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Re-signing LaRoche a top priority for Nationals

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nationals are still trying to re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche and searching for a left-handed reliever, but they will do their work from Washington, as general manager Mike Rizzo left the Winter Meetings on Wednesday morning.

Manager Davey Johnson reiterated on Wednesday that he wants LaRoche back on the roster, saying it would be a nice Christmas present. But LaRoche wants a three-year deal, and the Nats don't want to give him more than two years.

The Nationals are competing with the Mariners and Rangers for LaRoche's services, and if they are able to sign him, they'll trade Michael Morse.

"I really won't sleep comfortably until he [signs]. I hope that gets worked out," Johnson said. "I told [Adam], 'You don't want to go where you are miserable. You know you are going to have a good time in D.C. I won't platoon you.' We'll see. ... That would put the icing on the cake."

The Nats are also looking for a second left-handed reliever now that Sean Burnett has signed a two-year deal with the Angels. They would not mind re-signing Mike Gonzalez, who had a nice bounceback season in 2012, appearing in 47 games and posting a respectable 3.07 ERA.

Left-hander J.P. Howell is on Washington's wish list, and has said that he would be interested in playing for the Nationals.

Howell, 29, enjoyed a comeback with the Rays in 2012, appearing in 55 games and recording a 3.04 ERA and 42 strikeouts. He can serve as a lefty specialist or pitch in the late innings.

Howell's best season was in 2008, when he helped Tampa Bay win the American League pennant.

"I love [the Nationals'] style, and they are absolutely loaded," Howell said on Tuesday. "They have so much talent. They are championship contenders. ... They are truly a heavyweight. Personally speaking, I would be a great fit. I think the leader on that team, Jayson Werth, is a great guy. I know Davey Johnson from the [World Baseball Classic]. It was a pleasure to be around a guy like that. ... If I could fit on the ride, that would be amazing."

Johnson is also hoping that the Nats can acquire more pitching depth. He pointed out that Rizzo was able to acquire such reclamation projects last year as Gonzalez and Zach Duke, and both were productive.

"Other than our first-base situation, the only area that we needed a little depth in is our starting pitching," Johnson said. "We'll have that, and a couple of guys that we are real [excited about] in [Triple A] Syracuse. A lot of our studs are in Double A.

"I like our infield depth. I like the way our outfield depth is coming together with [Brian] Goodwin, [Eury] Perez and Michael Taylor. I like where we are going as an organization."

Washington Nationals