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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' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

The Nationals played their first game of spring training today against the Mets. They won, but that's not nearly the biggest story of the day. It was Bryce Harper's first at-bat that stole the show. 

On just the second pitch he saw of spring training, from lefty Sean Gilmartin, Harper mashed a ginormous home run to right center field. MLB.com shared video of the bomb. 

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Harper smacked the ball at least 400 feet. In his second at-bat, he hit a line-drive single on the first pitch. 

Let's just say it was an exciting start to the year for Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP only to endure a let-down last season. As Castillo points out, the slugger hit .226 against left-handed pitchers in 2016. 

Harper enters spring training at 230 pounds, up 15 pounds of muscle from last year. 

“I just felt going into the offseason you want to get as strong as you can, try to maintain your weight the best you can and just do everything the right way,” he told the Post. 

MORE NATIONALS: Baker thinks DC sports teams can win a championship this year

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

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