For weeks before Adam LaRoche and the Washington Nationals agreed on the 2-year/$16 million dollar deal that was officially announced yesterday in Nationals Park at the 31-year-old, 7-year veteran's introductory press conference and jersey presentation, the free agent first baseman was rumored to have been in negotiations with the Nats' Mid-Atlantic and Interleague rivals from Baltimore. Asked directly yesterday, in a post-press conference scrum with reporters if he'd seriously considered signing with the O's, the newest Nat said his representatives had definitely spoken to the Orioles:
Adam LaRoche: "We did, we did. It was going on about the same time the talks sparked up with Washington, luckily. I can't say if it was ever a serious possibility, but it definitely got to the point where there was some dialogue and we were talking back and forth.
LaRoche waited til January 15th to agree on a 1-year/$6.0 million dollar deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks last winter. The former Atlanta Braves' draft pick declined the D-Backs' arbitration offer this past November and became a free agent once again this year, though he admitted that it can be a stressful process:
Adam LaRoche: "A little bit. Any time, no matter financially, or how long you've been around the game, any time you're sitting at home unemployed you wonder how long is this going to take, where are we going, let's get something done. It never got to that point, but it definitely got to where like I said, I told my agent, 'If this is a real possibility let's move on it.' Because with the five or six options whether it was a one-year deal or a three-year deal, this was where I wanted to go and luckily got it done."
The night before the Winter Meetings began, the Nationals added Jayson Werth on a 7-year/$126 million dollar deal as the start of what the team's described as Phase II of the Nats' plan for building toward contention. When asked what it was about the Nationals' direction that convinced him to sign in Washington, LaRoche instead offered to explain what he'd seen and what other teams thought about playing the Nats the last few years:
Adam LaRoche: "Well, I can tell you how I saw it playing against these guys for a few years and that was, it's pretty comfortable coming in here to play a series, and it's no disrespect at all. I was on the Pirates for a couple of years and it was the same way. There's no fear of any teams coming in. Last year in Arizona, a little bit different story, but for the most part we had our work cut out for us no matter who we were playing and you kind of lose that edge when you don't have...especially when you're playing at home, where a team comes in and says, 'Man we better strap it on, this is going to be a tough series.' You know you're automatically kind of in the driver's seat. So that's the direction, that's where they want to end up here. Every good team I've been on that's what you have, you have that attitude from the guys that, 'Yeah, we lost tonight, but who cares, we're going to win the next four out of five.' and you're just that confident."
LaRoche, like Werth before him, made the decision to join a team, on a two-year deal, that is not likely to compete for the NL East crown in the near future. LaRoche said he understood the position the team was in, but also saw what they were trying to do to change things and challenge the rest of the NL East:
Adam LaRoche: "Well it's a tough division. There's no question. To be successful here, you're going up against a couple of teams that consistently field good teams, so it won't be easy, but I think you've got to start somewhere, and they've obviously done that this year, they're sick of being at the bottom of the division and they're going to make their move."
LaRoche at 31, will be the oldest member of the Nationals' starting infield, which is expected to include Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa at third, short and second, respectively. In the press conference yesterday, LaRoche said that he took pride in his defensive work, and enjoyed being able to, "have a chance to bail guys out a lot. I can make them look really bad, or I can make them look really good, and vice versa, but it's something I've always taken pride in. I love when those guys make a great play and an errant throw, to be able to bail them out and potentially save some runs. I think pitchers appreciate it just as much as the guy that threw it in the dirt. Obviously it helps them, saves them throwing pitches, saves some runs and ultimately wins some games. So yeah, it's something I work hard on and again, I like it more just the fact that I can pick those guys up as much as anything." LaRoche was asked, in the final question of the quick interview, how familiar he was with the Nats' infielders:
Adam LaRoche: "Zim yeah, just from playing against him, but [Desi] and Espinosa, not hardly at all. Seen Desmond play short enough to know that he's really good. Incredible talent. How old is he? [25yo.] Incredible talent, and especially shortstop that's a position where it's just trial and error, it's those guys learning what works, what works for you and from what I've seen the potential is unbelievable over there, it will be fun to watch."