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Nats make qualifying offer to LaRoche

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Nats make qualifying offer to LaRoche

The Nationals made a qualifying contract offer to Adam LaRoche before today's 5 p.m. deadline, but not to any of their other free agents, ensuring they would receive at least one draft pick as compensation should they lose the veteran first baseman.

LaRoche was given the one-year, $13.3 million offer all free agents are eligible to be offered under MLB's new compensation system, according to MLB.com and FoxSports.com. The 32-year-old can either accept the offer (which equates to the average salary of the top 125-paid players in the majors this season) and return to the Nationals for 2013 or decline the offer and seek a multi-year contract with any of baseball's 30 clubs.

If LaRoche (who has seven days to make a decision) declines the offer as expected, the Nationals would receive a compensatory draft pick (a "sandwich" pick between the first and second rounds) should he ultimately sign with another franchise this winter. That franchise would then lose its first-round draft pick (unless it's one of the top 10 picks) under a system installed under the new collective bargaining agreement that eliminated the old method of classifying free agents as "Type A" or "Type B" players to determine compensation.

Essentially, the Nationals are acknowledging they're willing to pay LaRoche $13.3 million for another season of his services. In truth, they're willing to offer him more than a one-year deal, and the two sides could still reach an agreement on a contract potentially in the range of three years and $36 million.

LaRoche, like all free agents, is free to begin negotiating with other clubs Saturday morning. Coming off a season in which he hit a career-high 33 homers while matching his previous high of 100 RBI and winning his first Gold Glove award, he's expected to listen to offers from other teams in the market for a first baseman. The most likely suitors are the Red Sox, Orioles and perhaps Rangers.

In the end, the Nationals will have the ability to match or exceed any of those offers, or try to convince LaRoche to take less money or fewer guaranteed years to return to a club that believes it can contend for a World Series title in 2013 and beyond.

Though they extended the qualifying offer to LaRoche, the Nationals did not do the same with any of their other free agents (Edwin Jackson, Sean Burnett, Mark DeRosa, Michael Gonzalez, Zach Duke). Jackson, who made $11 million this season, was the only member of that group who would be worth anywhere close to $13.3 million.

In electing not to make the offer to Jackson, the Nationals essentially are acknowledging they don't intend to make much of an effort to re-sign the right-hander and are content to seek a No. 5 starter elsewhere.

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VIDEO: Dee Gordon homers in Marlins' 1st at-bat since Jose Fernandez' death

VIDEO: Dee Gordon homers in Marlins' 1st at-bat since Jose Fernandez' death

As the Marlins' leadoff hitter, Dee Gordon was the first to step into the batter's box on Monday night in the team's first game since the death of superstar pitcher Jose Fernandez.

It was an emotional moment after the team embraced at the pitcher's mound in his memory. Gordon began by imitating Fernandez' stance on the first pitch from Mets starter Bartolo Colon. That was great, but what happened next could not have been scripted.

Gordon hit his first homer of the season to the upper deck in right field and broke down into tears as he rounded the bases. He was then comforted in the dugout by teammates as he stepped off the field.

See it for yourself:

That's just amazing.

[RELATED: Thoughts on the death of Marlins star Jose Fernandez]

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Nats offer first reaction to playing the Dodgers in NL Division Series round

Nats offer first reaction to playing the Dodgers in NL Division Series round

The Nationals do not yet know where Game 1 will take place, but they do know for certain that they will face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series beginning Oct. 7. They have seven games remaining on their schedule and four off-days after that before their playoffs begin. That's 11 full days to ponder their opponent, a Dodgers team that just happened to pummel them this season 5-1 in head-to-head games.

The Nats, though, see an evenly matched foe. Keep in mind that regular season records sometimes mean very little in the crapshoot that is October. The Mets, for instance, went 0-7 against the Cubs last year, only to sweep them out of the playoffs in the NLCS.

"I think we match up pretty good against them," manager Dusty Baker said of the Dodgers, a team he spent eight years with as a player.

"Anybody that’s gotten this far, there’s not much difference between the teams and talent. It just depends on who’s hot and who’s not and who gets the best pitching, who gets the most clutch, in particular two-out hits. Some of the challenges they present is they have a pile of a left-handed hitters and powerful left-handed hitters, and they hit the ball out of the ballpark. They got a good team. They got a good bullpen. We haven’t even seen [rookie pitcher Kenta] Maeda yet."

The Nats have almost two weeks to prepare for the Dodgers. But really, they have had them in mind for longer than that. Once the San Francisco Giants started slipping in the NL West race, L.A. emerged as the clear favorite to win the division.

"It will be a fun series," reliever Shawn Kelley said. "I think for a while now we've known it was going to be us and the Dodgers. Now it's just about are we going there or are they coming here first."

"First team we've gotta try to beat," center fielder Trea Turner said. "It's a matter of formulating a gameplan to beat those pitchers who have been really good all year. Especially, [Clayton] Kershaw now that he's back. Their lineup is deep. They've got a lot of veteran players and a good mix of young guys that have done it all year."

The Nationals enter Monday night 1 1/2 games ahead of the Dodgers. If they are to finish with the same record, the Dodgers will get home field advantage based on their head-to-head series record.

Baker offered a measured take on what home field advantage would mean to the Nats.

“It’s not necessary because you’ve seen sometimes the home field doesn’t really matter. It depends on who’s hot during that series," he said. "But sure, anytime I can get home field advantage, we’ll take it, especially because you don’t have to go back to the Coast twice. Let them come to us. Right now we have the lead over them and so there’s no sense giving it up. Sometimes it can be taken from you, but that’s up to us."

Baker said he plans to give some players rest during the final seven games of the regular season. He does not know yet whether Max Scherzer or Tanner Roark will be asked to pitch on short rest in the playoffs. He also said the team has not decided how they will handle the four-day layoff next week. They will hold at least one workout either at home or on the road, but whether fans or media will be permitted to attend has not been determined.

It's an inexact science, trying to keep players fresh but also sharp after a playoff spot has been secured. It's even harder to navigate through those four off-days without losing momentum. The Nats remember all too well back in 2014 when they finished the regular season winners of 17 of 22, only to fall flat offensively in the playoffs against the Giants.

Baker has to figure out the best way to handle the Nats this time and he is still determining the best course of action.

"It’s a thin line between playing a whole bunch and not playing enough," he said.

[RELATED: Thoughts on the death of Marlins star Jose Fernandez]

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