This winter, as Adam LaRoche waded through free agency, he presented the various options coming across his desk to his children. Every now and then, they’d discuss prospective teams and places where the family might end up spending their summers for the next few years.
Each time LaRoche furnished the options to his familial panel — including his 10-year-old son Drake, who became a fixture in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse last season — the answer was always the same.
“It was always, ‘No, no, no. We want to go back to Washington,’” LaRoche told The Washington Times. “They love it there, especially Drake. I had Drake and [Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo] in that thing together, I think. They were both pushing pretty hard.”
LaRoche made that wish a reality Tuesday when he signed a two-year deal with the Washington Nationals. The contract, which will pay him $24 million in guaranteed money and holds a mutual option for the 2015 season, was the culmination of several months of talks between the two sides.
“You know me, I wasn’t stressing it a whole lot, but I’m glad it’s with Washington and not somebody else,” LaRoche said. “I was prepared to leave if I had to but I was really trying to do everything I could to get back there so, I’m glad it worked out.”
LaRoche will make $10 million this season and $12 million in 2014, with a mutual option for 2015 that carries a $2 million buyout. He made $8 million in 2012.
The deal solidifies the Nationals’ lineup and infield defense, in addition to likely pleasing manager Davey Johnson, who put on an impressive recruiting push, but also creates a logjam at the position. The likelihood that the Nationals will trade a player, likely Michael Morse, increased immensely with LaRoche’s agreement.
“If we can get the right deal for Mike, we’ll certainly think about trading him,” Rizzo said. “But we’re not going to make a bad deal just to move the player out of town. We don’t have to do it financially. We’re going to have to do what’s best for the organization. … We’re certainly not going to give him away.”
For at least one day, though, Rizzo and the Nationals could revel in the fact that they’d gotten the man they identified as their top first base target this offseason under contract.
The discussions with LaRoche, which began during the season and persisted deep into the offseason as he mulled his options and pushed for a three-year commitment from the Nationals, began to wear on both sides lately.
The Nationals made a two-year offer they were unwilling to increase early on. And in a market largely deflated by the compensatory draft pick that the Nationals attached to LaRoche when he turned down their $13.3 million qualifying offer in November, no other contending teams were willing to go three years, either.
For a time, LaRoche believed he would not return to Washington given the Nationals’ position, but he came back to the offer that Rizzo and the Nationals had presented him, and the comfort he felt in Washington.
“We had pretty tight parameters of what the deal on our end was going to be like,” Rizzo said. “We were patient with Adam and his representatives to see what was out there for him, but at the end of the day I think we both agreed that this was the best place for Adam to be.”
As for Morse, a slugging outfielder who has one year left on his contract, he’s drawing significant interest from prospective trade partners and likely will continue to do so. Plus, Tyler Moore, who turns 26 this month, had an impressive rookie season as a reserve and is seen as a potential long-term option at the position.
The Nationals are interested in replenishing their pool of pitching prospects after trades for Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span, coupled with promotions and injuries, have depleted those once-thriving ranks. They are also still in the market for left-handed relief.
LaRoche, 33, rejoins a team for which he hit cleanup and clubbed 32 home runs with 100 RBI in 2012. After losing a year to a torn labrum in his left shoulder, LaRoche became an integral part of the team with the major leagues’ best regular-season record. He solidified himself as the Nationals’ cleanup hitter, won the Silver Slugger and the Gold Glove awards for his performance last season, and, perhaps most importantly, was one of their leaders.
“The Caps and LaRoche back in D.C.? Pretty good week for the nation’s capital,” quipped left-hander Ross Detwiler, an avid hockey fan.
“We are excited to have him back,” shortstop Ian Desmond said in a text message. “He’s a huge part of our team. Unfortunately this means we will have to lose somebody and that’s not what any of us want. But this is a business.”
NOTE: The Nationals will play an exhibition game against the New York Yankees on March 29 at Nationals Park at 2:05 p.m.