A day after his months-long standoff and negotiations with the Nationals culminated in a two-year deal, the return to Washington he long sought, Adam LaRoche spoke with reporters from his home in Fort Scott, Kan., reflecting on his excitement in a new contract, the delays of the lengthy free agent process and the new draft-pick compensation that limited his market.
LaRoche said the new system hurt the handful of players, including himself, who were offered and declined a one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer by their former teams. The Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles were among the teams interested in LaRoche but were reportedly unwilling to part with their first-round draft pick — or a second-round pick, if they had one of the protected top 10 picks — and the allotted draft money attached to it if the free agent first baseman signed with them.
“I think there’s some guys still out there that are pretty solid ballplayers still looking for a job,” he said. “I don’t know how that is going to be addressed in the future. I know it definitely hindered some teams from going after guys that they would normally have gone after, where money may not be big issue with that team. Maybe they have plenty as far as the payroll goes, but they don’t want to give up that pick.
“Again, there was probably two or three, maybe four teams out there that that did affect as far as teams that were interested in me and just didn’t want to give up that pick. But then again, looking back, it may have been the best thing to end up back here. I can’t say right now it was a bad thing, but I do know that it did affect the amount of teams that were interested.”
The months-long standoff between LaRoche, his agent Mike Milchin of the SFX agency and the Nationals reached a head last week, when LaRoche said he realized there would have to be a compromise in order for an agreement to be reached. He understood by then that the Nationals were dead set on their two-year offer and wouldn’t relent on a third year. LaRoche’s camp conceded that, and then both sides began hammering out the smaller details.
LaRoche, whose standout 2012 season earned him a Silver Slugger Award for his bat and a Glove Gold Award for his defense, will earn at least $24 million over two years, according to a person with knowledge of the deal. He will make $10 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014. The contract includes a mutual option for a third year worth $15 million — the option year a concession General Manager Mike Rizzo was, earlier this winter, not willing to make.
Among the minor holdups were working out the $2 million buyout if the 2015 option isn’t picked up and, most of all, a no-trade clause. LaRoche wanted that provision in his contract because he said he doesn’t want to leave Washington, but the Nationals were reluctant to concede that, wanting to phase out its practice after granting one to Jayson Werth in 2010. “That was something we worked through and it took a little longer than I would like,” LaRoche said.
On Wednesday, LaRoche again said how eager he was to re-sign with Washington, despite seemingly insurmountable points during the negotiations, play for Manager Davey Johnson again and return to the talented lineup. But his return, of course, all but means that Michael Morse will be dangled as trade bait as the odd man out of a spot to play.
LaRoche said he has heard from about half of his teammates since his signing, but it was a bittersweet feeling knowing that his return likely means the departure of the popular Morse.
“I don’t think you’re going to see Mikey on the bench,” LaRoche said. “Mike is a guy that can hit in the middle of about any lineup in the big leagues and has proven that. I don’t know what’s going to happen there. Selfishly, I would love to have him on our team and in that lineup. Of course, we’ve got a little bit of a logjam out there so something is going to have to happen.”
At 33, LaRoche, and at least two more years on his contract with Washington, he is treating his offseason training a little different than before. In the barn on his ranch, he has a weight room and a batting cage and plenty of space to train.
“I usually spend my offseasons trying to put on as much as weight as possible because I lose so much during the season,” said LaRoche, who said he has put on between 12 and 15 pounds this winter, weight he loses by the end of the long season. “And now, I can’t go hammer the large pizza every night to rely on that kind of weight. It’s a little different. There’s more preparation. It starts a month earlier than it used to. I’ve learned with age that there are some more things now that I have to do.”
Now that LaRoche has a multi-year commitment with a team, and a city, his family will still split time between Kansas and Washington during the season, which is tougher when his two children begin school.
“We’ll always call Kansas home; this where our ranch is and where we stay,” he said. “When the season starts, they follow me around.”