The Washington Times - November 11, 2012, 09:38PM

Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo have been in contact often this offseason, even before Johnson’s contract for 2013 was finalized. And immediately after the two sides announced 2013 would likely be Johnson’s last as the Nationals’ manager, the 69-year-old Johnson turned his focus toward the team he’ll have competing for him.

In that regard, Johnson was frank.

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“There’s not a whole lot of things we need to do,” he said. “I hope we get Adam (LaRoche) back.”

That is a common sentiment. Rizzo reiterated the team’s desire to sign LaRoche last week at the GM Meetings and it’d certainly make their offseason a little bit easier to piece together if they can get their slugging first baseman back under contract.

LaRoche, who declined the Nationals’ $13.3 million qualifying offer and will net them a draft pick if he signs elsewhere, plays a position the Nationals have depth at. If LaRoche doesn’t return, the Nationals are comfortable playing Michael Morse at first base or, if they had to, Tyler Moore everyday. But what they don’t get in either of those scenarios is someone who can replace LaRoche’s left-handed presence in the lineup or his impact in the clubhouse.

Johnson did note that the Nationals — who also aren’t limiting their search for another starting pitcher and would like bring back Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez or, at the very least, add one left-handed pitcher to their bullpen — “want to be fiscally responsible and not go overboard.”

But Rizzo indicated on MLBNetworkRadio, as expected, that the difference between the Nationals and LaRoche currently is more about length than it is money. The Red Sox and Rangers have also reportedly expressed their own interest in LaRoche, though, so the market for him is still in the process of taking shape.

For his part, Johnson has tried his best to put the recruiting push on his first baseman. “I told him, ‘Let’s have a package deal, you and me coming back,’” Johnson quipped on Saturday, adding that he also bought some beef from the first baseman recently, but his barbecue needs some fixing before he can turn it into dinner.

“I know he wants to come back and I know him,” Johnson said. “If he chooses to do something else, we’ve got guys that can move around… But we got the guy we want (in LaRoche).” 

– Left-hander Sean Burnett is expected to have a number of suitors for his services but the Nationals are going to be one of the prominent ones. Burnett’s market could be set fairly soon with fellow lefty Jeremy Affeldt, according to CBSsports.com, close to a three-year deal with the Giants worth somewhere between $15-20 million. 

If that’s the case, Burnett should have a good template for himself. As far as the Nationals are concerned, one source speculated recently that the left-hander’s desire to return to D.C. was so strong that it may simply depend on the two sides actually hashing out a deal.

That said, the Cardinals are among a few teams who reportedly will have interest in Burnett and MLBTraderumors speculated recently that Burnett could be in line for a possible four-year pact if Affeldt, who is three years older than Burnett, could get one for three years.

– The Nationals may not have a ton of nearly major league-ready starting pitching talent in the upper levels of the minor leagues but where they do have a decent amount of depth is one step down from that with the likes of Alex Meyer, Nathan Karns, Matt Purke and Sammy Solis.

Purke and Solis, though, are rehabbing injuries. Purke had surgery on his left shoulder in August to relieve bursitis and clean up some scar tissue while Solis is rehabbing from March Tommy John surgery.

The left-handed prospect’s rehab is going very well, Rizzo said, and he’s on track to be pitching in spring training. The Nationals, of course, have some experience with Tommy John rehabs and Rizzo said Solis will be treated no differently.

“He’ll be on our program,” Rizzo said. “Probably shut him down sometime.”

– The Justin Upton rumor mill was fired back up this past week at the GM Meetings with the Diamondbacks listening on their 25-year-old outfielder. Rizzo and Upton go way back as the Nationals’ GM was the scouting director for the Diamondbacks when they drafted the Virginia native in 2005. 

So the question came up: Would the Nationals be interested in a possible trade for Upton?

“He’s a great player,” Rizzo said. “A great player. But all the trades you make you have to balance. Of course Justin Upton improves our team and every other team. But what holes does it create to get him? Do the holes create more problems than the acquisition. That’s the question.”

– The Nationals have not yet been asked for any of their players for the World Baseball Classic but Rizzo said the team would evaluate each player’s situation on a case-by-case basis and whether it’s in their best interests to participate.

Certain issues, such as injury concerns, could come into play. But Rizzo was clear in his desire to help Team USA put together the best possible team.

“I think it’s important to field the best Team USA that we can,” Rizzo said. “If we can help in doing that and it works for us, certainly we’d be willing to volunteer players’ services if the player was willing to do so.”