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Adam LaRoche Rumors
In his latest notes column for FOX Sports, Ken Rosenthal begins with an interesting note on the Nationals. Despite a substantial payroll and a heavy offseason investment in Max Scherzer, Nats ownership is reluctant to add payroll during the season. Rosenthal notes that, in hindsight, we saw an indication of this last July when Cleveland paid all of the $3.3MM remaining on Asdrubal Cabrera‘s salary after the Nats acquired him. (Of course, the Nats were also willing to take on all of Matt Thornton‘s salary via waiver claim.)
Because of this, Rosenthal wonders if the Nats will consider trading Ian Desmond this summer to clear room for a different acquisition. Given Desmond’s struggles, the team could be better off with Danny Espinosa, Yunel Escobar and Anthony Rendon seeing regular time in the infield. Earlier in the week, I speculated on a possible Desmond trade after it was reported that the Nats were interesred in the D-Backs’ middle infielders, but Rosenthal notes that it could also allow them more flexibility to pursue Aroldis Chapman, Ben Zobrist or even a reunion with Tyler Clippard. Of course, Desmond’s offensive and defensive woes diminish his trade value, as well.
A few more highlights from Rosenthal’s column…
- Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart tells Rosenthal that he usually doesn’t pay attention to media criticism, but he’s aware of the near-universal criticism of the D-Backs for their trade of Touki Toussaint (in which the team essentially sold its 2014 first-round pick to Atlanta). Rosenthal quotes Stewart: “The truth is we did not know what Touki’s value would be if we shopped him. There is a lot of speculation on that. People are assuming it would have been better, but we don’t know. There was an opportunity to make a deal that gave us more flexibility today as well as next year. We took that opportunity. It’s tough to say we could have gotten more. He was drafted at No. 16, given ($2.7) million. In my opinion, that’s his value.” Stewart continues to say that Toussaint has not thrown 96 mph with the D-Backs, despite some scouting reports and that there’s “some inflation of what people think Touki is.” Stewart adds that the D-Backs think Toussaint will be a Major League pitcher but not for another five to six years.
- A brief interjection from me to offer my take on those comments: It’s odd to hear a GM openly devalue a player in this fashion, even after trading him away. Beyond that, however, it’s puzzling to hear Stewart equate Toussaint’s value with the clearly arbitrary number assigned to last year’s draft slot value. Having shown a willingness to spend $16MM+ on a pitching prospect (Yoan Lopez) this offseason, Stewart is undoubtedly cognizant of the fact that Toussaint would have fetched far, far more than $2.7MM in a theoretical free agent setting. Additionally, if they truly do feel that Toussaint will pitch in the Major Leagues, that makes the trade all the more puzzling to me, as my best explanation to this point had been that they simply didn’t believe in his future all that strongly.
- Back to Rosenthal’s piece, which has several more quotes from Stewart, including the GM’s own admission of surprise to his team’s current standing in the NL West. The D-Backs were built with an eye on the longer-term picture than 2015, says Stewart, and they’ll need to assess how to respond at the deadline. To this point, the D-Backs have received inquiries on their starting pitching, but not on their middle infield. Stewart flatly says “…we’re not moving [Nick] Ahmed,” and calls a trade of Chris Owings “very unlikely.” Interestingly, that does seem to indicate that the new GM values Ahmed over Owings.
- The Astros remain interested in Jeff Samardzija, and as Rosenthal notes, a move away from what has been a brutal White Sox defense would likely help Samardzija quite a bit. Samardzija’s .338 BABIP has helped contribute to a significant discrepancy between his 4.53 ERA and 3.67 FIP. Of course, Chicago’s porous defense doesn’t necessarily explain Samardzija’s diminished strikeout rate and struggles to strand runners in 2015. The Astros, Rosenthal says, are eyeing Samardzija and other pitchers, but the White Sox are not yet ready to sell.
- The Brewers aren’t receiving very strong interest in Francisco Rodriguez, likely in part due to his backloaded contract, Rosenthal hears. K-Rod is still owed $1.95MM in 2015, plus $9.5MM in 2016 between his salary and the buyout on a $6MM club option for the 2017 season. Lefty Neal Cotts, however, figures to be in demand and may even be of interest to his former club, the Rangers, Rosenthal writes. Cotts’s 4.30 ERA isn’t anything to write home about, but he’s held lefties to a .546 OPS.
