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Adam LaRoche Rumors
The White Sox have officially signed first baseman Adam LaRoche to a two-year, $25MM deal, as first reported on Twitter by Bob Nightengale of USA Today. LaRoche, a client of Relativity Sports’ Mike Milchin, will earn $12MM in 2015 and then $13MM in 2016, per a tweet from Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com.
Left-handed power has been a priority for the Sox this offseason, and LaRoche will bring just that to the table, having averaged 26 homers per year over the past three seasons to go along with a solid .256/.346/.458 batting line in that same span. LaRoche will team up with American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu to create a formidable punch in the middle of manager Robin Ventura’s order. He’s regarded as a plus defender at first base, although he may see some more time at designated hitter with Abreu also figuring to log significant innings at first.
LaRoche has spent the past four seasons with the Nationals but will now move to a much more hitter-friendly environment in the form of U.S. Cellular Field, which should only serve to boost his already solid power marks. However, LaRoche does come with a sizable platoon split, having batted just .201/.269/.325 against southpaws over the past two seasons after a more promising line of .268/.319/.506 in his excellent 2012 season, when he finished sixth in the NL MVP voting.
The 35-year-old LaRoche reportedly had a two-year, $20MM offer from the Marlins and has also been connected to the Padres, but he’ll instead head to the south side of Chicago where GM Rick Hahn is acting quickly to build a team that has eyes on contention in the near future. (In a free agent profile for LaRoche, I was a bit more bullish, pegging him for $30MM over this same two-year term.) In addition to Abreu, the Sox have a pair of nice young outfielders in Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia, and the rotation is fronted by a stellar combination of Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Carlos Rodon, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, looms as a possible addition to that duo.
LaRoche is the second major free agent signing for Hahn and his lieutenants this week, as the Sox also inked southpaw reliever Zach Duke to a three-year, $15MM contract on the heels of a dominant season that can be largely credited to altering his delivery. Chicago still figures to add at least one more relief arm and could entertain trades for shortstop Alexei Ramirez, as has been rumored of late, but Hahn’s aggressiveness signals a clear goal of putting a contending group on the field in 2015.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The White Sox have designated righty Scott Carroll for assignment to create roster space for the official signing of first baseman Adam LaRoche, the club announced (per a tweet from Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com).
Carroll, 30, filled a swingman role last year for Chicago in his first attempt at the big leagues, making 19 starts and seven relief appearances. Over 129 1/3 total frames, Carroll threw to a 4.80 ERA with 4.5 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 to go with a 53.4% groundball rate. ERA estimators thought that Carroll was slightly unlucky, as he registered a 4.77 FIP, 4.58 xFIP, and 4.54 SIERA.
Though the Braves met with Jon Lester‘s camp yesterday, the team did not make a formal offer to the free agent lefty, reports David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). Beyond that, president of baseball operations John Hart told ESPN’s Jayson Stark that the possibility of Lester signing in Atlanta is a “long shot,” but added that he is keeping all doors open (Twitter link).
Here’s more from the NL East…
- In an interview with Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria says that the Giancarlo Stanton extension is only the beginning of his team’s offseason additions. Loria candidly discusses the team’s 2012 fire sale, stating that he knew he was going to get killed for it in the media but simply didn’t feel the mix of players the club had acquired was going to work. Loria adds that he’s not concerned with what other owners think of the Stanton extension and is putting behind him the days of fire sales as he looks to make winning a “part of the tradition of this baseball club.” Loria says he feels that his team will be competitive next season and that come September, the Marlins will not only be competitive, but contending. Nightengale backs up previous reports that the Marlins have indeed made an offer to Adam LaRoche.
- Jon Niese‘s trade value simply isn’t what it used to be, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News hears, despite what the Mets consider to be a team-friendly contract. Niese is owed $7MM in 2015 and $9MM in 2016 with a pair of club options valued at $10MM and $11MM. However, one executive from a somewhat interested team told Martino, “I think they underestimate the impact his injuries have had on perception. It’s not a team-friendly contract if he is on the DL.” Niese did toss 187 innings in 2014, but he’s had shoulder and elbow issues over the past two years.
- The Mets are interested in re-signing left-hander Dana Eveland and right-hander Buddy Carlyle, reports Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. The Mets cut each reliever loose to avoid arbitration increases but have interest in each journeyman on a lower-cost deal. Both were effective in 2014, though Eveland was sidelined for the final few weeks of the season with an elbow injury.
