There were negotiations with the Nationals and with some other teams, but one reason LaRoche did not accept something comparable was because the Nats already had a good team, and he felt most comfortable playing for them.
“One of the big ones was I was fighting to get back to Washington,” LaRoche said during a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “I made it clear at the end of the season this is where I wanted to be. There was points in the offseason that I thought it may not happen. But it never changed the fact that (D.C.) was my No. 1 choice. It could not have worked out any better.”
During last season’s memorable run, LaRoche talked about the family feeling you got when you stepped into the Nationals clubhouse. Absent were the me-first guys that can ruin a first-place club, and that cohesive atmosphere started with the manager.
“I love playing for Davey (Johnson),” LaRoche said. “I love that fact that that clubhouse is one big happy family. You don’t have that separation in there throughout the course of a season, which is tough to do. It is basically one big family in there. It is special. You don’t get that every where you play.”
LaRoche said it was no secret last season how much Johnson wanted the veteran first baseman back.
“It was pretty funny,” LaRoche laughed. “Davey was pretty public about me coming back. There were some hilarious text messages, (like) could he be my right-hand man on the ranch, or could (Johnson) give him some of his paychecks” to guarantee LaRoche’s return.
“I have had a lot of managers and he is right up there at the top. Aside from how good this team is going to be, one of the big reasons I am coming back to play is that he said it is going to be his last year.”
The two-year deal felt like it had been on the table for a while. LaRoche realized about a week ago that the Nationals were not going to budge. The biggest stalemate in the last couple of weeks for LaRoche was his attempt to get a no-trade clause put into the contract. In the end, he was not able to get that into the deal.
“To be honest, that no-trade clause was a hang-up for a while,” LaRoche said. “On my end, I want to be there. I think they are going to be really solid for a long time so I don’t want to be traded.
“Apparently, that is a Nationals policy where they did it for Jayson (Werth). After that, they were going to shut it down. That was something to work through. It took a little bit longer than I would have liked. So if we do our job on the field and do what we are capable of doing, I don’t think it is going to be an issue.”
Now that LaRoche is back in the fold and Denard Span has been acquired to play center field, it would appear slugger Michael Morse would be the odd man out. LaRoche believes it will not take long for Morse to find a home.
“I don’t think you are going to see Mikey on the bench,” LaRoche said. “Mike is guy that could hit in the middle of the lineup, he has proven that. He is going to be playing for somebody. Whether it is us if we make a move, (but) this isn’t any way a career-ender for Mikey. I think he is just getting started. Hopefully it is us. I don’t make that decision, and I am glad that I am not. It is going to be a tough one for them.”
And now that he is 33, LaRoche is not able to order those large pizzas every night like he could when his metabolism was different.
He likes to gain weight in the offseason, because he burns it off as the season progresses, but doesn’t want it to get out of hand. He finds himself in his gym in the barn of his ranch earlier each offseason as he gets ready for spring training.
“There is more preparation,” LaRoche said. “It starts a month earlier than I used too. I have learned with age that there are more things I know I have to do to get ready for the game. But as far as that, I feel great. I have put on about 12 to 15 pounds. Everything is good so far.”
As for the offseason moves by the Nats, LaRoche said he likes the acquisition of Dan Haren, a former teammate in Arizona. LaRoche called Haren a “warrior out there.” LaRoche said Span will replace the “small piece that’s missing out of our lineup” in the leadoff spot.
But just because the Nats have made some good offseason alterations to a team that won 98 games, LaRoche said there is still no guarantee they will be able to repeat last year’s success.
“There is absolutely no way to tell what is going to happen,” LaRoche warned. “We had guys who missed time (last year). Bryce (Harper) was just getting his feet wet and (Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa) are coming into their own. There is no telling. We can look good on paper and we can make all the predictions, but I think time will tell.”