- The Cardinals might not be as urgent to add a starter as many had previously expected. The club feels that Michael Wacha can top 200 innings, and Carlos Martinez can deliver about 170. A bigger need might be a left-handed-hitting complement for Mark Reynolds at first base, and Rosenthal suggests Adam LaRoche as a speculative fit to improve the team on both sides of the ball.
Full Story | 20 Comments | Categories: Adam LaRoche | Anthony Rendon | Arizona Diamondbacks | Aroldis Chapman | Ben Zobrist | Chicago White Sox | Chris Owings | Cincinnati Reds | Francisco Rodriguez | Houston Astros | Ian Desmond | Jeff Samardzija | Mark Reynolds | Milwaukee Brewers | Neal Cotts | Nick Ahmed | Oakland Athletics | St. Louis Cardinals | Texas Rangers | Touki Toussaint | Tyler Clippard | Washington Nationals | Yunel Escobar
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn was a guest on MLB Network’s Hot Stove earlier this morning and spoke with hosts Ron Darling and Fran Charles to discuss his team’s aggressive offseason (video link). Chicago, of course, has added Jeff Samardzija via trade in addition to signing David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, Zach Duke, Emilio Bonifacio and Geovany Soto.
Here are some highlights from Hahn’s appearance as well as another White Sox item…
- Chicago’s plan goes back to the 2013 trade deadline, Hahn said. “…The die was cast on that season being a disappointment fairly early on,” he explained, “which gave us the opportunity to take a step back and assess where we needed to go as an organization and areas we had to get better.” The Sox flipped Jake Peavy for not only Avisail Garcia but top prospect Francellis Montas, whose stock has soared since the deal. That trade, as well as the trade of Alex Rios, freed up enough cash for the Sox to add Jose Abreu last winter, and his immediate impact helped the team decide to make a push this winter.
- Early in the offseason, Hahn sat down with owner Jerry Reinsdorf, president Kenny Williams, manager Robin Ventura, pitching coach Don Cooper and hitting coach Todd Steverson to assess the state of the organization. The “marching orders” from Reinsdorf after that meeting “were to go out and put us in a position to contend,” Hahn explained, noting that Reinsdorf did not want to waste the primes of players such as Abreu, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.
- One reason that the club added LaRoche, according to Hahn, was that Abreu “ran out of a gas” a bit down the stretch. The team is hopeful that by giving Abreu a little more time at DH and using LaRoche at first base on those days, Abreu can sustain his production throughout the year. Abreu hit only five homers over the final two months of the season, and he posted a relatively pedestrian (by his standards, anyhow) .799 OPS over the final 21 games of 2014. That, of course, could be nothing more than a small sample size, though the lack of home runs could be seen as a sign of fatigue.
- Asked by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports/MLB Network whether the state of the division impacted the Sox’ aggressive push (referring to the fact that the Tigers and Royals are seen by some as worse than they were in 2014). “We don’t look around and see the team that won the AL Championship in Kansas City or the team that’s won the division the last four years in Detroit as necessarily coming back to the pack,” Hahn replied. Rather, he explained, the decision was more about a belief that the White Sox are in a position where they can reach the same level as those clubs and contend for a division title.
- Non-roster invitee Tony Campana suffered a torn ACL in a recent training session and will likely miss the entire 2015 season, the Sox announced on Twitter. It’s a tough break for the 28-year-old speedster, who was looking to make the club as a fourth outfielder after posting a solid .277/.336/.340 batting line in Triple-A with the D-Backs and Angels last season.
We at MLBTR would like to extend our condolences to the friends and family of Bill Kearns, a veteran Mariners scout who passed away last night at age 94. Kearns was hired by the Mariners prior to their debut 1977 season and has been with the franchise for its entire history. A World War II veteran and former Brooklyn Dodgers minor leaguer, Kearns’ long career in baseball led him to scouting jobs with the Dodgers, White Sox and Royals before eventually joining the M’s. In a statement from the team, Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik said “Bill was a gentleman, in the finest sense, and represented his family and the Mariners in a first-class manner. And he was an excellent scout, a true ambassador of the Mariners and the game of baseball. Bill was one of the most positive people I have ever met. He will be missed.”
