As the Nationals ended their winter meetings, they turned their primary focus toward re-signing first baseman Adam LaRoche with an eye on adding a left-hander to their bullpen. Even as Sean Burnett signed with the Los Angeles Angels and the lefty reliever market developed, the Nationals have made it their first priority to bring LaRoche back, to fit his left-handed bat into their lineup and his slick glove at first base.
They think they can re-sign LaRoche, and “I won’t really sleep real comfortable until he does,” Johnson said. “I hope that gets worked out. Everybody knows each other. I think everybody has a lot of comfort zones, not just on the field but in the clubhouse and off the field.
“I had him in my golf tournament. I told him: ‘You don’t want to go somewhere and be miserable. You know you’re going to have a good time in D.C. I won’t platoon you.’ I don’t know if there’s a deadline. But that’d be a nice Christmas present. That’d put the icing on the cake.”
The Nationals, according to multiple team officials, do indeed have an informal deadline to reach a resolution with LaRoche by Christmas. Even beyond Johnson’s relentless recruiting pitches, Nationals officials remain optimistic LaRoche will return to Washington. The fit for both sides, they feel, is too good for them not to reach a deal, even if the Nationals aren’t budging off a two-year contract offer and LaRoche wants three years. The Nationals want LaRoche, and LaRoche wants to play in Washington.
“It’s going to happen, I think,” one said.
When and if the Nationals re-sign LaRoche, they would need to trade Michael Morse. With a crowded outfield and LaRoche at first base, Johnson said he could not see Morse fitting in. Johnson would not want to reduce Morse’s role, believing him to be too accomplished of a hitter.
The Nationals have taken calls from teams interested in Morse, but they have not advanced far in any discussions, partly because they want to keep Morse in the event LaRoche signs elsewhere. “I don’t want to jinx anything,” one Nationals official said. “Let’s sign LaRoche first.”
Assuming LaRoche signs, the Nationals would first try to use Morse as a means to acquire a starting pitching prospect. They have traded four pitching prospects — Tommy Milone, A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock and Alex Meyer – over the past two offseasons. The deals netted them Gio Gonzalez and Span, but they also depleted starting depth from the upper levels of their farm system.