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.
Power is an increasingly scarce commodity, but who’s going to give him 15 million? His numbers are declining, he’s old, and he can’t hit lefties.
I’m guessing 1yr, $8-10MM. Who besides Milwaukee would want him? He can’t hit lefties and his defense is declining (besides being excellent at scooping balls). Yes, he’s a streaky HR hitter, but he also goes ice cold for stretches.
How’s about the the White Sox Dh-ing him? Guessing he’ll have better options in the NL
He’s a decent 1B and I think a fair amount of value is stored in his fielding. Frankly, he should be a platooned 1B IMO.
That’s true. I’m just looking at the White Sox need for a lefty power bat. There’s been much speculation about Markakis, Panda, etc… but none really possess the power I’d assume they’d be looking for. They have a lot of money off the books and a bullpen to deal with as well.
While I agree 2/30 is steep there will be interested teams.
I’m not sure there will be a big market for his services. The Marlins spent just shy of $46M last season. i can’t see them spending $15-20M on Jones and LaRoche. Also the Pirate could look into moving Alvarez to 1B and spending the savings on a starter. This leaves the Brewers and AL teams who will want him to DH part of the time.
He does have his concerns like below average defense, small market for him, age, etc…So he seems like there could be a large dolllar range for him. Still he can’t do much worse than 2/18 and realistically 2/24.
Are his numbers really declining though?
His 2014 was better than 2013 in AVG, OBP, OPS, OPS+, WAR, pretty much everything.
I agree with your other points, but, you could conversely say, hes not that old as far as longtime proven hitters go, he’ll get you 25 homers, he’ll get on base at a very good clip and hes not too much worse than average defensively.
I could see someone giving him 2 yrs around $25m, maybe even two and an option Rev, he definitely helps a no. of teams with a weakness at first base.
In 2013, his medication was screwed up, which he blamed his bad season on…
I watched ALR every day this year – he can be great, but he can also be terrible. Extremely streaky. Look at his July numbers – wretched. In April, he was great.
Defensively, he’s great at any ball hit close to him, but he has no lateral movement.
Good points Draz, but over the course of a six month season you could say the majority of ballplayers will go on streaks one way or the other, thats why we view the stats when the season is done and a .450 batting average in April means little.
He absolutely does have his limitations but i would suggest still has enough about him to help a needy ball club at first bag.
I haven’t looked at his recent numbers, but he used to have extreme 1st/2nd half splits. He was the guy that many a sneaky fantasy owner would pick up at the break and ride out that wave to end the season.
Was mostly the opposite this year.
“He’s old” is a positive to Doug Melvin for one. Hits lots of HRs – now he’s entering a semi-hypnotic state. The signing press conference will have a subtle reference to how he negotiated hard to get him to 2 expensive years and abundant cliches to leadership and fuzzy veteran positives.
I don’t see how he could get that contract…I’d predict maybe a few million more than Morneau’s contract with the Rockies last offseason.
I’m hoping the Pirates can maybe sign him. Have him as the stop-gap for Josh Bell in the future. Have the lineup be: Harrison/Polanco/McCutchen/LaRoche/Martin/Walker/Marte/SS
I really don’t think the Pirates would or should sign him. He would be awfully redundant (and expensive) considering Ike Davis and Pedro Alvarez (both lefties) each have two arbitration years left.
Better than average chance the Bucs deal Alvarez.
He will get more but I think he’s only worth about a 2 year, $12 mm deal
A left handed hitter who hit 26 HR with 92 RBI and had an OPS of .817 last season is worth more than $6M AAV.
Agreed but a 35 year old that has average 1.2 fWAR per season for the last decade is not worth 15 M AAV either.
I think he is only worth around $8-9M but will get $11-12M based on the weak market.
If you’re using home runs to judge a player then something is wrong. He had a measly 1.6 fWAR this season, good for 18th among qualified first basemen. Among all batters, he’d rank 162nd. I know there is a market deficiency, hence why I wrote he would make more. Quantitatively though, he is only worth about $5 million a season.
The contract Lyle Overbay signed in 2010 would be the closest comparison to LaRoche in terms of a weighted fWAR contribution and age.
Using WAR (1.0 = $6M), LaRoche had a value of $9.6M last season. So $8-9M in a market where power is scarce is a reasonable AAV even for a declining player.
Not sure what you did there with the (1.0 = $^M) but my free agent calculator weights an impending free agents three year contributions to their team and factors in their age. It then regresses that number against previous player contracts so as to see what the player should make based on past contracts.
Based on what Morneau and Loney got last offseason, I can’t see any team offering him more than 2 years/$22M with a team option ($2M buyout). $15M AAV seems a bit high for a 35 year old first baseman.
Yeah but both Morneau and Loney were bargains.
Loney had the Brewers, Pirates and Rays all bidding for his services before he signed with Tampa Bay. I know he gave the Rays a discount but I can’t see him turning away more than $1-2M AAV.
Bargins in retrospect. Both were risks, hence the contracts.
I know power is hard to come by but 15 MM AAV for a 35 year old guy who has average 1.2 fWAR per season over his career seems really steep to me.
