ORLANDO, Fla. -- Adam LaRoche wants to return to Washington, D.C., and the Nationals would certainly love to have their first baseman back next year.
But the two sides have yet to come to an agreement, still at odds over the length of a potential contract. LaRoche, 33, would prefer a three-year deal, and he could very easily get one elsewhere as perhaps the best available free-agent first baseman. Meanwhile, the Nationals would prefer a two-year contract, keeping first base open for a number of future options at the position.
The two camps came together this weekend, but not at a negotiating table. LaRoche made a rare offseason exodus from his ranch in Kansas to take part in the Davey Johnson Celebrity Invitational on Saturday, the first charity event the longtime manager has hosted. Johnson has used every opportunity to make his sales pitch, and LaRoche had a long talk with Washington general manager Mike Rizzo on Friday night at a kickoff party for Johnson's fundraiser.
Based on that conversation, LaRoche said neither side felt like it needed to get a deal done immediately. Both camps can take their time and continue to state their respective cases. But LaRoche didn't hide the fact that his first priority would be returning to Washington and, ideally, finishing his career there.
"I've made it as clear as I can that I want to come back," LaRoche said. "On the other hand, I've got two kids and a wife to worry about, too, so I can't do something stupid. I'm not looking to set a record deal by any means. Let's get something fair and let's go. I want to finish up in D.C., and then when I'm done there, I'll be done."
LaRoche's future with the Nationals came into further question on Thursday, however, as the club traded for Denard Span. With a true center fielder now on the roster, Bryce Harper can move to one of the corner-outfield positions and Michael Morse can move to first base if the Nats can't re-sign LaRoche.
Regardless of how the trade affects his standing with the team, LaRoche thought it was a good deal for the Nationals. But Washington would still like to keep LaRoche's powerful left-handed bat in its lineup and his Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base.
"They had an opportunity to talk, not over the phone or long distance," Johnson said. "Hopefully, they'll work something out. I really liked the trade to get a center fielder, but Adam makes our infield the best in baseball. Without him, we wouldn't have accomplished what we did last year."
Johnson has certainly done his part in persuading LaRoche to stay. From the moment the Nationals' season ended in the National League Division Series, Johnson has been "hammering" LaRoche to get a deal done. More often than not, the 69-year-old manager will bring up LaRoche's ranch, volunteering to lend a hand or buy beef from him as long as he re-signs.
"I've been working on him," Johnson admitted, breaking into a wide smile. "'Man, I'll fix your fence. I'll spread the feed out. I'll vaccinate 'em if you want me to. I've had experience in that.' Whatever he needs, I'll offer. I'll donate my services."
Although the length of the deal remains an issue, LaRoche noted that his communication with Johnson and Rizzo during this process has been comfortable, making it easier for both sides to talk about what they want in a deal -- and why they feel it should be that way.
"It shows you a really cool relationship between manager, GM and player," LaRoche said. "That's how it was all last year. Everybody's pretty open. The three of us can sit down and talk about the future of the team -- young guys coming up, the payroll, whatever it is, whatever factors play into my negotiations as far as the team goes, and try to do something that makes sense.
"We don't have to play the game of, 'We want three years, so I'm going to ask for five. They'll go to two. Let's play around for a month or two.' We just cut to the chase and try to figure out what the priorities are for both sides."
In the meantime, Johnson will continue campaigning for LaRoche to stay. He hoped it would happen at his golf tournament, even texting LaRoche that he should bring a pen just in case he wanted to make it official while they were together. Ever prepared, Johnson had a backup plan in case LaRoche didn't take the advice.
"I swiped a couple from the hotel to have 'em on me," Johnson said, laughing. "Hopefully we get out here and he says, 'OK, I've got something here.'"