The impasse between first baseman Adam LaRoche and the Nationals has lasted since October. LaRoche wants a three-year deal in free agency and the Nationals remain unwilling to offer more than two. Contact between the sides recently has been scant, and despite hope late last week of a possible thaw, no resolution appears close.
The waiting on the Nationals and Adam LaRoche to either reach a deal or not may be wearing on fans, but LaRoche doesn’t mind so much. He was asked by what date he would like to get a deal done, and he replied with his brand of dry humor and telling coolness.
“April 1,” LaRoche said in a text message.
Yes, LaRoche will sign somewhere before the end of spring training. But he is willing to exercise patience deep into the winter as the process plays out.
Will the Nationals have the same patience as LaRoche? At the winter meetings, the Nationals wanted and expected to have their situation with him resolved by Christmas. That informal deadline is now one week away, and little apparent progress has been made. LaRoche has not heard recently from the Nationals, and that didn’t change this weekend. The Nationals have still publicly expressed optimism they’ll get LaRoche signed.
And so the wait continued over the weekend, even after Josh Hamilton’s sudden, surprise signing with the Los Angeles Angels was expected to spur LaRoche’s market. Hamilton’s departure left the Texas Rangers seemingly in need of a left-handed bat in the middle of their lineup, and LaRoche represents perhaps the best choice remaining on the free agent market. The Seattle had reportedly pursued Hamilton, too, and the offense-challenged Mariners would also be an apparent fit for LaRoche’s slugging services.
Both the Mariners and Rangers expressed some level of initial interest in LaRoche this winter. The Rangers had cooled on LaRoche, at least before Hamilton signed, and one person familiar with the Rangers’ thinking indicated they would not push hard for him after. LaRoche wants to play for a contender, something the Mariners do not offer on the surface.
So far, though, it has remained quiet. LaRoche has not garnered the intense interest many anticipated after he hit 33 homers and won a Gold Glove this season. He turned 33 in November, which means the three-year deal he desires would expire as he is leaving typical prime years. The Nationals specifically want to prevent their infield from crowding as top prospect Anthony Rendon nears his ascent to the majors, keeping first base open in case they want to move Ryan Zimmerman across the diamond.
The primary reason for LaRoche’s slow-developing market may be the effective penalty for another team to sign him. Because the Nationals offered LaRoche a one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer, any opposing team that signs LaRoche will lose their first-round draft pick in 2013. (The Nationals would receive a compensation pick between the first and second rounds.)
With the new draft system limiting how much teams can spend in the draft, first-round picks have become perhaps even more valuable than previous years – it’s generally harder for teams to wait for expensive talent to drop into later rounds. Forfeiting such a valuable commodity may give teams pause when they consider LaRoche.
Then again, LaRoche may get a break. The only other impact hitter who can play first base remaining on the free agent market is Nick Swisher. And Swisher, just one year younger than LaRoche, also turned down a qualifying offer and would force the team that signs him to forfeit a first-round pick.
One development could change LaRoche’s market. The Red Sox, according to many reports, have hit a snag in finalizing their free agent contract with catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli. Should that deal fall apart – still a remote possibility at this point, it seems – LaRoche would have another team that would have interest in him. The Red Sox would need another hitter, and LaRoche would fit not only at first base, but also into Boston’s plan to rebuild their culture. LaRoche has been part of the bedrock in the Nationals’ clubhouse since he arrived.
Meanwhile, as LaRoche waits, the Nationals would like to get the situation wrapped up sooner than later in order to settle their situation at first base. If they move on from LaRoche, they could simply make Michael Morse their first baseman. But General Manager Mike Rizzo has said he would be comfortable using Tyler Moore at first base in 2013. If LaRoche leaves, it would be unlikely that Morse gets traded, but not impossible.
LaRoche will eventually find his destination for next season, whether it be back in Washington as he prefers or with another team that gives him a three-year contract. All we know for now is that he’s still waiting, and he doesn’t mind that much.