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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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What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

It was just a few weeks ago that Joe Ross' postseason availability was in question, and if he could return in time, whether he would pitch out of the Nationals' bullpen and or as a starter wasn't clear. Manager Dusty Baker wondered aloud if he would get his young right-hander back, even as Stephen Strasburg dealt with elbow injuries.

The progress Ross has made in a short period of time since is remarkable and after his 90-pitch outing on Thursday afternoon against the Diamondbacks, the 23-year-old looks and feels ready for the playoffs, and not just to pitch in relief, either.

"I'm hoping I get the opportunity to start, but that's up to them," Ross said. "But I'll take any opportunity I get to pitch and go out there and compete. I just want to help the team in any way I can."

Ross wasn't great on Thursday in his third start back from the disabled list. He only made it four innings, as his pitch count soared early. But in giving up just one run, he's now pitched 9 2/3 innings in three games back. During that stretch he's allowed three runs and struck out 14.

[RELATED: Wilson Ramos hopes to be back with Nationals]

It has been a process of baby steps for the Nats starter, a slow progression back from right shoulder inflammation, an injury rehab that featured a setback in late July. Now, though, he is essentially back to normal, just in time for the NL Division Series which begins next week.

"I feel good. I felt really good today. I felt really good last start. I guess it's just a point of executing pitches," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind really on whether I can go out and compete."

Baker mentioned that Ross could pitch in releif early in the NLDS against the Dodgers. That could keep him available for a start later on, if it's kept short like a normal bullpen session.

But one has to wonder if Ross has improved his case enough to pitch Game 3 of that series, given Gio Gonzalez' recent struggles. The lefty has allowed 19 earned runs in his last 23 innings going back five starts.

Regardless, Ross has certainly come a long way in just three MLB outings.

"He looks ready," second baseman Wilmer Difo said through an interpreter.

With all the negative injury news the Nationals have received in recent days, between Wilson Ramos' season-ending injury and Strasburg essentially ruled out for the NLDS, having Ross fully back in the mix is a nice change of fortune for the NL East champs.

[RELATED: Matt Belisle sounds like safe bet for Nats playoff roster]

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Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos won't be on the field for the Washington Nationals when the team takes on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the N.L. Divisional Series next week.

The 2016 N.L. All-Star catcher will undergo surgery to repair the ACL he tore in his right knee on Monday night against the Diamondbacks

Ramos has been arguably the Nationals' most constant offensive threat this season, and had positioned himself as the team's backstop for the foreseeable future.

But the injury changed everything.

Not just because the surgery and rehab will stretch well into Spring Training, but because the 29-year-old Ramos will become a free agent at the end of the season. On top of that, a second ACL injury (He tore it in 2012 as well) means that taking the field everyday as a catcher may not be a viable option for him much longer.

"Unfortunately, this injury happened so close to the end and it may affect whether I’m able to stay with a National League team or not," Ramos told reporters prior to the Nationals' 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks on Thursday afternoon.

"But if it’s up to me, I definitely would like to keep playing for the Nationals and play as long as I can."

Ramos is a solid defensive catcher, but his biggest strength is at the plate. Being able to be a part of a lineup everyday is where he is most valuable, and that may mean playing in the American League, where he can serve as the designated hitter and fill in as catcher.

But this doesn't mean Ramos is done as a member of the Nationals, just that he's aware his time could be coming to an end.