Can the Nats afford to offer him a QO if they really want to move Zimmerman to 1B? They have to buy him out at $2M first don’t they? Then what if he accepts the QO? That $17M+ or am I looking at it wrong? Pay the $2M and move on is my guess.
Nats aren’t offering him a QO. He’d accept it.
Melvin Mendoza, Jr.
I remember when the Braves more or less ran him out of town after he didn’t hustle and got beaten to the bag by Nick Johnson on a routine dribbler, got benched and subsequently booed at every game I remember him playing with us after that, falling out of favor and eventually getting traded.
I remember that play and my first thought was, I never want this showboat on my team.
I saw the first sentence of the Personal section and right away thought the Brewers would be a perfect fit. His numbers would start declining in September though.
Vandals Took The Handles
He could become this years Drew-Morales for a different reason…..
I’m not sure what team needs him. Red_Line is right, the White Sox might come closest.
White Sox have a protected pick. I’d almost think that the Nats would be leary of offering the qo if they thought he would accept…sounds like he’d like to stay in Washington. I haven’t seen his breakdown recently. He used to be a dead red second half hitter.
He’s never ended up in KC…even though he seems to fit their profile. It’d be more likely if he hit righty to replace Butler. Grew up in Ft. Scott, KS…Christian… Seems like a Dayton Moore type… ex Brave.
It’s hard to predict how irrational clubs may be in the off-season. However, LaRoche is a guy who is worth $8-$9M this year. Generally players in LaRoche’s stage of his career aren’t going to get better. And his 2014 numbers appear to be in line with what he has put up since 2006 (aberration in 2012 aside). He has been remarkably consistent, fluctuating between 0.5fWAR and 2.1fWAR (when healthy). With LaRoche you have a pretty narrow band for his expected performance. I would put a guestimate around 1.0 – 1.5 WAR in 2015, 0.75 – 1.25 in 2016, and 0.5 – 1.0 WAR in 2017.
With no QO to deal with, a reasonable contract IMO would be a 2/$16-$18M deal. A bargain hunter may be able to land him for 1/$7M. Teams get into a bidding war I can see 3/$30M. I really struggle to see anyone paying close to the $15M AAV suggested in this post.
So he’s been battling ADD since high school yet he’s only been taking Ritalin for the past 8 years. Only since he’s been a professional ball player. Hmm sounds a bit odd. It’s funny how many baseball players are “battling add”. Kind of like the ball players like arod who used to get exemptions cuz they were “battling low testosterone”.
He’s taken Ritalin for the past 8_years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he wasnt taking other medication prior, or dealing with it in another way. Yes…the % of mlb players with add and adhd appears high, but the center for disease control reports that 10% of 10-17 year olds have a diagnosis. This would have been when LaRoche was diagnosed.
Melvin Mendoza, Jr.
I thought the same thing. I don’t know the guy personally but he really seems to be one of those people that uses it as a crutch and blames every mistake he makes on it.
I just don’t see the market being all that strong for LaRoche either. Of the team’s with needs, the Brewers have the most glaring and he would seem to be the best fit. But the other teams mentioned as possibly being in the bidding aren’t big spenders and have alternatives. I see a deal more in the 2 year $24 million range. No way he gets $15 million per year nor should he at age 35.
TEXAS??? Prince moving to DH…
Then where do you play Mitch Moreland?
Melvin Mendoza, Jr.
Unfortunately, BJ Mendoza is probably correct. Until Moreland proves he can play an entire season, I don’t know how you can plan on him doing so.
53% games played last 4 years…
He already had surgery on his ankle and should be fully recovered by spring training. Are you implying the Rangers should simply release him? Otherwise they will need to find a spot for him on their 25 man roster. You can not assume he will be on the DL all of next season based on his injury plagued past.
This is the 3rd off-season in a row which Moreland has had some sort of surgery. He has been ready come ST each time. But Morlenad has still failed to stay healthy. So you can not assume he will be the everyday DH neither. It would be foolish to think so, given his track record.
I understand what you are saying but my point was the Rangers either need to include him in their 2015 plans or not. Because if healthy, he will be on the 25 man roster. Basically you cannot guarantee a player with injury concerns will spend the majority of an upcoming season on the DL.
Yes, Moreland should be included in the 25 man roster. But that doesnt change the fact that this team’s depth needs to be improved. If that mean Moreland is the backup 1B, backup DH, and a backup COF, fine. But last year, 25 man roster spots should not of been given out like free money… Arencibia, Robertson, Sardinas, Murphy, Gimenez, Rua, Adduci, Smolinski, Telis, Wilson, Pena, Kouzmanoff, Carp, Snyder, Choice, and Rodriguez all had 25 man roster spots at one point in the year. That is 16 players and doesn’t even take in consideration Odor and Chirinos who ended up starting most of the season when they should of been at AAA all year (along with a few others listed above). Nor, does that even dig down into the pitching staff – who had there fair share of DL stints and call-ups too. So the overall lack of quality depth goes much deeper than just the 25 man roster. Injuries last year will also have major implications to the 40 man roster and the Rule 5 Draft. This roster is now a mess (47 players on the 40 man roster as of today), and could negatively impact the organization for the next 2-3 years depending on the R5D.
seems like Milwaukee would be an ideal fit.
Im guessing the Padres will sign him 2 years 25 mill