The Washington Times - December 28, 2011, 11:55AM

Last Friday night, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo spent almost 20 minutes on a conference call with reporters talking about the Nationals pre-holiday haul. Gio Gonzalez, one of the most coveted left-handers on the trade market, was a National — joining with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann to help form as formidable a top three as any rotation in the major leagues.

A good portion of the questions revolved around the Nationals’ road map from this point. What was atop the team’s to-do list now that they’d squared away their rotation desires? Despite Rizzo’s continued insistence that a healthy Adam LaRoche will be his first baseman in 2012 and his continued insistence that the Nationals two main needs heading into this offseason were a starting pitcher and a center fielder — not a first baseman — Washington continues to come up as a possible destination for prized first baseman Prince Fielder. 

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Asked point blank Friday night if Rizzo was still planning on LaRoche at first base in 2012, the GM responded bluntly: “That’s correct.”

And yet, Rizzo found himself addressing the Fielder/LaRoche question yet again Wednesday morning in an interview with MLBNetwork Radio. The answer on Wednesday, however, was as clear as Rizzo has been on the topic — perhaps even more blunt than his answers Friday night.

“As far as are we going to dab our toe in (the Prince Fielder) water,” Rizzo said, “Those are decisions we make early on in that process and we’ve more or less decided that Adam is going to be our first baseman. Unless something extraordinary and out of the ordinary happened, that’s how we’re going to go into spring training.”

The Nationals did not plan from Day 1 of this offseason to be players in the Fielder sweepstakes and it doesn’t appear that has changed to this point. Something “extraordinary” could change that, yes, and no GM will close the door on anything until the very last moment but Rizzo appears to be talking his way around this as best he can while continuing to indicate that the Nationals aren’t heavily involved.

Rizzo has been assured that LaRoche will be 100 percent healthy when he arrives at spring training after June surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder and reiterated that all the team is looking for is for him to “have his career norms,” in 2012. Rizzo also noted in the interview the Nationals are paying LaRoche “A lot of money to play first base for us next year.”

Should LaRoche have a “normal” year, he’d hit around .271 with 23 homers, a .339 on-base percentage and roughly 80 RBI and he’ll earn $8 million for doing so. Add that to what the Nationals hope will be a bounce back year for Jayson Werth, a fully healthy season from Ryan Zimmerman, a repeat from Michael Morse and continued improvement and establishment from their young core in Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos — and the expected addition of Bryce Harper — and it’s clear the Nationals expect their offense to be improved even without the addition of a high-priced free agent.