- Rubin also hears that the Mets will wait out some free agent options at shortstop and could take action later in the offseason if players on whom their currently lukewarm drop their asking prices (Twitter links). He also hears that the Mets would be willing to forfeit their second-round pick to add another qualifying offer free agent if the player was stuck without a contract come January. Of course, the Mets already gave up their first-round pick to sign Michael Cuddyer.
Earlier today the Marlins officially announced their 13-year, $325MM extension with Giancarlo Stanton. Here’s the latest on the team following that historic agreement…
- The Marlins have made a two-year, $20MM offer to Adam LaRoche, reports Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Recent reports have indicated that the Marlins are strongly interested in LaRoche, and Jackson’s report would back that up, though the $20MM may be a bit light to seal the deal. I recently pegged LaRoche for a two-year, $30MM deal, and he just wrapped up a two-year, $24MM pact. LaRoche is also said to be drawing interest from the Padres and White Sox.
- Also from Jackson, the Marlins have expressed interest in free agents Jason Hammel and Justin Masterson. Miami is said to covet a veteran arm to add to its rotation while ace Jose Fernandez rehabs from Tommy John surgery. James Shields‘ name has also been floated recently, though he’d obviously come at a much higher cost than either of the targets named by Jackson. The Fish are also interested in Wade Miley as a trade target, Jackson writes, but the D’Backs have very little pitching depth as it is, so moving one of their only reliable arms would seem a bit curious.
- The Marlins say their payroll will top $60MM in 2015, according to Jackson. With Stanton set to earn just $6.5MM in the first year of his extension, the Marlins currently have about $22MM committed to next year’s roster. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects an additional $20.3MM in arb raises, but the Fish should be able to add at least $20MM or so worth of salary this winter. A LaRoche signing, I would think, could lead the team to shop Garrett Jones, which would remove another $5MM from the currently projected commitment.
- Jackson’s column is rife with excellent quotes from Stanton’s press conference, including quotes from Stanton himself, from agent Joel Wolfe and from team president David Samson. Jackson hears that the Marlins’ first offer to Stanton came shortly after season’s end and was worth roughly $130MM over six years. However, Wolfe says that Stanton told him, “if it’s not a lifetime contract, there’s no point in talking.”
- The Marlins still won’t be giving out no-trade clauses to other players, according to Samson, but they had no problem giving one to Stanton. The opt-out clause was much trickier, as the Marlins were very resistant. The Marlins wanted the opt-out to be conditional based on team performance, only allowing Stanton to elect free agency if the team lost a certain number of games. Samson explained, however, that Stanton made it very clear he wasn’t interested in opting out to earn more money after that point of the contract, but rather to protect himself from being part of a losing culture. “Once we believed the opt-out clause would be used as a shield and not a sword, we were OK with it,” said Samson. Stanton also comfortable with the idea of earning less money up front in the deal to surround him with better players. A new TV deal could be in the offing for the Marlins soon, which would of course allow them a better payroll.
- Also of note from Jackson is that owner Jeffrey Loria has no intentions of selling the team. Though Samson says many people place calls with interest in buying, Loria is “in it for the long run because he loves it.”
- Shifting away from Jackson’s must-read piece — the highlights here are but a fraction of the interesting points within — former MLBTR scribe Cork Gaines writes in a piece for Business Insider that the Stanton extension can be used as leverage in negotiating a new TV deal. Miami currently has the worst local TV deal in all of baseball, paying them $13-18MM annually (the Dodgers’ deal, in contrast, pays them $334MM per year, Gaines writes). Gaines notes that having a legitimate superstar on the team will increase the value of the new TV deal. Gaines speculates that negotiations could begin in 2016 as there appears to be some kind of opt-out on the current contract, which runs through 2020. Indeed, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that they are aiming for a new TV deal to begin in 2017 — which, perhaps not coincidentally, aligns with the first significant spike in Stanton’s salary.
- In a full column, Rosenthal points out that the Rangers, Tigers and Angels each spent significant money prior to signing their new TV deals so they had a more attractive product in place for negotiations. While history has the skeptics gearing up for a fire sale in the near future, Rosenthal opines that this doesn’t look like a club that’s merely going to tear it all down again in two years.
