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How much are Nats willing to give LaRoche?

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How much are Nats willing to give LaRoche?

It's no secret the Nationals' top priority this offseason is to re-sign Adam LaRoche. And it's no secret LaRoche wants to return to the Nationals in search of the first World Series ring of his career.

So it should be a no-brainer for the two sides to come together and work out a new contract before the veteran first baseman ever hits the open market, right?

Sadly, it's never that simple.

LaRoche, coming off the best season of his career, is going to want to be fairly rewarded for his performance. And the Nationals, trying to win now but not wanting to hamstring themselves down the road, aren't going to want to commit too much money or too many years to a mid-30s slugger whose numbers may start to wane.

Throw in a handful of other clubs potentially interested in LaRoche, and it's not difficult to envision a scenario where this could drag on longer than the Nationals would prefer.

First, though, a refresher course on the free agency procedure and timeline...

As soon as the World Series ends, all eligible players become free agents. They then have a five-day window to negotiate exclusively with their former club. On the sixth day, they're free to talk to any team in the majors.

So, if the Nationals want to lock up LaRoche before he ever gets a chance to formally negotiate with anyone else, they'll have to strike a deal within five days after completion of the Fall Classic.

How much is he likely to command? Well, it's an incredibly weak market for first basemen, with LaRoche topping a list that will also include Carlos Pena, Carlos Lee, James Loney and possibly Lance Berkman (if he doesn't retire). Not a stellar class, certainly not on par with last winter's crop that featured Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and more.

So LaRoche's asking price could get a bump given the lack of alternatives out there. He made $8 million this season and has a $10 million mutual option for 2013 (which he'll decline), so you've got to assume he'll be seeking more than $10 million per year in his new deal.

Would two years and $22 million get it done? Probably not. LaRoche is going to want a third guaranteed year, which could raise the total price to $33 million or more.

Would the Nationals guarantee three years to a player who would turn 36 a couple of weeks after the contract expires? Maybe, but they're likely first to propose two guaranteed years with a third-year option. Maybe two years and $24 million, with a $13 million option for 2015.

That might get it done, though LaRoche's ultimate decision may have less to do with dollars and more to do with his level of comfort and desire to win. He clearly enjoyed this season in Washington, loves the group of players inside that clubhouse and believes this franchise has a chance to win the World Series next year and beyond.

Can any other potential suitor offer the same or more? Perhaps.

The three clubs most likely to be in the market for a veteran first baseman this winter are the Red Sox, Rangers and Orioles. Obviously, the Rangers will go into 2013 believing they can make another run at an elusive World Series title. The Orioles will hope to return to the playoffs after their surprising run this season. And the Red Sox, though a mess at the moment, have the resources to completely overhaul their roster in a hurry and thrust themselves back into the picture.

There's still a strong argument to be made, though, that the Nationals still offer LaRoche the best chance to win right now. And it's safe to assume Washington remains LaRoche's first choice.

Which means the Nationals could hold most of the cards in this negotiation, sensing LaRoche might be willing to take a small discount to stay here. Remember, he's not represented by Scott Boras, who would insist on his client accepting the most lucrative offer. (Or, at the very least, convince the Nats to bid against themselves and raise the price tag.) He's represented by Mike Milchin of SFX, a successful but low-key agent who arguably has only one higher-profile client than LaRoche: Justin Verlander.

In the end, here's what we can say with some degree of certainty: LaRoche wants to remain a National. The Nationals want LaRoche to remain a National.

Now it's just a matter of the two sides figuring out how to make that happen in a manner that leaves each satisfied.

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Nationals clinch home field advantage vs. Dodgers in NL Division Series

Nationals clinch home field advantage vs. Dodgers in NL Division Series

The Nationals will begin their 2016 playoff run at home with the Los Angeles Dodgers coming to town for Game 1 on Friday, Oct. 7. That's thanks to a Dodgers loss to the Giants on Saturday, ensuring they cannot finish with the same record as the Nats, and therefore earn home field by way of their regular season head-to-head series tiebreaker.

The Nationals will host the Dodgers with quite the pitching matchup in store for Game 1. Former Cy Young winners Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw will kick things off. The starting time for Game 1 has not been released.

Home field advantage also means the Dodgers will have to return to Washington for a Game 5, if the series goes that far. 

Here is how the schedule will break down for the NL Division Series:

Fri., Oct. 7 - Game 1 - Washington, D.C. (Scherzer vs. Kershaw)
Sat., Oct. 8 - Game 2 - Washington, D.C. (TBA vs. Hill)
Mon., Oct. 10 - Game 3 - Los Angeles, CA (TBA vs. Maeda)
Tue., Oct. 11 - Game 4 - Los Angeles, CA* (TBA vs. TBA)
Thu., Oct. 13 - Game 5 - Washington, D.C.* (TBA vs. TBA)

*IF NECESSARY

[RELATED: Dusty Baker already preparing Nats rookies for pressure of playoffs]

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Dusty Baker already preparing Nats rookies for pressure of playoffs

Dusty Baker already preparing Nats rookies for pressure of playoffs

No matter how much MLB regular season experience a player has, that first taste of playoff baseball is always an adjustment. Veterans Daniel Murphy and Ben Revere each spoke about it this past winter when they signed with the Nats. Despite boasting a combined 15 years of MLB experience, both admitted there was an initial shock when they played their first career postseason games last fall. They both mentioned the butterflies and how unexpected that feeling was.

Playoff baseball is just different and, if it took an adjustment for those two, you can imagine what it will be like next week when Nationals rookies like Trea Turner, Pedro Severino and Reynaldo Lopez, as well as youngsters like Joe Ross, take the field for the first time in the postseason. It will be intense and manager Dusty Baker is already talking to his young players about what to expect.

"I've been prepping them every day. I've been telling them 'hey man, it don't matter how old you are, just go out there.' I've been telling them about David and Goliath. I've been telling them about every story I can think of about a young dude that went out there and was brave, whether it was an American-Indian warrior, or what," Baker explained. 

Turner, Severino and Ross will definitely be on hand when the Nationals take on the Dodgers in Game 1. Turner is in the starting lineup, Severino is entrenched as one of the team's two catchers and Ross will be in the rotation.

Lopez is also looking more and more like a lock with the way Baker has been talking about him.

"He could be a one-inning guy, but it just depends. We’d like to try to put him into situations where he’ll most likely succeed," Baker said of Lopez. "Is he ready for that right now? Do you want to find that out in the playoffs?"

Lopez is not counting his eggs before they hatch. He knows he's pitched well lately, with just two earned runs allowed across nine innings in his last two appearances. But he knows his spot is not official yet.

"If God blesses me with that opportunity, I feel like I’m ready and willing to help out the team any way I can to help out the team and hopefully win," he said through an interpreter.

Turner, Severino and Lopez will give the Nats at least three rookies on their playoff roster. There are others with outside chances to crack the final 25, including Koda Glover and Wilmer Difo.

Regardless, Baker will have to rely on some inexperienced players on a stage they've never played on before. 

"It doesn't matter, age at this point. It's how you control your nerves. There are some guys out there, even though they might be veterans, they might be more nervous than some of these kids. Some of these kids, sometimes they don't know what to be nervous about. I'm not afraid to run those kids out there," he said.

[RELATED: Scherzer argues Metro should stay open later for Nats playoffs]

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