The waiting proved fruitful for the Nationals. First baseman Adam LaRoche, who had hoped all winter for a three-year contract offer, instead signed a two-year deal with the team on Tuesday with a mutual option for a third year in 2015.
According to multiple baseball sources, LaRoche will make $10 million in 2013, $12 million in 2014 and would have a $15 million mutual option in 2015 with a $2 million team buyout. Washington never budged on its desire for two years and LaRoche was hampered by Major League Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement rules that force any interested team to forfeit a draft pick to sign him. Nats general manager Mike Rizzo made a qualifying offer of $13.3 million that LaRoche turned down to ensure Washington could recoup compensation if the player left.
“Adam was a huge part of our success last year. He does a lot of things for us. He balances our lineup,” Rizzo said. “He’s a middle-of-the-order 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 well respected in the clubhouse.”
LaRoche, 33, also made no secret of his desire to play for a contender. That didn’t leave many landing spots where he would be as comfortable as he was in Washington. He rebounded from shoulder surgery in 2012 to post a career-high 33 home runs and 100 RBI, winning a Gold Glove for his defense at first base and a Silver Slugger as the best offensive player at his position in the National League. LaRoche batted .271 with a .343 on-base percentage, a .510 slugging percentage and an .853 OPS.
Manager Davey Johnson lobbied for months to have LaRoche re-sign with the club – even doing so during interviews after he won the NL manager of the year award in November. But LaRoche and his representatives were holding out hope some team would come through with a guaranteed three-year offer. It didn’t happen – though Rizzo said he was fine with taking a patient approach as LaRoche explored the open market until after the holidays.
LaRoche’s re-signing leaves the status of slugger Michael Morse up in the air. The popular 30-year-old is signed for one more season at $6.75 million. But the acquisition of center fielder Denard Span last month pushed Morse out of a starting outfield spot. Those belong to Span, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth. And now Morse can’t play first base, as he did so well when LaRoche sustained a torn labrum in his shoulder and had surgery in early June of the 2011 season.
The team could try to keep him as a bat off the bench and get Morse playing time as a reserve corner outfielder and LaRoche’s backup. But that would likely leave promising slugger Tyler Moore back in the minors. The Nats are fielding trade offers for Morse – though what exactly they can get in return is unclear.
“Mike is an every-day middle of the lineup hitter. We see him that way. I think the industry sees him that way,” Rizzo said. “He’s a guy that financially we don’t have to move. We would move him in the right deal. We’re certainly not going to give him away.”
With every position on the diamond accounted for, all that’s left for Rizzo and his staff now is a decision on Morse and possible bullpen additions. The team lost three left-handed relievers this winter and has only Zach Duke and – possibly – Bill Bray in the mix during spring training. But even there Rizzo said the team is comfortable with its options there.
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