LaRoche deal would be icing on Winter Meetings cake for Nats

Craig Heist,

NASHVILLE – Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and many of his front office staff left the Winter Meetings Wednesday feeling they had accomplished what they had set out to do, adding a starting pitcher and some bullpen help. And while there is more to do, it’s not much more.

On Tuesday, the Nats agreed in principle to a one-year, $13 million deal with free-agent right hander Dan Haren. Haren is due to take his physical on Thursday.

The team also brought back left-hander Zach Duke on a one-year deal. And manager Davey Johnson would like to get another leftie for the bullpen.

Sean Burnett signed with the Anaheim Angels for two-years and $9.5 million dollars with a vesting option for 2015, according to, ending his three-year stay with the Nationals is over. Burnett got the multi-year deal he was looking for, something the Nationals were not willing to do.

Johnson has indicated he would not mind having Michael Gonzalez back with the club. Gonzalez had a nice bounce year pitching in 2012, pitching to an ERA of 3.03 in 47 games.

Tom Gorzelanny is another option for the Nationals. But if he were to return, it would have to be for less than the $3 million he made last year.

“We’d like to get a second left-hander,” Rizzo said. “It’s not a necessity because our right-handed relievers get out lefties so well. But in a perfect world we would like to get a second leftie in the bullpen.”

“Gonzalez did a good job for us,” Johnson said on Tuesday. “I’ll miss Sean Burnett. It’s obvious, he’s probably going to go somewhere else but we had a great core out there that got along very well and helped each other not only on the field but off the field. You don’t want to mess with that mix too much. So hopefully we’ll get one of those guys who was with us last year.”

Eye on LaRoche
The biggest thing now for the Nationals is to see if they can get something done with first baseman Adam LaRoche. LaRoche is seeking a three-year contract while the Nationals are offering just a two-year deal.

Johnson had LaRoche at his golf tournament in Florida recently trying to persuade him that Washington is still the best fit for him especially coming off a season of 33 home runs, 100 RBIs and a Gold Glove all while helping the Nats to the NL East title.

When Johnson was asked if he thinks they can re-sign LaRoche, he said, “I think so. I won’t sleep real comfortable until he does. I hope that gets worked out. Everybody knows each other and I think everybody has a comfort zone, not just on the field but in the clubhouse and off the field.”

“I said, you don’t want to go somewhere and be miserable. You know you are going to have a good time in D.C. and I won’t platoon ya,” he said laughing. “So, we’ll see. I don’t know if there is a deadline but that would be a nice Christmas present. That would put the icing on the cake.”

Signing LaRoche, if it were to happen, would likely mean the club would trade Michael Morse, who the Nats would move to first base if they were unable to sign LaRoche. The club isn’t looking at a scenario where they would keep both players.

Optimistic outlook for 2013
Coming off their NL East Championship, Johnson feels like they are now poised to make a run at the World Series championship. In fact Johnson said Tuesday, “I guess ‘World Series or bust’ should be the slogan.”

The team’s loss to the Cardinals in the NL Divisional Series still hurts and it is one of the main reasons Johnson came back to manage again feeling like there is unfinished business left for him and the team.

“The one drawback we had last year was the experience of being in big games,” Johnson said. “Some of our young guys didn’t handle that big game situation. I think now we are prepared to handle any kind of situation they throw at us.”

Knowing they didn’t need to do too much this off-season, Johnson feels like his team is ready to do bigger and better things this upcoming season.

“We didn’t have to do a whole lot this winter,” he said. “I think it was a great move picking up Dan Haren but we’re a pretty set ball club. We’ve had questions in the past but we don’t have a whole lot of questions and we’ve had a year of great experience in a pennant race and a tough playoff series against the Cardinals but we’re going to be fine next year.”

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