VIERA, Fla. -- Essentially, Adam LaRoche never left.
He strolled into the Nationals' Spring Training clubhouse on Friday morning, his son Drake trailing behind. After a free-agent offseason, teammates took turns coming over to LaRoche's locker near the corner of the clubhouse to greet the father and son. But really, it was like they never left.
"As a matter of fact, I left my stuff in D.C.," LaRoche said. "I just assumed we'd work something out and I'd be back."
The two sides did, eventually, when the Nats won the first baseman over with a two-year, $24-million deal that includes a mutual option for a third year. But all along, it seemed, everyone had a hard time figuring LaRoche in any other uniform.
"We got it done," LaRoche said. "It's a great deal, I'm not complaining about that at all. If anything, I wanted to stay longer. We've got the third year option, so it's still a possibility. ... After signing and starting to look at this team a little closer, some of the new pickups we got, yeah, [it's] great to crank it up and see the guys again. Let's just get Spring Training over with."
Manager Davey Johnson certainly deserves some of the credit for the re-signing of LaRoche. The 33-year-old first baseman had just capped the best season of his career, hitting .271/.343/.510 with a career-high 33 homers and 100 RBIs. He earned the National League's Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards. And in the offseason, LaRoche literally put food on his manager's table -- fresh beef from LaRoche's E3 Ranch on the eastern border of Kansas.
"Yeah, I did," LaRoche said. "But I made him pay for it, because he wasn't my manager at the time. I was unemployed, so no discount."
LaRoche called Johnson's offseason free-agent courtship "comical," while one day the skipper would be "threatening me or the next conversation wanting to fly out and help me work."
So, now that the deal is done?
"I didn't have to [work]," Johnson said with a smile. "I was close. I had my bags packed."
A year ago at this time, LaRoche was returning from season-ending left shoulder surgery and battling a bone bruise in his left foot sustained in Spring Training. Largely due to injury, his 2011 was entirely unremarkable: 43 games, three homers, 15 RBIs and a career-low .172 batting average. With veteran Mark DeRosa on the roster and former first-round Draft pick Chris Marrero in the mix in 2012, Johnson considered platooning LaRoche.
But after only 10 Spring Training games, LaRoche broke out. He hit .329 combined in March and April, setting the tone for his career year. In November, he finished sixth in the NL Most Valuable Player Award vote.
"He's like an insurance policy at first base," Johnson said. "I compare him with Keith Hernandez. He's cut out of the same mold. He makes it look easy over there. It's very nice from an infielder's perspective that you know if it ain't perfect he can make it right. ... I think we've got the best infield in all of baseball and he's a main cog of it."
So with a promising 2013 on the horizon and new contract in his hands, perhaps now LaRoche will send his skipper some prime cuts on the house.