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.