Adam LaRoche Rumors

Free Agent Stock Watch: Adam LaRoche

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.

Adam LaRoche

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.


The Implications Of Ryan Zimmerman’s Shoulder Issue

Ryan Zimmerman's throwing issues have been well documented over the past year or so, and the longtime National underwent an MRI this weekend that revealed no structural damage to his throwing shoulder (via the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore). However, manager Matt Williams said in a radio interview with CBS Sports last night that Zimmerman is dealing with an arthritic shoulder — hardly good news for the Nationals as Zimmerman plays out the first year of a six-year, $100MM extension.

Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington looks at what the situation means for Zimmerman's future and what it means for the future of Adam LaRoche, who is off to a hot start in the second year of a two-year, $24MM contract. LaRoche's deal contains a mutual option for a third year, but as Zuckerman points out, Zimmerman's throwing issues essentially preclude the Nationals from being able to exercise that option, regardless of LaRoche's season. Zimmerman already has two throwing errors on the season against six assists throwing the ball to first base, according to Baseball-Reference.com (not exactly an acceptable ratio).

Some might be quick to say that the solution is a trade of LaRoche to open up first base for Zimmerman, but Zuckerman writes that such a move isn't simple for a number of reasons. LaRoche is 34 years old and coming off perhaps the worst full season of his career, and teams know that the Nationals would be highly motivated to trade him, thereby giving GM Mike Rizzo less leverage. On top of that, Zimmerman has little experience at first base, making a smooth transition anything but a safe assumption.

In addition to Zuckerman's rationale (which is sound), LaRoche's $12MM salary and $2MM option buyout would be detrimental in trade talks, and there's also the simple fact that strengthening their defense by trading him could also weaken the lineup and deplete the team's infield depth. In that scenario, Anthony Rendon would likely switch to his natural position of third base, with Danny Espinosa perhaps getting a second chance to prove himself as an everyday second baseman in the Major Leagues. That's an experiment that could pan out, and were the Nationals still a cellar-dwelling entity, it wouldnt be as much of an issue. However, this team is built to contend right now, and such a drastic shuffle of their infield doesn't seem practical with the season underway.

Zuckerman writes that for the remainder of the season, it's difficult to dream up a scenario where Zimmerman doesn't spend the majority of his time at third base. He can be shielded from the field by DHing in American League parks and occasionally spelling LaRoche at first base (I would think that LaRoche could benefit from time away from tough left-handed pitchers). However, the team has less long-term flexibility to build its lineup and could be without a place to put top prospect Matt Skole (Baseball America has pegged his range at third base as inadequate) if Zimmerman is limited to first base duties for the remainder of his contract.


NL East Notes: Bethancourt, Tejada, Zimmerman

The Braves will promote top prospect Christian Bethancourt today, according to Tom Hart of FOX Sports in Atlanta (Twitter link). The 22-year-old catcher hit .277/.305/.436 at Double-A Mississippi this season. While those numbers don't look tremendously impressive, Bethancourt turned it on after a slow start, batting .300/.339/.521 with 11 homers from June 13 on. He currently ranks as the Braves' No. 3 prospect and the fifth-best catching prospect in baseball in the eyes of MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo. Here's more on Bethancourt and the rest of the NL East…

  • MLB.com's Mark Bowman tweets that Bethancourt's promotion will allow him to get acquainted with the Majors, which is a good thing, as it's likely that he or Evan Gattis will be the Braves' starting catcher in 2014. In doing so, Bowman implies that Brian McCann is likely to sign elsewhere as a free agent. That thought has been echoed by others in recent weeks, including David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • The Mets will stall Ruben Tejada's promotion back to the Majors, writes Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, and in doing so, they will delay his free agency until after the 2017 season instead of the 2016 season. Tejada hasn't exactly torn the cover off the ball of late, as he's batted just .275/.324/.364 from July through Sept. 2 at Triple-A Las Vegas — one of the most hitter-friendly environments in all of professional baseball.
  • Ryan Zimmerman has regained confidence in his throwing and believes he can continue to play third base for the Nationals, writes Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Zimmerman concedes that he doubted his future at the hot corner earlier in the season. He tells Kilgore that his shoulder injuries in 2012 wore his right arm down to the point where he couldn't lift it above his head, causing him to develop bad throwing habits. He had surgery to repair the shoulder last October, but breaking those poor habits and rebuilding the strength in his arm has been a slow process, Zimmerman says. Ultimately, the decision on when to move to first won't be Zimmerman's, Kilgore writes. The team could even move Adam LaRoche this winter and make the switch in 2014.


