He won a Silver Slugger and [Gold] Glove and he's a consistent player so he's going to be a wanted commodity out there and you can't begrudge a guy who's earned the right to go out and see what the market bears."
So signing LaRoche is the no.1 priority, though the GM said, "We do have to have some parallel discussions going on at the time, because you just don't know where it's going to go with Adam or any other free agent for that matter."
No.2 on the Nats' list for the winter after their 98-64 season which ended in a disappointing NLDS loss to St. Louis? "We do need to get more depth in our starting rotation," Rizzo said, "So that would probably be [priority no.] 2. And we're very versatile in what we do position player-wise because [Bryce Harper] can play both center field and if we go out and get a center fielder he can move over to the corner very comfortably where probably his ultimate position is as a power-hitting corner outfielder."
The former Nats' GM asked the current one for his scouting report on two of the top outfielders out there this winter, Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton, both of whom have been linked to Washington in rumors over the years. "Two terrific players that beat you and get to their value in different ways," Rizzo said. "Bourn is the left-handed, prototypical leadoff guy who hits for a high average, steals bases, great defense, great make-up. B.J. is a guy that... great defense, steals bases, more power-orientated, less on base percentage guy who would have to hit in the middle of the lineup instead of the top of the lineup, [but] a great make-up guy from a great family we have great relationships [with] and I've known for several years."
It's a good year, finally, to be in the market for a free agent center fielder. "It's a year that's there's several good center field options out there," Rizzo said, "And those are just two great names."
Zack Greinke is one big name in the pitching market who has been tied to the Nationals before and whose name has come up again now that he's hit free agency. Asked directly if he was on the Greinke, Anibal Sanchez level or more on the [Brandon] McCarthy, [Ryan] Dempster, [Shawn] Marcum level in the market this winter, the Nats' GM said, "I'm not going to eliminate any kind of pool of players because it's such a finite group of pitchers, but there's going to be strategy involved and what fits us going forward the best. It's difficult to have three hundred million dollar players in a payroll that has to be at a certain level, so those are decisions that will affect the other moves that you make on the roster, but we've [shown] a propensity to go out and go after the best guy available."
"Like I said," Rizzo concluded, "If their profile fits and the skill level fits and the make-up fits and the clubhouse presence fits, we're open to any and all ideas."
Asked if he'd thought about or could imagine what it would be like to have a Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler rotation in 2013 and if there was any chance he could afford Greinke by the former Nationals' GM, Rizzo joked and said, "Your opening question was 'Can you imagine it,' and yes, I've imagined it. It's a good thing to think about. Thinking about it; dreaming about it; implementing it are different things. Like I said, we're open-minded. I'm not going to close the door on it, Jim. We've spent before on the free agent market. We've got an ownership group that's responsive to those types of things. But we have to be smart about it. We have to do the right thing for the long haul, but we're certainly going to keep our options open."
• Listen to Mike Rizzo on the new MLB Network Radio Show "The Front Office" with Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden: