REPORTED $24 MILLION GUARANTEE, MUTUAL OPTION FOR 2015
The biggest question this off-season for the Washington Nationals was: Who will play first base for the club in 2013 and perhaps beyond. Tuesday morning, we found out, as news spread quickly that the team re-signed Adam LaRoche to a two-year contract with $24 million guaranteed, according to at least one report, citing a sources with knowledge of the agreement. That source also described a mutual option for 2015 with a $2 million buyout that would pay the slugger and slick fielder another $15 million.
Nats GM Mike Rizzo, speaking with reporters via conference call said, “Adam was a huge part of our success last year…who is very well respected in our clubhouse.”
“We were in a pretty enviable position negoitiation-wise, which allowed us to be patient with Adam. I wanted to do what was right by him and were willing to wait as we really wanted him to be with the ballclub.”
“We were patient with Adam. In the end, both agreed this was the best place for Adam to be.”
LaRoche, 33, hit with .271/.343/.510 with 33 home runs with 100 RBI for in 2012. After missing most of 2011 with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, LaRoche was essential in the middle of the Nats batting order, which at some points during the season missed Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Michael Morse . LaRoche produced his best season to date, winning both the Silver Slugger and the Gold Glove at first base.
LaRoche and his representatives tried hard over the winter to secure a guaranteed three-year deal for a player that in all likelihood is signing his last big contract. But the new draft pick compensation rules limited the market for LaRoche, as a signing team would have surrendered their first round pick, while lesser free agents no longer required compensation. Other big-name free agents, such as Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse are finding the same problem this winter, that teams aren’t as willing to give up that first round pick as they might have been in years past.
Bringing LaRoche back creates quite the roster logjam, leading most to speculate about how Rizzo will shake up the roster. LaRoche at first base forces Michael Morse and Tyler Moore back into a crowded outfield, already staffed with Werth, Bryce Harper and recent addition Denard Span. Many pundits already assume Rizzo has a deal in the works to move Morse, and his reasonable $7 million salary (which expires at the end of 2013), most likely to an American League team that can utilize the slugger in his most natural position: Designated Hitter.
The Nats have a couple of areas they could use some depth when looking for a trade partner for Morse. Currently, they have one left-handed reliever on the 40-man roster, Zach Duke, a player that spent much of 2012 in the minor leagues — though Duke does have plenty on MLB service and was very strong for the team in limited duty at the end of last season. They are also thin at the upper levels in the minors at starting pitching, with the system being depleted in the deals for Gio Gonzalez and Span.
This move solidifies the Nats roster heading into spring training, leaving very few position open for the taking barring injury. The everyday lineup is rock solid and the bench looks to be as well, with Moore joining Roger Bernadina as backup outfielders and Steve Lombardozzi and Chad Tracy in the infield.