The Washington Times - December 6, 2012, 12:03PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo departed the winter meetings on Wednesday with owner Mark Lerner and manager Davey Johnson. But the rest of the contingent left Thursday afternoon and they did so with what seemed to be an overriding sense of optimism that they will work out a deal with free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche.

Johnson, who has put the recruiting push on LaRoche extremely hard the past few weeks, made his feelings on the topic perfectly clear any chance he got this week. Tuesday, he noted that “Adam LaRoche is going to come back. If I have to go to Kansas and take him and all his cattle to Florida, I will.”

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And while Johnson’s verbose, cocksure nature is generally in a class by itself, the rest of the organization exuded some (albeit quieter) optimism that they would reach an agreement. The Nationals have made their two-year offer to LaRoche and they appear unwilling to budge off it, leaving the ball in his court.

The hope is they can get things resolved by Christmas, if not sooner.

“I think the reality is we made the offer and we’ve been in touch with him the whole time,” said assistant general manager Bryan Minniti, who addressed the media after Thursday’s Rule 5 draft.

“We obviously would love to have him. If things don’t work out we have capable options. We’ll see how it plays out. You never know. I think the reality is you come out of these meetings and there are teams who are still going to have needs. He could fill those needs for somebody else. You just hang with it, stay in touch and see what happens.”

If the Nationals do agree to terms with LaRoche, they would then be even more motivated to move Michael Morse, a slugging outfielder/first baseman who could likely net them a strong return. Morse is only under contract for one more year, but he’s fairly affordable for a cleanup hitter at $6.75 million for the 2013 season.

The Nationals are looking to help replenish the upper levels of their farm system, particularly when it comes to pitching, that they have depleted recently with trades. 

As most of the team’s scouts and executives made their way out of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel on Thursday, they held firm on their hopes that they’ll workout a deal with LaRoche, helping to further solidify their offseason goals.