3:26pm: The White Sox and Padres have joined Miami in at least checking in on LaRoche, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Still other clubs have him in mind in the event that their needs change due to trades, says Rosenthal.
1:09pm: The Marlins are about to lock up Giancarlo Stanton with a record-setting deal, and the team isn’t stopping there in its quest to get back into contention. ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that the Fish have shown “aggressive interest” in Adam LaRoche (among others) as it looks to add a power bat to the middle of the order to pair with Stanton.
As Stark reports, Stanton’s contract is heavily backloaded, in part due to Stanton’s desire for the team to have the flexibility to add significant pieces around him in the immediate future. LaRoche’s bat would be an upgrade over the production Miami got out of first base in 2014, as the club received a combined .254/.313/.402 batting line from Garrett Jones, Jeff Baker and Justin Bour. That group also combine for sub-par defense at first base, but LaRoche has long had a reputation as a strong defensive first baseman.
LaRoche, who just turned 35, batted .259/.362/.455 with 26 homers for the Nats in 2014. He’s averaged 26 homers over the past three seasons, though he does come with platoon issues. Miami could use Baker to help mitigate those issues, giving Baker starts against tougher left-handed opponents, or the team could hope for a return to his .268/.319/.506 batting line against southpaws in his excellent 2012 campaign. I profiled LaRoche back in October and pegged him for a two-year deal worth $30MM, although he did lose one primary suitor when the Brewers acquired Adam Lind.
Though he’s not technically a lock to hit the open market due to a $15MM mutual option ($2MM buyout), Adam LaRoche is a near certainty to be a free agent due to the rarity of such options being picked up by both sides of the agreement. The soon-to-be 35-year-old first baseman should represent one of the few steady power bats on the free agent market.
Power is on the decline league-wide, but LaRoche remains a steady source of home runs from the left side of the dish. He’s averaged 26 homers per season over the past three years (the same number he totaled in 2014), and excluding a 2011 season that was ruined by injuries (more on that below), he’s averaged 25 homers per season dating back to 2005. He’s cleared the 30-homer plateau twice — most recently in 2012 when he went deep 33 times.
Early in his career, LaRoche walked at a decent clip, but he’s taken that ability to new heights since joining the Nationals in 2011. His walk rate in a Nats uniform has been a hefty 12.3 percent, and this past season it ballooned to 14 percent — far and away the best mark he’s posted in a full season.
Correspondingly, LaRoche’s strikeout rate dipped to 18.4 percent — the second-lowest total of his career and the best mark he’s posted since 2005 when he whiffed just 17.3 percent of the time. His 14 percent walk rate this year is almost double the 7.8 percent mark he posted in ’05, however, so it seems fair to say that LaRoche has matured as a hitter. LaRoche chased out-of-zone pitches at just a 25 percent clip this year, which is well below the league average of 31.3 percent. It’s not surprising, then, to see that he averaged 4.04 pitches per plate appearances, which ranked 30th among qualified hitters and tied him with Chase Headley for tops among free agent hitters (Victor Martinez was a close second at 4.03).
LaRoche has a good defensive reputation, and he hasn’t had a negative mark in Defensive Runs Saved since 2009. Ultimate Zone Rating pegs him slightly below average over the past two seasons. Scouts around the league will have their own opinions, of course, but it seems unlikely that any would place his defense as a significant negative.
I did a midseason assessment of LaRoche’s free agent stock back in June and noted that while he’s typically shown a platoon split, he had held his own against southpaws with a low average but a .381 on-base percentage. That trend regressed significantly, as LaRoche finished the season with just a .204/.284/.336 line against southpaws. He drew 15 walks in 155 plate appearances against same–handed pitching, but he also whiffed at a 27.7 percent clip against lefties, compared to just 15 percent against righties. There may be some teams that simply don’t want to give LaRoche everyday at-bats given the increased struggles he’s shown against lefties over the past two seasons. (He hit .198/.254/.313 against lefties last year.)
