A non-update update on LaRoche

How much should the Nationals be prepared to pay in order to keep Adam LaRoche in D.C.? How long a contract should they be willing to offer?

Those are questions that are being tossed around both by people within the Nationals organization and within LaRoche’s camp.

Contract talks are still not to the point where a deal is expected in the very near future, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

But don’t take that to mean that the Nationals aren’t still very much in the mix for LaRoche. This process could take a little while now that LaRoche is on the open market, but many around the league still seem to view the Nats as the favorites to land the 32-year-old first baseman.

For what it’s worth, in a recent column, CBSsports.com’s Jon Heyman predicts some team will give LaRoche a four-year, $56 million contract, while he cites an unnamed “expert source on the player side” who has LaRoche landing a three-year, $39 million deal.

Personally, as I’ve said, I think a three-year deal worth around $32-36 million is plenty fair for both sides. If I was Nats general manager Mike Rizzo, I wouldn’t give up too much more cash than that and I’d be extremely hesitant to go to four guaranteed years.

Then again, I’m very clearly not Mike Rizzo and it’s very clearly not my money to play with.

LaRoche has until 5 p.m. Friday to accept the Nationals’ qualifying offer of $13.3 million over one year, but don’t bother holding your breath on that. He’ll end up declining.

The somewhat unfortunate part for Rizzo in all this is that his hands might be tied when it comes to structuring key parts of his 2013 roster until the LaRoche situation gets settled.

LaRoche’s return or lack thereof will clearly impact Michael Morse’s future with the team, but as we’ve discussed, it also will probably play a part in determining multiple key spots.

Rizzo won’t know whether Morse could be used as a trade chip until LaRoche signs somewhere. He won’t know whether he’ll need a new starting left fielder if Morse is moved to first base. He won’t know how much money he’ll have to spend on a potentially big-name starting pitcher or center fielder.

Contract negotiations take time and these deals can end up taking months to come together. In this case, Rizzo probably would prefer that he gets an answer on LaRoche one way or another sometime in the next few weeks, just so he has a better idea of where things stand as he tries to shape and improve the rest of the roster.

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