Here’s some more notes from around the league as 2015 is now upon us…
- Left-hander Luis Avilan‘s name had recently come up in trade talks, though now that the Braves have traded another southpaw in Chasen Shreve, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman wonders (Twitter link) if Atlanta could keep Avilan in the fold. Earlier today, the Braves sent Shreve and David Carpenter to the Yankees in exchange for Manny Banuelos.
- Zduriencik and Seth Smith discussed the recent trade that brought Smith to the Mariners in a conference call with reporters (including Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune). The extension that Smith signed with the Padres last summer was a factor in the trade, as Zduriencik noted that “one of the things we tried to stay away from was giving up talent for one-year returns…I think you’re getting a player who can be with you for at least the next three years.”
- With Craig Breslow‘s physical scheduled for Monday, the Red Sox will face a tough decision in opening up a spot for the reliever on their 40-man roster, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford writes. Dan Butler, Tommy Layne, Zeke Spruill and Drake Britton are potential candidates to lose their 40-man spots, with Bradford citing Britton as maybe the most vulnerable because he’s out of options. There’s also “a very real scenario” where Boston makes a trade to free up roster space.
- A number of recent Orioles news items and rumors are recapped by MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko, including the new information that the O’s would like to sign a right-handed reliever, possibly on a minor league deal.
- Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi recently said his team won’t be making any other major starting pitching signings, which worries Steve Dilbeck of the L.A. Times since he feels the rotation lacks depth beyond the top three of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. On the other hand, Dilbeck wonders if Zaidi’s statement was tactical, similar to how the GM denied that Dee Gordon was being shopped just before Gordon was dealt to Miami.
- In an Insider-only piece for ESPN.com, Tony Blengino describes Adam LaRoche signing with the White Sox as “a perfect marriage of club, player, ballpark and contract.” Using analyses of LaRoche’s swing and U.S. Cellular Field’s park factor, Blengino thinks the veteran first baseman could challenge for the AL homer crown if he stays healthy.
Here’s the latest from around the AL Central…
- The White Sox and Tigers have expressed interest in Justin Masterson, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, meaning that all five AL Central clubs have at least checked in on the free agent righty. Outside of this division, Masterson’s long list of suitors also includes the Braves, Cubs, Red Sox, Giants and Marlins.
- The Indians touched base with Masterson early in the offseason but “haven’t shown a lot of interest” since, Hoynes writes.
- In an interview with Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter links here), Twins GM Terry Ryan said his team “could use a right handed bat in the outfield. We’re rather young here especially in the outfield.” Of course, the Twins have been connected to a right-handed hitting veteran in Torii Hunter, who recently said that he’d had numerous conversations with Ryan. Minnesota is one of at least 10 teams who have shown interest in Hunter’s services this offseason. Earlier today on MLBTR, Jeff Todd outlined Hunter’s free agent profile.
- On the Twins‘ search for pitching, Ryan said that he’s looking for both left- and right-handed starters, noting that his club doesn’t have many proven innings-eaters in the rotation. Relatively few free agent pitchers have come off the board this winter, though Ryan said “it may be a slow moving market and then one of those big time pitchers goes and all heck breaks loose.”
- Adam LaRoche wasn’t keen to fully transition to a full-time DH role, yet he told reporters (including CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes) during his introductory White Sox press conference that he’s happy to cede most of the first base duties to Jose Abreu. “They’ve got a kid [Abreu] that’s obviously going to be around and be really good for a long time,” LaRoche said. “It’s not fair to make him a full-time DH this early in his career, especially when he can handle first base and handle the glove over there….I’ll do it however it plays out. If they need me to play first more than we’re talking about, great, I’ll be there. If I end up DHing more, that’s fine.” Sox manager Robin Ventura said that he plans to give LaRoche two starts per week at first base, a time-share that will hopefully keep both LaRoche and Abreu fresh for the entire season.
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.