The Washington Nationals officially announced that they have agreed on another two-year deal with first baseman Adam LaRoche this afternoon, which includes a mutual option for 2015. The 33-year-old infielder signed a 2-year/$16M dollar deal with the Nats in January 2011 then missed significant time in the first year of that contract when he suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder that eventually required surgery. LaRoche bounced back in 2012, however, hitting 35 doubles and 33 HR's while posting a .271/.343/.510 line in a +3.4 fWAR season with the NL East Champions that earned him a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger Award. Though LaRoche was reportedly looking for a three-year deal this winter, after turning down his end of the mutual option in his previous deal and declining to accept the 1-year/$13.3M dollar qualifying offer the Nationals made before he hit free agency, the Nats were reportedly unwilling to give the free agent anything more than a two-year deal, though they did end up adding an option for a third year in the end.
In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo, who had openly expressed a desire to see LaRoche return to Washington throughout the process, spoke to the press about bringing LaRoche back to the nation's capital for two more years. "Adam was a huge part of our success last year," Rizzo said. "He does a lot of things for us. He balances our lineup. He's a middle of the lineup bat. He's a run producer. He's a terrific defensive player, and beyond that he's a great clubhouse presence and a quiet leader that's very, very well-respected in the clubhouse."
The two sides have been talking about a deal since before the end of the 2012 season, with reports saying neither side was willing to budge from their rumored positions. Asked what it was that finally led to an agreement getting done, the Nationals' General Manager said that the team had "pretty tight parameters" on their end and were willing to let LaRoche see what was out there knowing what he had on the table if he chose to return. "At the end of the day," Rizzo said, "I think we both agreed that this was the best place for Adam to be and it was a contract that satisfied Adam and it worked for us."
Acc. to source, LaRoche's deal is $24 million guaranteed: $10m for '13, $12m for '14, $2m buyout of mutual opt for '15: ht.ly/gDMJ6— Amanda Comak (@acomak) January 8, 2013
The Nationals knew they had depth. They had Michael Morse signed for 2013, and as Rizzo explained earlier this winter, they had Tyler Moore on the roster, who'd played first base coming up through the system, and they had 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Matt Skole in the organization working his way up.
"We were in a pretty enviable position, negotiating-wise," the GM said, "because our other option was already under contract and in-house, so that was the reason that allowed us to be so patient with Adam. That and the fact that my respect for Adam LaRoche, his skill set, his time in the big leagues and his family is second to none. So I wanted to do what's right by him and we wanted to wait because he was the guy that we identified was the guy that we really wanted on the ballclub."
The stalemate dragged on all winter, and Rizzo admitted today that he thought they had both sides grown tired of the process. The Nationals' GM said he talked to LaRoche through his agent and privately and recently told him it was time to make a choice. "I made it clear to Adam that it's time to get this thing done and make a decision," Rizzo said. "Our offer is what it is, it's been on the table for a while and it's time to think of your options and pull the trigger and if you want to be here, let's get this thing done because we have other business to move onto. And he agreed. He wasn't enjoying the process and wanted to make a decision so his family knew where they were going to be at for the foreseeable future."
As for what LaRoche's return means for Michael Morse, who's apparently drawing a lot of attention as a potential trade candidate, Rizzo told reporters this afternoon that he felt Morse was, "... an everyday middle of the lineup hitter. We see him that way, I think the industry sees him that way. He's a guy that financially we don't have to move. We'd move him in the right deal. We're certainly not going to give him away, but if we can make the right deal that works for Mike and for us as a franchise, we certainly will do that deal." The Nats are in no rush to make a deal, however. "There's not going to be a time limit on what we're going to do and if we're going to do it and when we're going to do it," Rizzo said.
"These things kind of take [on] a life of their own and if we can get the right deal for Mike," the GM explained, "we'll certainly think about trading him, but like I said, we're not going to make a bad deal just to move the player out of town. We don't have to do it financially and we're going to have to do what's best for the organization."
Rizzo said there was definitely interest in Morse. "He's a very attractive player to a lot of teams. We've been taking calls from several ballclubs for the last couple of weeks, to for a month and his value is only increasing in the industry as free agents sign. He's a middle-of-the-lineup affordable bat who can do a lot of damage, so those guys are at a premium."
As for what Washington's looking for in return? "We think we have a very well-rounded ballclub," Rizzo said. "You can never have enough depth in your organization and on the big league club. So I'd like to get a little more depth. I would certainly in any trade that would include a Mike Morse-capable player, we'd like to get either controllable major league help or prospects to help [fill] the minor league system. So, we're open to any and all ideas for Mike and like I said, if something doesn't suit what we're looking for in Mike then we're in no need to move a good, middle-of-the-lineup hitter that's fairly attractively priced."
If other GM's are wondering whether or not Rizzo will stick to his guns and hold on to Morse if the right deal isn't out there, ask Adam LaRoche and his agent if they think the Nationals' GM will budge from what he thinks is fair market value...