Nationals Baseball: LaRoche revisited

Monday, December 31, 2012

LaRoche revisited

I looked at the potential LaRoche deal from the soulless automaton side and have pretty much endorsed the Nats line of thinking. It's not fiscally prudent to sign LaRoche to that 3rd year if you feel that you can replace his production this year (they feel they can) and he is not need long-term (they feel he isn't). Sure you will lose that fielding but saving that is probably not worth the cost hitching your wagon to Adam given the above.

Are they crazy to think the above?  The production part is fairly straight forward. If Morse is healthy his most likely line is going to be something like .290 / .330 / .500.  For all intents and purposes that is as good as LaRoche did last year, maybe a bit better. Sure Morse could collapse or face injury risk, but as a one-year gamble it's not a bad one.  The long term is a bit hazier.  The Nats don't have anyone who has produced in AA yet and while they like Rendon (and to a lesser extent Skole) this gamble is a bit bigger one to play. Even if one of these guys comes through to be the player LaRoche is, circumstance could force them into another position, or another team, or it could be 3 years until they are really ready.

This is all why the LaRoche signing doesn't seem clear. It isn't.  But overall it makes sense to worry about 2013 and maaaybe 2014, but not much further because too much could change to worry about 2015 and beyond. Losing LaRoche shouldn't hurt 2013 too much. So stick to your guns.

That's the non fan view of things.  When I try to look at it through the glasses of a hard core fan, I get kind of pissed.

Real teams spend money

No, you don't HAVE to spend money to win and if you can get away with not doing it than more power to you, but understand that you'd be getting away with it.  In general when you get to the level of winning 90+ games, there is precious little you can do to secure your team more wins.  Instead what you are doing is signing players that reduce your production variability. Instead of being a 93 win team that could conceivably win 88-96 games, you spend an extra 15-20 million and become a 94 win team that could conceivably win 91-97 games.

Does that matter? Yes, yes it does. First and foremost it shows your #1 concern is winning with no caveats. Not "winning, while spending smartly" or "winning, with an eye toward our future plans". No just "winning". How can get to the point that if something goes wrong we STILL win.
Signing LaRoche is a way to probably reduce that variability.  Morse may have a good shot at hitting as good or a little better than LaRoche, but he's also more of an injury risk, has that questionable approach, and is a defensive liability. There's a lot here that can go wrong.  For Adam it's likely either "he hits well" or "he hits ok". Sure, ride it out and see if you can't get Adam back at the deal that you want, but when push comes to shove, when either another team bites and offers the 3rd year or if the Nats are staring down the start of Spring Training, you make that deal.

This isn't a 6 year deal.  This isn't 20 million per season. It doesn't even cross into the "have to spend $$$ to sign our young guys" time frame (Both Ian and ZNN would hit that point after the 2015 season). This deal, if made, should not effect the team negatively in any appreciable way.

It's one thing for me to dismiss the above for the loving embrace of cold hard facts (the team is good enough that even without signing LaRoche, in this new 2-Wild Card format, they should be a near-lock for the playoffs and even with the Wild Card 1-game showdown that's still enough), but I'm a bit surprised more fans aren't saying the above. Full faith in Rizzo?  Blind optimism in this being a 100+ win team regardless?  


Anonymous said...

You summed up my thoughts exactly. I get Rizzo's point from a business perspective. He has Morse/Moore as options for 2013 with other options in 2014. Plus Marrero is still in the system, right? Last thing the Nats need is LaRoche tying up $10M-$12M in 2015 when they need to extend some of their core young guys.

BUT..... As a fan I'd love to see them bring LaRoche back even if it's 3 years. I love that guy. Aside from his offense and defense, he's a leader and a great role model for Harper in his formative years.

I hate to see Beast Mode go, but that's the sucky business side effect if they re-sign LaRoche.

Sec314 said...

LaRoche is not Alfonso Soriano revisited, but even so, let's not forget 2011... or the other years where he was ice cold the first half of season and heated up late. He's good, but not great.

He had a career year. He's unlikely to repeat that in 2013. And certainly will not in 2015.

Donald said...

I think Rizzo is trying to balance a number of factors. One of those is how to get Rendon into the lineup in 2014. Rizzo thinks Rendon is almost a Harper-like talent so they won't hold him back. With LaRoche signed for 3 years, the only place for him to go would be 2B and they haven't given up on Espinosa there. So I think they are waiting to see if Danny has a break-out year. If yes, then the put Rendon or Zim at 1B. If Danny struggles, then they might trade him and put Rendon at 2B, but they want those options open.