Stark On Astros, Ethier, Brewers, Papelbon, Stanton

The latest column from ESPN's Jayson Stark is jam-packed with trade-related information.  Highlights:

  • One National League executive predicted that the Cubs' Matt Garza will be the first pitcher traded; he's thought to be eminently available, as the Cubs are not comfortable with his asking price on a potential new contract.  The Padres and Dodgers are among the teams pursuing Garza, reported Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports earlier today.
  • The Astros are looking for volume in any deal they make, one NL exec told Stark.  Bud Norris is an obvious trade chip for Jeff Luhnow and company, while I imagine Carlos Pena, Jose Veras, Erik Bedard, Lucas Harrell, Wesley Wright, Ronny Cedeno, and others can be had as well.
  • The Dodgers are not actively dangling right fielder Andre Ethier.  What's more, the team still views itself as a buyer despite being eight games out.  They may be interested in adding a third baseman they can control for multiple years, implies Stark.
  • Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche could be dealt, hears Stark, in a scenario where Ryan Zimmerman moves to first base, Anthony Rendon moves back to third base, and Danny Espinosa gets healthy.  LaRoche's name is not out there at present, however.
  • The Brewers will "gladly listen" on third baseman Aramis Ramirez, as well as any position player other than Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez, and Ryan Braun.  I wonder if that means names such as Jonathan Lucroy and Norichika Aoki will be in play next month.
  • Execs who spoke to Stark seem divided on whether the Brewers want to trade Yovani Gallardo, with one saying, "To be honest, I think they would love to move him."  Click here for thoughts from Brewers GM Doug Melvin on the situation.
  • The Phillies are talking to the Red Sox and Tigers about closer Jonathan Papelbon right now, one exec tells Stark, even if they say otherwise.
  • Officials of three teams that have talked to the Marlins about slugger Giancarlo Stanton are convinced owner Jeffrey Loria won't trade him this summer.  In an April poll of over 13,000 MLBTR readers, over 40% thought Stanton would be dealt this summer.
  • Other teams say the Tigers are willing to surrender top prospects Nick Castellanos or Avisail Garcia if necessary.  The team is focused on finding a closer.
  • The Braves are "all over the bullpen market," which jives with a couple of other reports today.
  • The Giants "have taken on a whole new fervor in the last week in their hunt for another starter."  They've been connected often to Nolasco, but there are around 20 viable candidates out there of varying quality.  The Orioles could make a move before the All-Star break, hears Stark, and they seem to be prioritizing starters over relievers.

East Notes: Red Sox, Duquette, Escobar, LaRoche

John Lackey's new slim physique marks one of the many signs that the Red Sox organization has taken a step toward rebuilding a positive culture within the clubhouse, writes Buster Olney of ESPN.com (Insider sub req'd). The team has added new faces on the field (Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, among others) as well as brought familiar staff members home (former pitching coach John Farrell returns to Boston as the squad's manager) for what should be a vastly different season than years past. Here's the rest of the news and stories making headlines in both of the East Divisions.

