Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson has not made his desire for the team to re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche any kind of a secret. But even after Johnson welcomed LaRoche to his charity golf tournament two weekends ago, and after general manager Mike Rizzo gave Johnson some “positive signs” last week at the close of the winter meetings that a deal could be reached by Christmas, the 32-year-old remains a free agent.
So what, Johnson wondered, could be the real hold up? The Nationals want to give LaRoche a two-year deal. He wants three — but he’s also said he wants to be on a team in position to win a World Series and there are few positioned as well as the Nationals (on paper anyway) in the next few years.
Wednesday afternoon at a luncheon for the DC Chamber of Commerce where they honored Johnson, the manager noted one other possible variable: Josh Hamilton.
Well Hamilton is out of the way now. The outfielder agreed to a five-year, $125-million deal with the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday, according to multiple reports, and his deal will almost certainly have a ripple effect.
While outfielders like Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher will see their markets take more shape with Hamilton’s signing, where it will most likely affect the Nationals is in their dealings with LaRoche.
To this point, it didn’t appear that LaRoche had too many other options on the table that fit what he was looking for the way the Nationals uniquely could have — including his comfort with the city, the team and his role in the organization. During the winter meetings, it was reported that the Rangers may have interest in LaRoche but that was quickly shot down by other reports, and there hasn’t seemed to be much movement since.
Now the Rangers, who already (though not officially) lost Mike Napoli to the Red Sox, are also wading into life without Hamilton, their power left-handed bat.
That seems like a vacancy LaRoche might be able to fill. And the Rangers, who played in two of the last three World Series and lost in the Wild Card game this year, would fit the bill as a contender as well.
The Nationals have carried a sense of optimism throughout their negotiations with LaRoche, which have been amicable despite their length. They want him, on what they believe is the right deal, but they know they have options to fill his role should he choose to go elsewhere.
They were covered in that regard before, with Michael Morse and Tyler Moore options at first base. They’re covered, perhaps even more, now with the acquisition of Denard Span, a left-handed bat at the top of the lineup who would allow Bryce Harper to slide down and be their power lefty in the heart of it.
In addition, the market for LaRoche appeared to be surprisingly thin. While the Nationals likely tempered interest by attaching draft-pick compensation to him, there were also only a handful that seemed to truly have interest. If the Rangers are now forced back into that mix, they may jump to the forefront because of how they can fit LaRoche’s requirements perhaps better than a team not expected to contend, like the Mariners. The question, of course, is will they spring for that third year.
The Nationals insist they’d be OK if LaRoche went elsewhere — but they still want him back, badly. How it develops from here will be worth watching.
– One other item of note: The Nationals signed a 16-year-old third baseman from the Dominican Republic on Thursday, giving Neivy Pilier $225,000, according to Baseball America.
I don’t know much about Pilier myself, but Ben Badler writes that Pilier is “6-foot-1, 180 pounds, has a quick bat with lift and occasional power in his righthanded swing, though he’s at his best when he stays with a line-drive approach and uses the middle of the field.
“He has a strong arm that fits well at third base, though with his youth and size he’s still trying to improve his footwork. Pilier didn’t turn 16 until Aug. 1, so he was one of the younger players among those who became eligible to sign this year.”
The signing is somewhat significant for the Nationals, though, as it represents one of the largest bonuses the Nationals have given any Latin American teenager since they signed Esmailyn Gonzalez for $1.4 million in 2006.
Gonzalez, of course, turned out to be three years older than the Nationals thought and named Carlos Alvarez. The issue led to the resignation of then-GM Jim Bowden and a complete revamping of the Nationals’ Dominican operations.