Nationals Baseball: The LaRoche question - part one

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The LaRoche question - part one

The Nationals have only one pressing issue this offseason and that's what to do about Adam LaRoche and by extension Mike Morse.

Two years ago the Nats signed Adam LaRoche to a 2 year 15 million dollar deal, with a mutual option on a 3rd year for 10 million. Many fans would like to see the same deal offered to Adam. That makes sense for the Nats. Adam is 2 years older, meaning you are less likely to want to give him more years.  He suffered through a debilitating injury.  The Nats have a good young corner infielder who will hopefully be ready for the majors in 2014 or so. Unfortunately the deal doesn't make sense for Adam.

Let's understand why Adam got the deal he did in the first place. Adam had just come off his worst year since 2005.  It wasn't a terrible year mind you (.261 / .320 / .468) but an off year at age 30 sets off warning signals. Could he be reaching the end? That drives down his price. At the same time there was a glut of first baseman available that at the time you thought were of roughly the same talent level.  Of course there was perennial 40 homer guy Adam Dunn.  There was Paul Konerko, who had just put up a monster year.  Aubrey Huff also off a good year and with a better year at the plate in 2008 than LaRoche had ever had. The remarkable consistency of Derek Lee who just in 2009 produced a great year. The promise of Carlos Pena who had shown so much pop from 2007-2009 people were willing to look past an .196 BA in 2010.  Hell even Lyle Overbay looked similar to what LaRoche put up.  There were a lot of other options if you didn't want to pay someone a big contract.

2010 Stats : .261 / .320 / .468
2010 1B MLB  Ave :  .264 /.350 / .452

Now he's coming off a year that he finished 6th in MVP voting.  He had his best year of his career. .271 / .343 / .510. And while age 32 is getting a bit long in the tooth, most teams don't start getting very wary until 35, especially if they are seeing results currently on the field. After him there is next to nothing available.  In terms of true first basemen you are literally scraping the bottom of the barrel. Older and more useless Lyle Overbay?  You could try to put Mike Napoli there or Nick Swisher but in a league that's increasing concerned with defensive value those are longer stretches than they would have been 5 years ago. There may not be a lot of suitors but LaRoche IS the first base market.

2012 Stats : .271 / .343 / .510
2010 1B MLB  Ave :  .262 /.336 / .442

Overall, first base has taken a step back and LaRoche took a step foward last year.  He went from a tinge below average for first basemen in 2010 to solidly better than average for first baseman in 2012, yet hardly anyone thinks of him differently. It's all about timing.

Adam is worth more now in 2012 than he was worth in 2010, that means he should, and probably will, sign for a better deal.  Most early reports have something in the neighborhood of 3 guaranteed years, 30 million as a starting point.

Is he worth it? Probably not. If Adam LaRoche hits as everyone expects him too (not as good as last year better than 2010, 2011) then 10 million a year is just about right, given his fielding. However, he'd have to do this for 3 more years and at this age you can't take that for a given. Most likely his production will slowly tail off. Do you want to be paying 10 million for a firstbaseman 3 years from now producing like a guy that you can get for 5? Here's the key - yes you do, if you need someone to produce at that level next year and don't really care about what he does 3 years from now.  The Nats aren't exactly that. Now the Rangers...

What I think is that the Nats are hoping the Hamilton deal works out with him going back to the Rangers.  If that's the case Texas is far less likely to offer LaRoche the deal he wants and then his options are pretty limited.  The Red Sox might give him a deal, but might also try to get a lower price for the extra years.
Of course if the Rangers see Hamilton go, then I think they'll pretty quickly give Adam the deal he wants.  He may not be exactly worth it, but it's pretty fair and doesn't kill them for rebuilding when this current run ends. And I think the South Kansas native would take that in a heart beat. He'd be much closer to home and his ranch and killing things and stuff.

Do the Nats blink first offer him that deal now? 3 years 30? I think you can make the case that it's not a bad deal so a lot depends on what they think moving Morse will do, and if they have the OF pieces to survive a failed bid to replace Morse in LF with a FA. If the production can be replaced then there is no need to make a deal that doesn't favor you, even one that's only mildy onerous. Next time!


michael k said...

If you really think he'd sign for three years, why not do it? No starter will be a free agent during the life of that contract (except Morse, who isn't really core). I suppose if it's really expensive you might be limiting other options, or if he plays below average then that's not good either. But I don't think there's any three year contract that LaRoche would be offered that would hurt this team the way they're constructed right now. Especially if you prefer him to Morse (I don't have much faith in Moore/minor league options).

Anonymous said...

Everything you say makes sense, but I think the problem is: if they move Morse to first and either platoon left field with Moore/Bernadina or sign a center fielder/lead-off like Bourn then it leaves them with no left handed power except Harper.


