LaRoche returns to Nats on a two-year deal (deal is official)

It took a while, but the Nationals have gotten the guy they wanted all along.

After lengthy negotiations centering around the length of a deal, the Nats and first baseman Adam LaRoche have agreed to terms on a two-year contract, a source has confirmed.

LaRoche, who won Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger awards for his performance this last season, gives the Nationals great lefty-righty balance in their lineup and keeps their strong infield defense intact.

LaRoche led the Nationals with 33 home runs and 100 RBIs, and added two home runs in the postseason.

The Nationals have said all along that LaRoche was one of their top priorities this offseason, and the 33-year-old wanted to return to D.C., as well.

He had hoped his monster 2012 campaign would allow him to secure a three-year contract, but his market was severely limited by the draft pick compensation attached to him. A few teams kicked the tires on LaRoche, but were hesitant to give him a firm offer for fear of losing a pick and the attached bonus pool money.

As a result, LaRoche didn’t get the three-year deal he was seeking. He does, however, get to return to a team and a city that he enjoys and make another run at a World Series title.

General manager Mike Rizzo offered LaRoche a two-year deal earlier this offseason and refused to budge off of it. Rizzo’s hard-line negotiating and patience paid off in this case, as LaRoche realized his best option was to take the two-year contract and return to the Nats.

Meanwhile, LaRoche’s re-signing makes Michael Morse the odd man out in D.C., and he will almost certainly be traded at some point.

Manager Davey Johnson acknowledged at the Winter Meetings that if the Nats brought back LaRoche, it would be nearly impossible for the team to keep Morse. The Nationals had received calls on the 30-year-old slugger earlier this offseason, but with LaRoche now on board, the interest in Morse is sure to increase.

In return for Morse, the Nats will likely look for starting pitching depth and possibly a left-handed reliever. The Rays, Orioles and Mariners are thought to be teams that could be in the mix for Morse, who is due to make $6.75 million in 2013, the final year of his current deal.

Morse hit .303 with 31 homers and 95 RBIs in 2011, and then batted .291 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs in an injury-shortened 2012 campaign. Morse missed the Nationals’ first 50 games last season with a strained lat and also battled wrist and hand injuries later in the year.

Update: Morse responded to the news on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, tweeting, “Hey everyone, going silent for a while”

Update II: The LaRoche deal is worth a guaranteed $24 million, an industry source confirms, and it includes a mutual option for 2015. The Nats hold a $2 million buyout on that option year.

Update III: The Nationals have made it official, announcing they’ve agreed to terms with LaRoche on a two-year deal with that mutual option. LaRoche has passed his physical and is back in D.C. through at least 2014.

More on this story to come.

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