"The reason it took as long as it did," Adam LaRoche said, "and there's a couple of them, but one of the big ones was I was fighting to do what I could to get back to Washington." The Nationals and LaRoche agreed on a 2-year/$24M dollar deal on Wednesday after a protracted negotiation which started last summer. The contract includes a mutual option for a third year, but as reporters learned this afternoon, there is no no-trade clause, though the 33-year-old first baseman did say he wanted one included so he could make sure he remains in D.C.
"I made that very clear at the end of the season," the nine-year veteran said, "that this is where I wanted to be and honestly, as far as my personal preference throughout the offseason, that never changed. Now there were points through the offseason where I thought that it may not happen, that it may not be realistic to end up back in Washington, so obviously we had to look down some other roads, but it never changed the fact that that was my no.1 choice. So that's why now that it's done and I'm back in D.C. it couldn't have worked out any better."
Part of the decision, LaRoche said, was that he and his family were comfortable in Washington, D.C. and familiar with the nation's capital after playing for the Nationals the past two seasons on a 2-year/$16M dollar deal that he signed in January of 2011. In a conversation with reporters today, the first baseman also said that the changes he's seen in the nation's capital in the last two years played a big role in his desire to return to the Nats.
"I like seeing the change in that city from when I played against the Nationals for years," the first baseman said, "with zero excitement, not a lot of hope, not a ton of success with that club and now to see it and really the transformation of that whole city, I think it's only going to get better."
LaRoche turned down his end of the option included in the last deal with Washington then declined the Nationals' qualifying offer of a 1-year/$13.3M dollar contract. Coming off a 35 double, 33 HR, .271/.343/.510, +3.8 fWAR, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger-worthy 2012 campaign, LaRoche was hoping for a three-year deal, but reports all winter said teams that were interested were unwilling to surrender the draft pick they would have to give up to sign him under the rules of the new CBA. The draft pick the Nats guaranteed for themselves with the decision to make the qualifying offer affected the free agent process in LaRoche's mind. "I think it did," he said.
"And that's coming from other people a lot smarter than I am that have looked into this and just kind of explained it to me," he continued, "I think it's probably affected a couple of other players much worse than me. I think there are some guys still out there that are pretty solid ballplayers still looking for a job. So, I don't know how that's going to be addressed in the future. I know it definitely hindered some teams from going after guys that they may have normally gone after, where money may not be a big issue with that team, maybe they have plenty of money as far as the payroll goes, but they don't want to give up that pick. I think there were probably two or three, maybe four teams out there that it did affect, as far as teams that were interested in me and just didn't want to give up that pick. But then again, looking back, it may have been the best thing that I ended up back here. I can't say right now that it was a bad thing. I do know that it affected the amount of teams that were interested."
The decision to bring LaRoche back to play first in D.C. leaves Michael Morse as the odd man out since they also added Denard Span to an outfield that will also feature Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth this year. In his own phone call with reporters last night, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said that the Nationals don't have to, financially speaking, part ways with the 30-year-old slugger, but he did say that he would consider dealing the big middle-of-the-order bat if the right offer came along. As for the possibility of Morse remaining in D.C. and coming off the bench behind either one of the corner outfielders or LaRoche at first base, the incumbent first baseman said he thought one way or another we'd see Morse as an everyday player in 2013.
"I don't think you're going to see [Michael Morse] on the bench," LaRoche said, "I mean, Mike's a guy that can hit in the middle of about any lineup in the big leagues and that's proven that, so I don't know what's going to happen there. Selfishly, I would love to have him on our team and in that lineup. Of course, we've got a little bit of a logjam out there so something's going to have to happen. Again, he's going to be playing for somebody, whether it's us or we make a move and gets some prospects or whatever they're going after as far as a trade. Whether we've got him or somebody's got him, this isn't in any way a career-ender for Mikey. I think he's just getting started and going to tear it up with someone. Hopefully it's us. But I don't make that decision and I'm glad that I'm not because it's going to be a tough one for them."
The process of getting his own situation settled for the near future was an equally trying process that finally started to settle itself just recently according to LaRoche. "Probably a week ago," he said this afternoon when asked when he decided the three-year deal he was after wasn't out there. "We kind of came to realize that they were dead set on the two years. I've had a couple of conversations with [Rizzo], we sat down in Florida. He explained the situation and was very clear about it. And he stuck with them. And there towards the end, it wasn't necessarily the third year, we had kind of conceded that, it was probably more some of the smaller things."
Those smaller things, LaRoche explained, included some discussion about the option for a third year and the possibility of a no-trade clause. "Working out the buyout or whether we could do a no-trade clause or something like that," LaRoche said. "To be honest that no-trade clause was a hangup for a little while. On my end, I don't want to be traded. I want to be there. I don't have to say this, you guys all know the direction that team is going is phenomenal. I think they're going to be really solid for a long time. So I don't want to get traded. And that's apparently a Nationals' policy. I think they did it for Jayson, and after that they're going to shut that down and not give any more no-trade provisions. So that was something to work through and it took a little longer than I would have liked."
Asked to clarify his comments, LaRoche said simply, "I was going for a no-trade and [Rizzo] didn't want to do it. He explained why. They're going to try to stay away from them from now on. And it's just not something they're interested in. If we do our job on the field, and [do what] we're capable of doing, I don't think it's going to be an issue anyways."
The Nationals reportedly didn't want to go beyond two years in order to get LaRoche back, but the option for a third year was included in the end. As LaRoche said, it was done to get the average annual value of his deal (AAV) to the level he wanted it. "I think what it does is gets us closer to that AAV we were looking for with that buyout," LaRoche said, "so if they decide not to pick up the option or if I decide not to pick up the option, whatever it is, it's a mutual option, then there's a buyout attached to that."
LaRoche will now return for a third season in D.C. with a Nationals team that will try to defend its NL East title and win the first World Series for a team from the nation's capital since 1924 in what's expected to be soon-to-turn 70-year-old Davey Johnson's last season on a major league bench. Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters last night that LaRoche was a big part of the team's success in 2012.
"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."
LaRoche's teammates have already reached out to let him know how excited they are that he'll be returning to D.C., though the first baseman admitted that it was bittersweet right now. "Gosh, I've heard from probably half of them," LaRoche said. "The feedback has been phenomenal, on the other side of it, everybody loves Mike, including myself. We love having him in that clubhouse. So it's kind of, you're happy and sad at the same time. You're getting a guy back, and we're also losing a guy, so I think there's mixed emotions in there, but overall, you'd have to ask them, but I think we're all pretty fired up about the squad we've got."
There have been several reports about the recruiting efforts the Nationals' manager made this winter in trying to convince LaRoche to return. As LaRoche explained today, however, it was more of a baseball decision than anything else that had him wanting to return to the nation's capital.
"Davey was pretty public about me coming back," LaRoche said, "He sent some hilarious text messages over the [winter], whether it was to come out and be my right hand man on the ranch, or if he could give me part of his paychecks, whatever he could do. And obviously, I think he's joking with a lot of that, but on my end, that's not what swayed me. It was more the experience of playing for him last year and knowing the type of guy he is and how much he cares about his club, the way he runs the club and the way he manages the game. I've had a lot of managers and he's right up there at the top. And again, aside from how good this team is going to be, one of the big reasons is to come back and play in what [Davey] says is going to be his last year."
There's unfinished business in the nation's capital. Adam LaRoche is coming back to try to get the job done in 2013.