Davey talks LaRoche, starting catching job, high expectations and more

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Davey Johnson just spent about half an hour talking with reporters here at the Winter Meetings, addressing topics ranging from Adam LaRoche to Mark DeRosa’s karaoke skills to Danny Espinosa’s job security to how to turn the Cubs around.

I’m not exactly sure why Johnson was asked about the Cubs, but he was.

Here are some quick hits from Johnson’s session with the media, with expanded quotes to come in a bit:

* After a 98-win season in 2012, the Nationals will go into 2013 with high expectations. Johnson has high hopes himself: “World Series or bust - that’ll probably be the slogan this year. And I’m comfortable with that.”

The ever-quotable Nationals skipper added this later on: “If we’re not the favorite this year, I’m going to be embarrassed for all you guys picking.”

* Johnson is continuing his hard push for the Nats to re-sign LaRoche, optimistically saying that the 33-year-old first baseman is going to come back. “If I have to go to Kansas and take all his cattle to Florida, I will,” Johnson said with a big smile.

Johnson is leaving the LaRoche/Michael Morse decision-making to general manager Mike Rizzo, saying that whichever guy Rizzo gives him to play first base this year, Johnson will make it work. He did say, however, that it’s tough to envision a scenario in which both Morse and LaRoche are on the roster in 2013. “It’s hard to start sharing roles,” Johnson said.

* Wilson Ramos is expected to be close to full health (if not at full health) for spring training after undergoing major knee surgery this year. But Johnson said that Kurt Suzuki will go into the year as his No. 1 catcher, until Ramos is able to prove he’s healthy.

And how will things stand once Ramos has shown he can withstand the workload behind the plate? Johnson sees the Nats having two No. 1 catchers, and he’s plenty fine with that.

* Danny Espinosa has been discussed as a potential trade chip for the Nats, but Johnson remains in the corner of the 25-year-old second baseman. Johnson sees Espinosa having the same mentality in 2013 that shortstop Ian Desmond had entering his breakout 2012 campaign, and envisions him taking positive steps this year.

Johnson also likes Steve Lombardozzi, but says that the Nationals’ starting second base job is Espinosa’s to lose.

* Last week’s acquisition of Denard Span has given Johnson some time to kick lineup ideas around in his head. The Nationals’ batting order will obviously depend on whether LaRoche re-signs and what happens with Morse, but Johnson did say that he has told 20-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper that he could end up hitting cleanup.

* Johnson sees Dan Haren as a great addition to the Nationals’ pitching staff, assuming he passes his physical. He notes that Haren will add some veteran experience to the rotation and noted that the 32-year-old can swing the bat a bit, as well. Haren is a lifetime .223 hitter.

* Rizzo noted yesterday that the Nationals don’t feel they absolutely need to add another left-handed reliever, because their righties are pretty effective against left-handed hitters. But Johnson said he’d prefer to have a second left-hander in his bullpen, joining Zach Duke. Johnson admitted that “it’s obvious” Sean Burnett will go elsewhere, echoing a similar statement from Rizzo yesterday, and said he’ll miss Burnett.

J.P. Howell, who has been with the Rays, is a guy to watch for the Nats going forward.

* The Nationals have a number of proven guys who will return to their bench, leaving few spots on the 25-man roster up for grabs. But Johnson said he’d like to see veteran infielder DeRosa back in 2013 to compete for a spot on the bench.

Johnson cited DeRosa’s leadership as a key factor, said he would expect him to produce more than he did in 2012, and also added that his personality is needed.

“We have to have somebody doing karaoke in the clubhouse,” Johnson said with a laugh.

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