The Washington Times - December 12, 2012, 03:45PM

Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson was at his charismatic best Wednesday afternoon at the Washington Hilton Hotel when he was honored by the D.C. Chamber of Commerce with the Hometown Hero award.

Johnson, who was joined by his wife Susan for the luncheon, glad-handed, signed autographs and posed for pictures as he and his 98-win team were feted by the District. The award was given to Johnson for being “integral to the success of D.C.’s baseball franchise, (the impact of which) has been felt by the District residents, businesses and fans alike.”

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Johnson, of course, may just remember it as the trip that he forgot to pack his wife’s clothes and therefore got to support D.C. businesses a little more than he’d planned.

“Every time I look at this award I’m going to think about how much it cost me,” Johnson quipped as he accepted the award and explained his packing mistake. Susan had met him in D.C. from New York and Johnson, who’d come from their home in Florida, been charged with bringing her attire for the function. He forgot.

“So, Chamber fans,” he continued, “A lot of stores got some of my money today.”

Once the jokes were out of the way, Johnson thanked the Chamber for the award (though he added later that “Really, the guys on the field do it,”) and he did his best to pump the crowd up for the 2013 Nationals season, now just three-and-a-half months away.

“If you think this last year was a good year, let me tell you something: we have a higher ceiling,” Johnson said. “Next year is going to be my last year and Im going out with my fourth World Series ring.”

And if he hadn’t made his feelings on the topic clear to this point, one of the final pieces of the puzzle for Johnson to have the team he feels best equipped to get that ring for him is first baseman Adam LaRoche. Johnson’s recruiting push for LaRoche to return to the Nationals has been well documented, and the Nationals felt optimistic when they left the winter meetings last week that they could work something out.

But the Nationals appear to be holding firm on their two-year offer and LaRoche is still looking for a potential three-year commitment. While there wasn’t much new to report Wednesday, Johnson did reiterate he’s hoping things will be wrapped up by Christmas, now just 13 days away.

“I thought there was some positive signs from (Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo) that he thought we could get something done prior to Christmas,” Johnson said. “Adam knows we want him back. I don’t know what the status is.”

Johnson did note one possibility for the holdup: With left-handed outfielder Josh Hamilton still unsigned, LaRoche could be viewed as a fallback plan for a team that does not end up with his left-handed power. Say that team were Texas, for example (and hypothetically speaking only). Perhaps they might turn their eyes toward LaRoche and consider a three-year deal. Their position as contenders may entice LaRoche and give him a little bit of leverage in talks with the Nationals. 

The negotiations languishing also holds up other potential moves the Nationals could make, even minor ones.

Whether or not they get LaRoche back into the fold would obviously affect any trade involving Michael Morse and a possible route to replenish some of their young starting pitching in the minor leagues.

But even something as simple as possibly bringing back veteran utility man Mark DeRosa could be tied to LaRoche. The Nationals don’t have a whole lot of room on their bench to accommodate someone like DeRosa, but if LaRoche does not re-sign, perhaps they could find the room for the veteran voice and presence (not to mention infield insurance) that he brings. If they do re-sign LaRoche, he certainly fills that role nicely, along with guys like Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Chad Tracy, Dan Haren and the like. 

Johnson is still hoping that by Christmas they’ll have things sorted out.

“I’ve seen guys hold out, which I don’t understand,” Johnson said, though acknowledging the difficult decision that lies before LaRoche. “I would want to know where I was going. He’s probably just off hunting somewhere, riding a horse somewhere. I’ll keep reading the clips, keep looking for that big (headline).”