Though there are some new reports on the negotiations between the Washington Nationals and free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche this afternoon, it appears that not much has changed over the last few months. As far back as early September, reporters including FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal were speculating that though both sides would like to see the 33-year-old first baseman return to the nation's capital, the Nats would like it to be on a 2-year deal.
Before LaRoche had even completed his .271/.343/.510, 35 double, 33 HR, +3.8 fWAR 2012 campaign, the FOXSports.com reporter was speculating that LaRoche could command a 3-year deal on the free agent market if he declined the mutual option included in the 2-year/$16M dollar deal the veteran infielder signed with Washington in January of 2011.
"The Nationals need not go there," Mr. Rosenthal wrote, since they have other options at first like Michael Morse and Tyler Moore if LaRoche were to go for a longer deal elsewhere. When the Nationals acquired Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins this week, it became fairly clear that Morse's days in the Nats' outfield had come to an end. If LaRoche doesn't sign, Morse could move over to play first base which D.C. GM Mike Rizzo has said is the 30-year-old slugger's best defensive position. If the Nationals sign LaRoche they could deal Morse. The deal for Span gave Washington options.
LaRoche spoke to reporters about his desire to return to the nation's capital in early September, with the nine-year veteran who had played for five MLB teams in his career telling Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore, "'I would love to stay. I’m kind of getting tired of bouncing around.'" As LaRoche explained, however, he planned to see what happened once the season ended and he became a free agent. "'I’m not going to do something stupid where I turn down what could be two or three more extra years somewhere else.'"
Though the Nationals have discussed a deal with LaRoche's representatives since before the season ended, the Nats appear to be unwilling to go beyond another 2-year deal while the free agent is believed to want at least three years as MLB.com's Bill Ladson noted in a mid-November article on the slow pace of negotiations. "[LaRoche] wants at least a three-year deal. LaRoche has talked to several teams, but the source declined to name them." The Rangers and Red Sox are two of the teams that have been mentioned as potential suitors for the free agent first baseman.
CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman wrote recently that Boston is interested in signing free agent Mike Napoli but the Red Sox, who don't want to go to four years to get that deal done, had also expressed interest in LaRoche. "Word is, the Nationals have been fairly steadfast in offering LaRoche a two-year deal," Mr. Heyman wrote, and in explaining the Nationals' position on Twitter (@JonHeymanCBS) this morning, the reporter added that the, "... reason Nats want LaRoche on 2-yr deal is so many internal options for corners. Morse, Moore, eventually [Anthony] Rendon and [Matt] Skole."
Though Davey Johnson has been open about wanting LaRoche back in 2013, he explained the Nationals' thinking to Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell this past weekend. "'We love [LaRoche],'" Johnson said, "'But this is where the business end comes into play. You can hurt your organization with a deal that costs a whole lot of money and hurts the development process.'" Plus, Johnson added, the Nats' GM, ".. sticks to his guns. And he always has (other) plans and options in mind...We need to draw a line and know when we're done with Adam (one way or the other.)"
The line according to reports since September is drawn at two years. That point was reiterated in several articles this afternoon. LaRoche and Johnson are both present at a charity golf tournament organized by the Nats' 69-year-old skipper in Florida. Though Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore noted this morning that neither side would discuss specifics he wrote that, "The Nationals still want to re-sign LaRoche, and LaRoche would like to stay in Washington," but as it's been from the start, "The Nationals have been unwilling to offer more than a two-year contract."
In a separate article by the WaPost's Mr. Kilgore, LaRoche explained clearly what had been speculation beforehand based on information provided to reporters by "sources" with knowledge of the negotiations. The first baseman who won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger for his work in 2012 talked to the Nationals' GM last night and said it really is just a matter of years:
"To be honest, it’s a years thing now," LaRoche said. "I think they’re really wanting to stick to two years. I’m trying to talk them into lengthening that. To be honest, probably just one year. I’m not looking for four or five. I understand I’m 33 years old.
"I can’t say it moved forward. We understand each other a lot more now. I think he understands where I’m coming from. He understands I want to be there, kind of my argument for three years not being unreasonable. So, I don’t know."
"'Let's get something fair and let's go. I want to finish up in D.C.,'" LaRoche said according to MLB.com's Adam Berry, who's also on the scene at the golf tournament in Florida. If LaRoche is willing to take a 2-year deal he can probably return to the nation's capital and Michael Morse's days with the Nationals might be numbered. Are the Nationals waiting until they deal Morse so they don't lose leverage if other teams see he's a redundancy on Washington's roster? Will the Nats give in to LaRoche's demands to get a player they like back? The Winter Meetings next week could move things along...