WASHINGTON -- The Nationals lost out to the Tigers in the Prince Fielder sweepstakes on Tuesday. The free-agent first baseman agreed to terms with Detroit on a nine-year, $214 million deal.

"I would have loved to see him hit fourth in our lineup," said Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who did not talk to Fielder or try to recruit him to the nation's capital. "But [signing with the Tigers] is great for him. He deserves everything that he gets. He has worked very hard. He is a great player in the game."

The Nationals were considered the leading candidates to acquire Fielder after they signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract following the 2010 season, and because of their close relationship with Fielder's agent, Scott Boras.

But as it turned out, the stumbling block between the Nats and Fielder was the length of the contract. Washington was unwilling to give Fielder a deal similar to the 10-year pact first baseman Albert Pujols received from the Angels. The Nationals didn't want to go more than five or six years. They were willing to give Fielder a no-trade clause.

Prince Fielder
New Prince of Detroit

With Fielder going to Detroit, it means that Adam LaRoche will remain Washington's everyday first baseman.

Last Spring Training, LaRoche was diagnosed with a torn labrum and rotator cuff. He only played in 43 games, hitting .172 with three home runs and 15 RBIs, before having surgery on his left shoulder in June.

During LaRoche's absence, Mike Morse -- and later Chris Marrero -- emerged at first base. LaRoche said in October that the Nats didn't promise that he would play every day at the position next season. LaRoche is set to make $8 million in 2012 in the second of a two-year deal. There is a mutual option for '13. He is expected to be 100 percent for Spring Training.

"When I was [managing the New York Mets], they never signed one free agent, so I'm used to playing without going out in the free-agent market," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "We have a good first baseman. We like Adam LaRoche, who had a bad year last year because he had a bad shoulder. ... He got that fixed. And we've got a first baseman in waiting, if he's not healthy, and that's Mike Morse.

"We'd love to have [Fielder]. But anybody in the big leagues would love to have him hitting fourth on their club because he's one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball."

Said Zimmerman: "Would it have been nice to have Fielder? Of course. But we have a very good first baseman in Adam LaRoche, who is healthy again. He can help us out a lot."

Zimmerman believes Washington had a great offseason by acquiring left-hander Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics and signing Morse to a two-year extension.

"I think all of us are still very excited to get to Spring Training and get this season started," Zimmerman said.