As I referenced previously LaRoche has been durable but he does come with a history of some shoulder issues. He missed about a month of his rookie season due to a separated AC joint in his left shoulder, and he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff in that same shoulder in 2011. I’d imagine that he and agent Mike Milchin of Relativity Sports will simply point to the fact that LaRoche hit 33 homers the following season and has averaged 149 games over the following three campaigns as proof that it needn’t be a concern, but it may be something that teams want to look at more closely before agreeing to a multi-year deal. He missed a couple of weeks this season with a strained quad, as well, but that appears to be an isolated incident.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a 35-year-old first baseman doesn’t exactly have a gleaming baserunning reputation. Fangraphs pegged him at 5.5 runs below average on the basepaths this season. Among free agents, that figure was sandwiched between the marks posted by Billy Butler and Michael Morse, which should give an indication of what to expect from LaRoche’s running. Additionally, age will be a consideration, as this next contract will carry LaRoche into his late 30s.
In his free time, LaRoche is an avid bow hunter and outdoorsman. LaRoche is one of several famous baseball names featured on the Outdoor Channel’s show Buck Commander (along with Chipper Jones and Ryan Langerhans, among others). He’s also a devout Christian and teamed with Denard Span and Ian Desmond to host Faith Day following one of the team’s games at Nationals Park this season, as Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post wrote back in August.
LaRoche was diagnosed with ADD in high school and has dealt with the disorder throughout his career. He’s been taking Ritalin to combat the issue since 2006, which has at times caused him to struggle to maintain his weight, according to this 2013 piece from Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post.
Baseball runs in the LaRoche family veins, as his father, Dave, was a two-time All-Star and enjoyed a 14-year Major League career. Adam’s brother, Andy LaRoche, also played in the Majors. The two were teammates with the Pirates in 2008-09. Adam is married with two children, per his bio on the Buck Commander web site.
Milchin can make a very legitimate case for LaRoche as the best first baseman on the free agent market. Morse is younger but comes with durability concerns, Cuddyer has those same durability concerns (and may wish to play an outfield corner), and Corey Hart had a disastrous season. Butler and Martinez are better suited to serve as designated hitters than full-time first basemen, and the same can be said for Kendrys Morales.
LaRoche’s preference is to finish his career in D.C., but that seems unlikely. Ryan Zimmerman‘s chronic shoulder woes have created a persistent throwing problem that will require shifting him to first base or the outfield (an outfield that is currently occupied by Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth). It’s possible the team could deal Span, move Harper to center and put Zimmerman in left, freeing first base for LaRoche’s return. But the more likely outcome seems to me to be that LaRoche will walk, Zimmerman will slide over to first and the Nats will pursue a second baseman or third baseman, with Anthony Rendon occupying the other spot.
Looking around the league, there are a few teams with clear needs at first base. The Brewers’ Lyle Overbay/Mark Reynolds platoon was a flop, and there’s no clear-cut in-house alternative. LaRoche could receive some interest from his former club, the Pirates, as they look to improve upon Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez. The Marlins are known to be looking for a bat and could upgrade over Garrett Jones. The Mariners could make some sense, but Logan Morrison did have a strong finish, and their lineup already leans left pretty heavily. I can see the Padres showing interest as well, and I’ll list the Blue Jays as a dark-horse candidate with the caveat that they’d first have to trade Adam Lind to a more cost-conscious club (e.g. the Pirates).
The other thing to consider with LaRoche is whether or not he will receive a qualifying offer. Like nearly any veteran player coming off a strong season, LaRoche will want the security of a multi-year deal. However, he also has stated a strong preference to remain with the Nats, and his return could present somewhat of a defensive logjam for the team. Because of their roster construction and his desire to stay, I can see the Nats being a bit hesitant to risk a QO. My expectation is that they’ll buy out his mutual option, but there are scenarios in which he could end up with a QO.
LaRoche struggled to find a suitable deal in his last go-around with free agency despite the fact that he was fresh off a 33-homer season. Part of that, of course, was due to the draft pick attached to his name. He also had steeper competition, with Mike Napoli and Nick Swisher representing younger options coming off very strong seasons.
This time around, LaRoche could be free of draft pick compensation and is arguably the best first baseman on the market. I think something like his previous two-year, $24MM contract with a mutual option is the floor for LaRoche this winter. There’s some case to be made for a three-year deal, which I would imagine to be the target for LaRoche’s camp, but that case would be much stronger had his numbers not dipped in 2013. My prediction is that LaRoche will land in that Napoli range and sign a two-year, $30MM contract.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
First baseman Adam LaRoche would like to stay with the Nationals, Chase Hughes of Nats Insider writes. “If it was up to me, I’m signing a deal with D.C. that puts me there for the rest of my career,” says LaRoche. The Nationals are expected to pay LaRoche a $2MM buyout rather than picking up their end of a $15MM option, and with Ryan Zimmerman likely to play first base next season, it’s unlikely the Nats will retain LaRoche even for a smaller amount. Nonetheless, LaRoche, coming off a .259/.362/.455 season, will likely attract significant interest on the free agent market. Here are more notes from the East divisions.
