What is LaRoche waiting on?

According to the latest odds put out by the sports book Bovada, the Nationals are tied with the Tigers and Dodgers at 17/2 as the favorites to win the 2013 World Series.

I tweeted out that information last night, only to have about five people respond telling me to stop being a jinx. If the Nats lose 100 games next season, you’ll know who to blame.

I made an appearance on “The Mid-Atlantic Sports Report” on MASN last night (you can catch the video of my call-in here), and during the segment was asked why Adam LaRoche has yet to make a decision whether to return to the Nationals or sign elsewhere.

The market for LaRoche hasn’t really developed as he might have hoped this offseason, and a few teams looking for a first baseman have already filled holes at that position. So what exactly is LaRoche waiting on at this point?

LaRoche still has his eyes set on a three-year contract, which we know the Nationals are unwilling to give him. They’ve put a two-year offer on the table and have told him that’s as long a deal as they’re willing to provide.

The veteran first baseman thoroughly enjoyed his time in D.C. these last two years. He and his family like the area, he loved playing for manager Davey Johnson and felt comfortable with his teammates. Winning a division title and playing in the postseason wasn’t too bad, either. These are all things which could help draw him back to the Nationals.

Adam_Laroche_swinging_in_red_jersey-sidebar.jpgBut at 33, LaRoche knows his baseball career is winding down. He loves playing baseball (almost as much as he loves hunting) and sees this contract quite possibly being his last before he’s pushed towards retirement, so he’d like to score a three-year deal which will allow him to continue playing into his age-36 season.

The Mariners are reportedly in on LaRoche and would like to bring him out west and slot him as their first baseman. They are viewed as one of the Nationals’ main competitors for LaRoche, but the way I see it, even if Seattle offers LaRoche a three-year deal, it’d be surprising to see him take it.

The length of the contract isn’t the only factor here. LaRoche wants to play for a contending team, a team that will give him a chance to play in the postseason and compete for a World Series title. In all likelihood, that won’t be the Mariners, who haven’t finished above third place in the American League West in the last five years.

What other teams are in the mix for LaRoche?

The Orioles are rumored to be interested, as they could use another power bat and a steady, everyday first baseman. They made the playoffs last season and playing in Baltimore would allow LaRoche’s family to stay close to the D.C. area. But will the O’s go to three years to get LaRoche to Charm City? Probably not.

The Red Sox were thought to be out of the picture for LaRoche, but there are rumors that Mike Napoli’s signing has not yet been announced because of a possible issue with his physical. If Napoli’s deal with the Sox does happen to fall through, LaRoche could be a fallback option, and I was told by a Nationals source at the Winter Meetings that prior to Boston adding Napoli, the Nats viewed the Red Sox as their chief competition in the LaRoche sweepstakes.

But if I was the Nationals, the team that would concern me the most is the Rangers. They have lots of cash to spend (especially now that Zack Greinke landed with the Dodgers) and have been very competitive of late, making the postseason three straight years, including World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.

The Rangers might be interested in LaRoche, and that interest could increase if free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton ends up leaving Texas. That could lead the Rangers to look for a left-handed slugger, and LaRoche might fit the bill.

This is why LaRoche is taking his time and seeing how the market develops. If a team (the Rangers, for example) doesn’t like how its pieces are getting put together this offseason, it could sneak in and offer LaRoche the three-year deal he desires.

The Nationals would like to have some resolution on this matter by around Christmas. If LaRoche re-signs, they would then have time to field trade offers for Michael Morse, and if LaRoche goes elsewhere, the Nats could look to set their roster without him.

Until then, however, we continue to wait.

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