It may be time for Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson to switch hats and become a special assistant again in order to re-sign free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche. Washington General Manager Mike Rizzo and LaRoche are not talking at the moment and something has to be done to reach a deal.
The sticking point in the negotiations is contract length. LaRoche wants a three year deal while the Nationals do not want to sign him for more than two. Washington feels that even though LaRoche is coming off of a season in which he won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards, it may be a risk signing a 33 year old who sat out 2011 due to injury long term.
This is where Johnson has to step in. He knows that LaRoche was the best player and leader Washington had in 2012. When the Nationals were fighting injuries to key personnel early in the season, LaRoche got off to a fast start which kept them atop the NL East standings. When the starters returned, he solidified the heart of a batting order which included Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse. On defense, no one played better at first than LaRoche as he committed only seven errors and finished with a .995 fielding percentage.
Johnson values veteran leadership. LaRoche provides this much as Keith Hernandez did when he played for Johnson when he managed the New York Mets. Good ball players can be found, but a solid leader does not come along every day. With Washington still on the rise and boasting some of the best young talent in baseball, a steady veteran like LaRoche gives the team someone they can lean on. He most certainly helped Harper in his transition after the rookie was called up in April.
Johnson also knows that LaRoche likes playing and living in Washington. As a former player, he knows how important it is for someone to feel comfortable with their team and the city they play in. Johnson has said publicly that if LaRoche stays with the Nationals he will be the every day first baseman. This is important as teams who have thought about signing LaRoche may want to platoon him with a right handed hitting first baseman.
Johnson needs to get these points across to Rizzo. The GM brought him in as a special assistant so respects Johnson’s opinions. With his help, Rizzo has done a tremendous job of building the team. This may be one time where he might want to listen to his manager.
When the 2013 season ends, Johnson will step down. He will leave a Washington team that is much better than the one Johnson inherited. If there is one thing that he should try to leave behind it is Adam LaRoche at first base for two more seasons.