  • Jair Jurrjens' contract status continues to remain the status quo according to Orioles GM Dan Duquette, writes Britt Ghiroli of MLB.com (on Twitter). "It's time to get it resolved," said Duquette as Jurrjens looks to rebound from a difficult 2012 season where he posted a 6.89 ERA with 3.5 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 48.1 innings. 
  • Yunel Escobar's arrival with the Rays organization has manager Joe Maddon excited about what the shortstop can provide the team this season, says Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (via Twitter). After a suspension marred his final month with the Blue Jays, Escobar was dealt to the Marlins in the November mega deal before ending up in St. Petersburg.  
  • Adam LaRoche says the new free agent compensation system has hurt players like him and is currently keeping Kyle Lohse from finding an acceptable deal, writes Dan Kolko of MASNSports.com (Twitter links). "It shows how important it is to get rid of that rule," LaRoche said to MLB.com's Bill Ladson. "I don't know if that was something the union granted, or they overlooked and didn't realize it could backfire the way it did, or if they were willing to take that risk. In talking with the union a little bit, I think they would love to take that back." For a more in-depth look, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes examines the system and explains why a qualifying offer can be a hindrance for a high-quality, but not elite, free agent.

Adam LaRoche Sought No-Trade Clause

Free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche made it clear this winter that he wanted stay in Washington and he hopes that he'll be a part of the Nationals for years to come.  That desire manifested itself in a request for a three-year deal while the Nats insisted on a two-year pact instead.  Beyond that, the veteran told reporters on a conference call this afternoon that he requested a no-trade clause in his contract, but was rebuffed as the front office cited club policy.

"Towards the end, it wasn't necessarily about the third year.  It turned out to be more about the small things, whether it was trying to work out out the buyout or whether we could do a no-trade clause or something like that.  To be honest, the no-trade clause was a hang up for a little while.  You guys all know the direction that the team is going in is phenomenal.  They could be really solid for a long time so I don't want to get traded.  Apparently there's a no no-trade policy where they did it for [Jayson Werth] and they're going to shut it down and not give any more no-trade clauses.  That's something that I had to work through," said the first baseman.

The Nationals were firm in their stance that they would not go to three years throughout the offseason and the SFX client said that he realized sometime last week that he would have to reach a compromise on contract length.  LaRoche declined to get specifically identify the other teams that were interested in him and the kinds of offers that he was receiving, but he feels that he would have had more interest from clubs if he didn't have draft pick compensation tied to him through the qualifying offer system.

"I think that it did [affect me].  That's coming from people a lot smarter than I am that explained it to me.  I think it affected a couple of other players worse than me, there are a lot of solid ballplayers out there still looking for a job," LaRoche said.  "It definitely hindered some teams from going after some guys…I think there were two or three, maybe four teams out there that it did affect as far as teams that were interested me but didn't want to give up that pick."

Regardless of external factors that may have hurt his market, LaRoche says that he's glad to be back in D.C on a two-year deal with a mutual option for 2015.  However, his return means that Mike Morse won't be starting at first and he doesn't figure to have another place to start with the three outfield positions also filled.  LaRoche knows that Morse could potentially be moved for impact pieces, giving him a chance to thrive elsewhere, but he "selfishly" hopes that Morse remains in Washington.


Rizzo On Finding Middle Ground With LaRoche

Earlier today, the Nationals and first baseman Adam LaRoche reached agreement on a two-year, $24MM deal with a mutual option for the 2015 season.  Both parties had well-documented interest in a reunion, but they were at an impasse over the length of the deal. 

LaRoche, 33, wanted a three-year deal while the Nats said that they would not go beyond two.  It was reported that the Nationals were confident that no one would go to three years for the veteran, but General Manager Mike Rizzo told reporters on a conference call this afternoon that he saw it as a very real possibility.

"He's a terrific player coming off of a terrific year.  And you know, the market for that kind of player is huge, so it did cross our mind.  We were being really honest with Adam and his people, this was about us having a good in-house backup plan that we didn't really have to worry about.  If a team was going to overwhelm Adam, we had our Plan B in place, but all along Adam was our first choice and our Plan A," Rizzo said.