Donald said...

I would take 3 years/$30m for LaRoche if I were the Nats for the reasons mentioned -- we want to win now; we don't have a great option coming up in the system who'll be ready this year or probably next; we won't have a left handed power bat to replace him. If we can pay Lannan $5m to pitch in AAA for a year, we can pay LaRoche $10m in year three to pinch hit and platoon if it comes to that.

I think it's going to take more than that, though.

Doerr said...

So I have heard from numerous sources that he wants three or four years and the Nats want two years. If it is all about the money for him, then what about overpaying him for two years? Instead of 3 years at 10 mil a year, then give him 2 years at 13 mil a year. The Nats have the money. The money isn't tied up for a long time (like Werth) so there is financial flexibility when resigning other core players happens and that puts LaRoche leaving right when other options are fully ripe (Zim sliding across the diamond, Moore, or Skole).
Is it just that preposterous to pay him 13/14 a year so that roughly the same amount of money is out of pocket, but long term options are still available?

Anonymous said...

Already opined on the last post for 15mil for 2 with an option for year 3 and stand by that. Unfortunately, Adam-Bomb's biggest plus over replacements is defensive and clubhouse value and that's tough to put a $$$ on. That said, Morse was drafted as a frickin' SS after all, there's no doubt he can pick it at first if he's given the reps. Can't wait for LaRoche part two

Chaos...yes, eventually I'll get around to linking this to my google account

Anonymous said...

...and Upton at 5 years 75mil? Oh, hell no! Thanks for making that decision for us, Braves. Now if we can avoid signing Bourn it'll be alright.


Donald said...

I think part of what's going on in Rizzo's head is how he sees a lot of the current players progressing. It's clear that the Nats need to improve. The question is if you believe Boswell's assessment that the improvement all comes from current players getting better or if you have to go outside. Of the 8 position players, I think it's a good bet that 4-5 will have better seasons -- possibly significantly better. Those are Zim (assuming he stays healthy and repeats his post-cortizone shot performance); Werth (assuming his power comes back after an off-season to recuperate that wrist); Harper and Ramos (or Suzuki -- either is an upgrade over Flores). If Morse stays in the line-up at either 1st or LF, he should have a better year too if he can stay healthy.

I also think there's a decent chance that Desmond doesn't regress and that Espinoza progresses.

While this is a hugely optimistic view, the Nats could be significantly better even if LaRoche walks and they have to go with the Moore / Bernadina platoon.

But if you have the view that the 2013 team will be pretty much what the 2012 team was (including all those injuries, streaks and slumps), then you probably need to pay up for LaRoche or go after Bourne (or maybe Swisher).

Nattydread said...

Another consideration feeds into this: How badly does LaRoche want a World Series ring? Texas or Washington are his primary options (Boston is an unlikely prospect).

I like DCs chances of getting him back and I like Rizzo's poker face on this.

Harper looks to replace Adam's bat over the three year contract period -- the former's rise would compensate for the latter's demise.

Harper said...

mk - There are possible reasons : they really like Rendon to be ready soon, they see LaRoche as close to collapse, Rizzo expects to be capped in some way monetarily and wants the freedom to sign guys before their FA years (when long term deals usually are gotten a little cheaper). I still do it but you can come up with a plausible reason why not.

Anon - yep. And Rendon is a righty too. but you worry less about being righty-heavy than you do lefty-heavy. Righties tend to have a less dramatic drop-off vs RHP than lefties do with LHP.

Donald - If it's more than that than you walk. No one wants to give LaRoche a 4th year and more than 10 mill a year...

Doerr - I don't think it's about $ for him. I think it's about years. Looking to be in one place for 3+ years.

Chaos - Is it his option or the Nats?

Yes, Morse was drafted as a SS but as he's bulked into beast mode he's really lost fielding ability.

As you see I don't think the Upton deal is terrible. For the Nats it would have been kind of unecessary though. Bourn on the other hand DOES add something to the Nats, but whats gonna be the deal.

DOnald - Yes thinking the Nats will be as good or better in 7 of 8 offensive spots is pretty optimistic. I feel confident that Bryce will be better and they'll get more overall from catcher. That's about it.

ND - never heard him say he wants a ring. I think if he doesn't go to Tex, he ends up back here. Which brings up an interesting scenario. If the Braves sign Hamilton and then the Rangers sign LaRoche, the Nats are left weaker. Would be an interesting play.

Donald said...

Not sure I agree that only Harper and the catcher position improve. Just getting a full season from Zim, Werth and Morse would be an improvement over last year assuming they play similarly, which is what I meant.

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