The Washington Nationals didn't sign Adam LaRoche or trade Michael Morse before departing the Winter Meetings yesterday, but as they made their exit, reports emerged which said the Nats do have a deadline for getting something done with the left-handed hitting and throwing infielder. The 33-year-old first baseman became a free agent after a .271/.343/.510, 35 double, 33 HR, +3.8 fWAR campaign in 2012. The Nationals would like to have LaRoche back, and the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner has expressed a desire to return, but the two sides are at a standstill with the Nats unwilling to go beyond a two-year deal and LaRoche looking for three years on the free agent market.
69-year-old Nationals' skipper Davey Johnson has been vocal about wanting LaRoche back. Before leaving Nashville, Tennesse's Gaylord Opryland Hotel on Thursday, the manager of the defending NL East champs told reporters, including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, that LaRoche's return would make a good holiday gift. "'You don't want to go somewhere and be miserable,'" Johnson said he told LaRoche at a recent charity golf tournament where the player, manager and GM Mike Rizzo all talked, with the player and general manager openly discussion where each side stood.
"'You know you're going to have a good time in D.C.,'" Johnson was quoted explaining by NatsInsider.com's Mr. Zuckerman, "'and I won't platoon you. We'll see. I don't know if there's a deadline, but that'd be a nice Christmas present. That would put the icing on the cake.'"
To explain the "platoon" comment. Toward the end of the 2012 season, the Nationals' manager explained that he motivated LaRoche late last Spring by telling him he might have to have a platoon at first if the slow-to-get-going first baseman wasn't 100% recovered from the previous year's shoulder/labrum surgery and a foot injury he suffered in Spring Training.
"I think I helped jump start him this season," Johnson explained, "because I told him toward the end of Spring Training, I said, 'Adam, with you and [Mark] DeRosa, I'll probably do a platoon over there. I know your foot is not 100% and I'm worried about your shoulder and DeRosa has a bad wrist, so maybe I get 100% over there.'"
"And he looked at me like I was crazy," Johnson recalled, but "From day one he's been basically carrying the ballclub."
Though Johnson told reporters yesterday, "'I don't know if there's a deadline,'" after the Nationals left Nashville, several reports, including one on Twitter by Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) said that Washington did have a deadline to get a deal done with LaRoche. "Multiple team officials say the Nats have an informal deadline to resolve Adam LaRoche's situation by Christmas. Nats optimistic he signs." ESPN.com's Jayson Stark (@JaysonST) said he'd heard the, "Nationals have been telling people they hope to get Adam LaRoche signed by end of week but still don't want to guarantee more than 2 years."
Should the Nationals sign LaRoche, the speculation is that the team will try to trade Michael Morse for a left-handed reliever, close-to-the-majors-starter, or prospects to replenish their system depending on the source of the reports you read. Morse struggled with injuries in the first year of the 2-year/$10.5M dollar extension he signed last winter, putting up a .291/.321/.470 line with 17 doubles and 18 HRs in 102 games and 430 PAs over which he was worth +0.3 fWAR after a .303/.360/.550, 36 double, 31 HR, +3.3 fWAR season in 2011.
Morse will become a free agent after the 2013 campaign. The Nationals would receive a compensatory draft pick if LaRoche signs elsewhere since they made a qualifying offer to the first baseman which he turned down after he turned down his end of the mutual option included in the 2-year/$16M dollar deal he signed with Washington in early 2011.