With Mike Morse in place as a backup plan, Rizzo said that he found himself in an "enviable position in negotiations" and that allowed the club to be patient in their talks with LaRoche.  While Rizzo was willing to wait for the right deal, he admitted that he was anxious to get everything squared away.

"We were both getting tired of the process.  We had a lot of conversations back and forth with his representatives.  [Adam and I] had a few private conversation and I made it clear to Adam that it was time to make a decision.  Our offer was on the table for quite a while and we had other things to move on to.  He made it clear that he wanted to move on too," said the GM.

While Rizzo is now open to moving Morse in a deal and has a number of interested suitors, he says that he won't move the first baseman/outfielder unless he can get impact players in return, whether they're big league ready or minor league prospects.  If that kind of deal doesn't present itself, then Rizzo won't force a trade involving a "middle of the lineup hitter that's fairly attractively priced."

The Nationals tried to add a left-hander reliever this winter and still might, but Rizzo says that he didn't sign a southpaw in part because the club feels comfortable with the bullpen pieces that they already have in place.  Rizzo believes that his right-handers get lefties out better than most left-handed specialists and noted that manager Davey Johnson isn't a big fan of lefty-on-lefty matchups anyway.  The Nats were heavily linked to J.P. Howell before he signed on with the Dodgers last week.


Nationals Sign Adam LaRoche

3:23pm: The Nationals announced that the deal is now official.

12:02pm: The deal is worth $24MM and includes a mutual option, Amanda Comak of the Washington Times reports. LaRoche obtains $10MM in 2013, $12MM in 2014 and a $2MM buyout for a 2015 mutual option.

11:13am: The Nationals have agreed to sign Adam LaRoche to a two-year contract, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports (on Twitter). Terms of the deal between the Nationals and the SFX client are unknown.

Adam LaRoche - Nationals (PW)

LaRoche ranked 15th on MLBTR's list of top 50 free agents entering the offseason. He declined a one-year qualifying offer from Washington, linking him to draft pick compensation. That appeared to affect his market, as other teams remained hesitant to surrender top draft choices. The Nationals made LaRoche a two-year offer earlier in the offseason, though it took weeks for him to accept. Kilgore reported late last month that the Nationals wanted to resolve their talks with LaRoche relatively soon.

LaRoche enjoyed a strong season in 2012, finishing sixth in the NL MVP voting and winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger at his position. The left-handed hitter posted a .271/.343/.510 batting line in 647 plate appearances as Washington's first baseman, appearing in all but eight regular season games. He set a career-high with 33 home runs and matched a career-high with 100 RBI.

Michael Morse now becomes a trade candidate, since the Nationals have a starting first baseman and three starting outfielders (Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Denard Span). I can imagine teams such as the Orioles, Rays, Indians and Yankees pursuing Morse, who can play first base or a corner outfield position.

The Orioles, Rangers and Red Sox are among the teams that were linked to LaRoche this winter. He initially joined the Nationals on a two-year, $16MM contract following the 2010 season. That deal included a $10MM mutual option for 2013 that LaRoche declined at the beginning of November.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


NL Central Notes: Cubs, Bourn, Reds, Rolen

The Cubs had interest in both Edwin Jackson and Anibal Sanchez this winter, but General Manager Jed Hoyer said that signing both was never in the cards, tweets Jordan Bernfield of WGN Radio.  Hoyer and Sveum met with Jackson in California while Theo Epstein and owner Tom Ricketts met with Sanchez in Florida.  Here’s more on the Cubs and other items out of the NL Central..


Quick Hits: LaRoche, Marlins, Delmon Young, Brewers

The Mills Commission published its final report on this date in 1907 concluding Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball in Cooperstown, NY in 1839 and had invented the word "baseball," designed the diamond, indicated fielders' positions, and written the rules. The commission's report remained the authoritative work on the origins of baseball for over a half a century before being scrutinzed by historians. It is now believed baseball did indeed evolve from rounders. Here's a round up of the latest news from around baseball: