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Sox Take Aim at Vet First Baseman

Washington Nationals' Adam LaRoche hits a solo home run in the second inning of Game 4 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

Washington Nationals' Adam LaRoche hits a solo home run in the second inning of Game 4 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

Washington — That the Boston Red Sox are talking to Adam LaRoche, which was reported on Wednesday, isn’t exactly new. The Red Sox were among a handful of teams — the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays also on that list — that had contact with LaRoche earlier in the winter. But that the Red Sox, presumably in more advanced discussions than before, are back in the conversation is an interesting development in the free agency of LaRoche, and for various reasons.

Earlier this month, the Red Sox seemed to have filled their need at first base by agreeing to terms with free agent catcher-first baseman Mike Napoli on a three-year, $39-million deal. More than three weeks later, the contract hasn’t yet been made official because, according to a Fox Sports report, there was a snag in Napoli’s physical and the Red Sox are trying to renegotiate. So how does this affect LaRoche?

Simply, the continued interest by the Red Sox in LaRoche adds some pressure in multiple ways. By pursuing LaRoche, the Red Sox gain some leverage against Napoli’s camp. In addition, the talks with LaRoche’s camp have been about two- and three-year deals, according to reports, and that puts some pressure on the Nationals. (Even the Rangers, who weren’t initially thought to be pursuing LaRoche after losing out on Josh Hamilton, are still in the market for another power bat.)

LaRoche, 33, wants a three-year deal and the Nationals haven’t budged on that, holding firm on a two-year offer, and without bridges such as a option third year. The Nationals understand that they will have serious financial commitments to their homegrown talent in a few years and, maybe more importantly, they will have a backlog of infielders then, too.

Surprisingly, however, LaRoche’s list of suitors has dwindled and that’s likely because of the top draft pick that accompanies him. The Nationals offered LaRoche a $13.3 million qualifying offer, which he declined, and as a result, any team other than his former team that signs him will surrender a first-round pick to the Nationals. Because the Red Sox finished with one of the worst records in baseball and have a top-10 pick, they will be allowed to keep it and would have to cough up a second-round pick, still a valuable selection given the recent limits on draft spending. The qualifying offer system has hurt other top free agents and, in LaRoche’s case, it has, too. The Baltimore Orioles were interested in him but were reluctant to surrender a draft pick, according to the Baltimore Sun.

While LaRoche could gain leverage in his negotiations with the Nationals with a three-year offer from the Red Sox, if given one, the Nationals still hold plenty of cards themselves. They have options: re-sign LaRoche and trade Michael Morse, don’t bring back LaRoche and play Morse at first base or let LaRoche walk, trade Morse and play Tyler Moore at first. But the Nationals and LaRoche have a mutual interest in each other, and the team still hopes to bring him back. There’s no firm deadline, for now, on when the Nationals hope to settle on LaRoche’s situation, but they would certainly hope to do so sooner rather than later, especially as his market continues to change.