As his negotiations with the Nationals remain stagnant, free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche said Friday evening that he is in talks with multiple opposing clubs, as well. LaRoche maintained his preference to return to the Nationals next season, but he hinted at frustration the sides have yet to reach a deal.
“We’re talking to a few other teams,” LaRoche said Friday evening in a voicemail. “Got to keep things open in case Washington doesn’t work out. I’m still hopeful that it will, but as you know it takes two sides cooperating to make that happen. I’m doing everything I can.”
LaRoche added he has avoided injecting himself directly in negotiations, instead choosing to “let the guys who get paid to do that do their job.”
The Nationals have had a two-year offer to LaRoche all winter, but LaRoche has been seeking a three-year deal after he hit 33 homers with 100 RBI and won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in the National League.
The Nationals had hoped to resolve LaRoche’s situation by Christmas, but they have yet to persuade LaRoche to sign. From their standpoint, nothing has changed. The Nationals, especially Manager Davey Johnson, prefer to re-sign LaRoche. But they have options if he signs with another team. They can shift Michael Morse from left field to first base, or trade him and his $6.75 million salary if LaRoche does come back.
The Nationals also have Tyler Moore behind either LaRoche or Morse. And while newly acquired center fielder Denard Span is a different kind of hitter than LaRoche, he helps provide left-handed balance to the Nationals’ lineup.
One of the “other teams” LaRoche referred to is the Red Sox. This week, FoxSports.com reported the Red Sox have been talking with LaRoche. The Red Sox showed initial interest in LaRoche this offseason, so that is not new interest, but rather the Red Sox simply staying in touch.
The Red Sox, according to widespread reports, agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with Mike Napoli in early December but have not finalized the contract because of a medical concern. If that deal falls through, the Red Sox would be in need of a first baseman – and LaRoche is by far the most desirable free agent first baseman remaining.
In reshaping their team this winter, the Red Sox have focused on veterans who can remake the culture inside their clubhouse, players like Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster. LaRoche, a well-liked, respected leader inside the Nationals’ clubhouse last season, would fit that plan perfectly.
But the draft pick compensation attached to LaRoche has scared away several of LaRoche’s potential pursuers. Because LaRoche declined the Nationals’ one-year, $13 million qualifying offer, any opposing team picking outside the top 10 that signs him would forfeit their first-round draft pick.
Because the Red Sox finished with the seventh-worst record in baseball in 2012, their first-round pick is protected and they would lose only a second-round pick. So they may be more willing than teams like the Orioles and Rangers, who would lose first-round picks.
However, they would also lose the money allocated to sign the pick from their bonus pool under the new collective bargaining agreement. That alone could dissuade the Red Sox from giving LaRoche the three-year offer he desires.
LaRoche played for the Red Sox for one week in 2009, when Boston acquired him in July and then shipped him to Atlanta before the July 31 deadline. He has said he wants to play for a winning team, and while the Red Sox floundered in 2012, their financial flexibility and successful recent history suggests they can contend again quickly.
Many teams who seemed like suitors for LaRoche have filled their needs. The Orioles have showed interest in LaRoche this winter, but they, too, may also be wary of signing LaRoche and losing a valuable first-round pick. They signed Travis Ishikawa to a minor league deal, which gives them added depth at first.
The Rangers never pushed hard to sign LaRoche, and they also signed catcher A.J. Pierzynski to provide left-handed punch. The Mariners acquired Kendrys Morales from the Angels, adding him to their first base mix alongside Justin Smoak.
LaRoche may not find the three-year deal he wants, hurt by the new draft pick compensation and draft system. And so the signs still point to LaRoche coming back to the Nationals. Until then, he’ll try to find the deal he wants, and not only from the Nationals.