After a few months of extended talks which saw little actual negotiating, the Nationals and Adam LaRoche today agreed on a two-year contract worth a guaranteed $24 million, a deal which brings one player in but will almost certainly send another out.
LaRoche returns for the 2013 and 2014 seasons and has a mutual option for 2015, as well. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo viewed LaRoche as his "Plan A" all offseason, and today, he finally brought back the Gold Glove- and Silver Slugger-winning first baseman.
"Adam was a huge part of our success last year," Rizzo said. "He does a lot of things for us. He balances our lineup, he's a middle-of-the-lineup bat, he's a run producer. He's a terrific defensive player. And beyond that, he's a great clubhouse presence and a quiet leader that's very, very well respected in the clubhouse."
The Nationals were patient with LaRoche this offseason, putting a two-year offer on the table a while ago and allowing LaRoche to survey the free agent market. That was by design; Rizzo said that with Michael Morse under contract, the Nats had a fallback option, so to speak, and they felt the 33-year-old LaRoche had earned a right to explore his options through free agency.
That said, Rizzo recently had talks with LaRoche and his agent, telling the LaRoche camp that the team would need an answer soon. The Nats' offer earlier this offseason was going to remain their offer (with the exception of some minor tweaks), and it was time for both sides to either agree to terms or part ways.
"I think we both were getting tired of the process," Rizzo said. "We had a lot of conversations back and forth with his representative. Adam and I had a few private conversations with each other, and I think we both realized, and I made it clear to Adam, it's time to get this thing done. Make a decision. Our offer is what it is, it's been on the table for a while and it's time to think of your options and pull the trigger. If you want to be here, let's get this thing done because we have other business to move on to.
"He agreed. He wasn't enjoying the process and wanted to make a decision."
Now that LaRoche is on board, the Nationals will explore trade options for Morse, who has gotten bumped out of the lineup by no fault of his own.
Rizzo said the Nats have gotten calls from "several ballclubs" on Morse, and "his value is only increasing in the industry as free agents sign." Still, like with John Lannan last year, the Nats won't rush to deal Morse. They will trade him only if they get what they feel is fair value in return.
"Mike's an everyday, middle-of-the-order hitter," Rizzo said. "We see him that way. I think the industry sees him that way. I think financially, we don't have to move him. We would move him in the right deal. We're certainly not going to give him away, but if we could make the right deal that works for Mike and for us as a franchise, we certainly will do that deal.
"There's not going to be a time limit on what we're going to do and if we're going to do it and when we're going to do it. These things kind of take a life of their own, and if we can get the right deal for Mike, we'll definitely think about trading him, but, like I said, we're not going to make a bad deal just to move the player out of town."
It's unclear what the Nats would be able to get in return for Morse. The 30-year-old hit 31 homers and drove in 95 runs in 2011 and is due to make an affordable $6.75 million in 2013, but Morse has battled injuries and this is the last year on his current contract.
The Nats would ideally like to receive pitching prospects and/or a left-handed reliever in exchange for Morse.