- The Marlins might have interest in Pirates first baseman Ike Davis, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes. The Marlins already have another former Pirates first baseman, Garrett Jones, under contract for 2015, but Jones is 33 and coming off a second consecutive near-replacement-level season. The Pirates, meanwhile, may want Pedro Alvarez (who suffered from serious throwing issues at third base in 2014) to play first in 2015, which would leave nowhere for Davis, particularly since he and Alvarez are both left-handed. The Bucs could deal or non-tender Davis this offseason.
- After a terrific season in 2014, Nelson Cruz has a big contract coming his way, but whether the Orioles should be the team to pay it is questionable, MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski writes. The O’s plan to extend Cruz a qualifying offer, and they’ll get a draft pick if another team signs him. Also, Cruz is in his mid-30s and is coming off a great season, so it’s possible whichever team signs him won’t get much bang for their buck as Cruz declines over the next few years. Cruz has said he wants to remain in Baltimore, but the Orioles sound skeptical about keeping him.
Brewers GM Doug Melvin is scheduled to meet with principal owner Mark Attanasio and manager Ron Roenicke this week, so there should be some clarity on the status of the coaching staff in the next few days. There should also be some clarity on the health of Ryan Braun. Last Thursday, Braun underwent cryotherapy to freeze the nerve in his ailing right thumb and has a follow-up appointment with the doctor who performed the procedure on Monday. If there is no adverse reaction to the treatment, Braun will begin swinging a bat to determine its effect on his swing along with his pain tolerance.
- Haudricourt opines the biggest offensive boost the Brewers could receive this offseason is Braun’s cryotherapy being a success because the free-swinging ways of the rest of the lineup are likely to continue. As Haudricourt writes, “It would be easier to change a leopard’s spots than turn any of those hitters into a modern-day Wade Boggs.”
- Rosiak guesses Roenicke will return, but with a revamped coaching staff and approach.
- Rosiak would not be surprised if the Brewers pull out all the stops to try to fill their offensive void at first base noting the front office will have serious interest in Adam LaRoche, if he is open to a two-year deal. The Nationals hold a $15MM option on LaRoche, which is expected to be declined.
- Rosiak lists the odds as 50-50 for Aramis Ramirez returning to Milwaukee adding it will take some time for the situation to play itself out.
- Speaking of Ramirez, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes penned a free agent profile of the Brewer third baseman yesterday.
“If you had to ask me now, I would assume that I would have to move on, unfortunately,” Adam LaRoche told CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman about his future with the Nationals. Though LaRoche is having a strong season and is well-respected within the Nats’ clubhouse, the team may need to create a spot at first base for Ryan Zimmerman next season since Zimmerman is no longer able to play third. If the Nationals do decline their side of LaRoche’s $15MM mutual option for 2015, expect the veteran to draw interest from several teams on the free agent market. LaRoche will turn 35 in November but he’s still playing well enough to help any team in need of left-handed pop.
Here’s some more from around the NL East…
- The Phillies haven’t had much success in trying to trade Jonathan Papelbon over the last year and releasing him would be a waste of an asset, CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury writes in an analysis of the team’s options with the controversial closer. Papelbon’s no-trade clause and 2016 vesting option make it complicated to either deal him or demote him from the closer’s job, so Salisbury notes that the team could just bring him back next season and hope to swing a trade next summer.
- Also from Salisbury’s piece, he notes that the Phillies were willing to eat $13MM (of half) of Papelbon’s remaining salary in negotiations last offseason. The Phillies shopped Papelbon to the Tigers but Detroit wasn’t interested due to concerns that Papelbon wouldn’t be a fit in the team’s clubhouse.
- The Phillies will conduct a private workout with Yasmany Tomas today in the Dominican Republic, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports, and GM Ruben Amaro will be in attendance. The Cuban outfielder’s open showcase on the weekend attracted scouts from several teams, and Tomas is expected to have private sessions with multiple teams in the near future.
- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez had had his leadership questioned by some members of the organization during the team’s September collapse, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports. Along those same lines, Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC subscription required) thinks the Braves’ woeful performance over the last week has the appearance of a team that has quit on its manager. The Braves seem on the verge of making a GM change, and while Gonzalez’s job may not be in as much jeopardy, obviously he’d be on the hot seat unless the club improves in 2015.
- David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution believes (Twitter link) that the contract extensions signed by Gonzalez and GM Frank Wren last February ran through the end of the 2016 season. Gonzalez and Wren’s previous contracts were both set to expire at the end of the current season.
Consistency hasn’t exactly been Adam LaRoche‘s calling card over the past several years, but he’s timing one of his better seasons well, as he faces the strong likelihood of hitting the open market this offseason. LaRoche’s two-year deal with the Nationals contains a $15MM mutual option ($2MM buyout), but teams and players almost never agree to exercise both ends of a mutual option.
Typically, if a team exercises their half of the option, it’s because the player has had a strong season, leading the player to reject in search of more money on the open market. If the player exercises his half, it’s typically due to injury or poor performance, causing the team to reject. In LaRoche’s case, team dynamics come into play as well; Washington likely needs to open up first base for Ryan Zimmerman, whose persistent shoulder problems no longer allow him to handle third base.
As such, LaRoche seems likely to hit the open market, and he’s quietly on pace to do so as one of the most productive bats on the upcoming class. LaRoche is hitting .306/.417/.513 with eight homers, nine doubles and a 33-to-31 K/BB ratio in 192 plate appearances this season. Both his 16.1 percent walk rate and 17.2 percent strikeout rate are career-bests. He did miss 15 games with a quad injury earlier this year, though for now that looks to be behind him.
Ultimate Zone Rating has dinged him for his defense thus far, but Defensive Runs Saved feels that he’s on his way to his fifth straight season of plus defensive value. LaRoche has long had some problems with left-handed pitching, but he’s holding his own to this point with a .381 OBP against southpaws, and platoon problems certainly don’t bar some players from being paid.
LaRoche is set to turn 35 in November, but if he maintains the pace he’s currently on, it’s not hard to envision him landing another two-year deal, perhaps with some type of vesting option. His main competition will be Michael Morse, but aside from that, he’ll be competing against Corey Hart and Michael Cuddyer — both of whom have had significant injuries in 2014 already (and Cuddyer is a year older).
Billy Butler, too, could hit the open market if his option is declined by the Royals, but he’s in the midst of a poor season and likely couldn’t top LaRoche based on performance. Given the dearth of left-handed pop on next year’s free agent market — Kendrys Morales and Victor Martinez are the top alternatives, but both are more designated hitters than first basemen — LaRoche is in a good position despite his age.
It seems likely that his performance will be worthy of receiving a qualifying offer — believed to be in the $15MM range next offseason — but the need to open first for Zimmerman likely will prevent the Nats from extending one. LaRoche could look at a qualifying offer as merely receiving a $2MM raise for next season (he’d pocket the $2MM buyout of his option and still earn $15MM or so), which makes it a risk that Washington seems unlikely to take.
The knocks on LaRoche are well-known; his career OPS versus lefties is 114 points lower than his mark against right-handed pitching, age isn’t on his side and he hasn’t turned in a consecutive pair of well above-average offensive seasons since 2009-10 (122 OPS+ each year). Some teams likely will have the perception that a two-year deal will pay him for one strong season and one so-so campaign, and I’d imagine a number of clubs will be more interested on a one-year deal.
Nonetheless, LaRoche and agent Mike Milchin of Relativity Baseball appear to be in solid position as they look to lock down what could be the last significant contract of a solid offensive career. Morales recently received the pro-rated version of a $12MM salary after sitting out the first two months of the season, and Justin Morneau received a two-year, $12.5MM deal coming off a vastly inferior season to the one LaRoche is putting together.
Even if LaRoche simply finishes the season by hitting at his career pace — .266/.340/.475 — he’d finish with one of the best OPS+ marks of his career. In that instance, a two-year deal worth $10MM+ annually seems very attainable. The fact that he is facing very limited competition both at his position (first base) and in terms of his best skill (left-handed power) only strengthens LaRoche’s free agent outlook.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.