Craig Heist, wtop.com
NASHVILLE — The Nationals headed into the Winter Meetings knowing their top priority is to try and sign first baseman Adam LaRoche.
LaRoche opted for free agency last month and has made it known he would like to return to the Nationals but he also wants a three-year deal which the Nationals are somewhat reluctant to do.
LaRoche is coming off a 32-homer, 100 RBI-season and he also won a Gold Glove for his excellence at first base.
The signing of LaRoche will definitely have a domino effect on what the Nationals do the rest of the offseason. If they are able to sign him, the thinking is they can move Michael Morse in a trade to try and obtain a starting pitcher.
If not in a trade, the Nats could also get the starter they need via free agency. Dan Haren and Zack Grienke are the two big names on the list available.
"I don't think there is a sense of urgency to set a deadline or a specific date to get it done," said Nats GM Mike Rizzo. "But, needless to say, this decision is going to impact some of the other decisions we make, so, sooner rather than later is our preference but we're not going to pressure Adam into anything that he's not comfortable doing."
LaRoche's name was brought up in connection with the Red Sox but since Boston decided to sign Mike Napoli to a three-year, $39 million deal, that gives the Nats more leverage but Rizzo says it doesn't have an effect on how the organization proceeds.
"I don't think so. If anything, it's one destination that he won't be playing. But I think they are different type of players so I don't see a direct correlation between the two."
Nats bolster bullpen
The Nationals did make one move on the first full day of the Winter Meetings as they announced the signing of free agent left-hander Zach Duke to a one-year deal.
The 29-year-old Duke spent most of last season with Triple-A Syracuse and went 15- 5 with a 3.51 ERA in 26 starts. He had his contract purchased on Sept. 3 and pitched out of the bullpen for Davey Johnson.
In eight appearances, Duke threw 13.2 innings, allowing just 11 hits, walking four and striking out 10 while pitching to an ERA of 1.32.
Nats GM Mike Rizzo sees Duke as a long man out of the bullpen next season.
"We are going to keep him stretched out in spring training and see where we're at with the fifth starter spot," Rizzo said.
"It will give us some depth, a guy who has started in the past and can start games. The same can be said for Christian Garcia. We will keep him stretched out."
It's no secret Rizzo is trying to add another starting pitcher either by trade or free agency, but he is also trying to upgrade the bullpen, which could include another left-hander.
"We'd like to get a second left-hander but it's not a necessity," he said.
"Our right-handed relievers get out lefties so well but in a perfect world we'd like to get a second left-hander in the bullpen."
Sean Burnett is out of the question at this point.
Burnett appeared in 70 games last season, pitching to an ERA of 2.38. Left-handers hit .211 against him but Burnett declined the $3.5 million option from the Nationals and became a free agent.
"We've touched base with Sean's people and we like Sean and we'd like to bring him back but it has to make sense for us," Rizzo said.
"Right now I don't see a fit financially or term-wise but you know, he hasn't signed with anybody yet so we will see where it leads us."
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