Also, I think Rizzo values the draft pick maybe even more than most other GMs, since I think he figures he can draft smarter than anyone else. So if LaRoche walks, he'd be pretty happy to get a pick.

Anonymous said...

Is there any chance we can keep Morse and LaRoche for next season?

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

Donald hit the nail on the head. I think it comes down to Rendon. We can let him stay in the minors all of this year okay, but no way he dhould be stashed away in the minors for 2 more years (unless he misses a large chunk of a year due to injury).

I agree with sticking to the 2 years to be honest, but that's just me. Worst case scenario we can move someone to first which is a very flexible position to move guys to (even Zimm, just promise him its temporary..for now..while Morse is hurt). And that's worst case scenario.

Harper said...

Anon #1 / Sec 314 - The thing about the 2015 $$$ is that it SHOULDN'T really matter. They can pretty easily structure any deal so that the big payouts come after that year. The Nationals will probably have, what, at least 60+ million to play with (under luxury tax). If the Lerner's are committed to winning then a benched LaRoche in 2015 or a traded LaRoche the Nats are paying 5 mill for shouldn't matter.

The reason to not sign LaRoche to that 3rd year is just to save $$$ because they can do it and still win, but it's not really freeing up anything unless the Lerner's budget is well below where it should be (or there are big signings to come and looking at next years FA class and the Nats team I'm not sure where'd that be)

Donald - It certainly is possible he thinks that but I think that's a big oversell Rendon is far more Pat Burrell than Bryce Harper at the plate. (which is still good mind you) And in the midst of a possible run of pennants "I think this guy will max out his potential so let's leave space for him" can be a difference maker if it turns out wrong.

I do think he'd love that draft pick because he's in position still to take that lottery ticket approach (might not be after next year)

Anon #2 - Definitely ($ should be a non-issue) but you'd be leaving some trade value on the table. Rizzo is a big chemistry guy too and I'm not sure he'd like starters on his bench as they tend to be distractions (but maybe Morse would be all like "it's one year - I'm ok with it")

C&S - You guys keep acting like Rendon is a sure thing. I'm not so sure.

Anonymous said...

Annon 1 here. I'm wondering if Rizzo put a club option for year 3 on the table. If I were LaRoche, I'd probably hold out to see if I can get 3 guaranteed, but settle for 2+ club option. It would be no brainer if Nats offered above market money for years 1 & 2. LaRoche gets his payday and Rizzo retains flexibility.

Anonymous said...

Why not structure a deal with an optional 3rd year with a twist - separate options for each side. If the Nationals exercise the to keep him, the price would be higher. If the player chooses to exercise the option the price would be lower. That way, if Nationals decide he is worth the higher price, they have him locked in. If they don't want him at the higher price, they haven't committed a bank -breaking amount.

Anonymous said...

Harper - Regarding your point on "real teams spend money", I'm confused on why Rizzo thought resigning Burnett did not fit the team's plan financially. The deal Sean received from the Angels did not seem it would brake the Nats bank, and I don't see any better lefty relievers out there to take his place in the pen. Were there other factors against bringing him back? It seems Rizzo is being a little cheap with the bullpen, when the money spent there would pay some good dividends.

Harper said...

Anon #1 - I think LaRoche really wants 3 guaranteed that's the sticking point. The club option might work when we get to pitcher and catcher or when all other options are gone, but really it amounts to very little assurance he'll be in the same place in 2015 which is what he wants.

New Anon #2 - An interesting idea but I think it would lead to a stalemate where if they BOTH wanted LaRoche back they'd try to wait the other out and get them to pull the trigger on the option. I think LaRoche would be agreeable but the team wouldn't. They want the flexibility of the money AND the roster spot.

New Anon #3 - Nope I think it's just about $. Middle relief and bench players are where you usually can save millions pretty easily by using young guys or cheap retreads instead of established veterans. It's not a huge gamble in the bullpen especially because you expect someone to pan out if your first choice doesn't. It'd be hard for a bullpen to keep a team with great starting pitching and a very good offense out of the playoffs (especially now with the 2 WCs) and once in the playoffs you might be able to get away with 4 decent arms (one LOOGY).

Basically it's middle relief (when you have a couple guys that can shutdown a game in the 8th/9th) is THE place to save money and I guess Rizzo is looking to do that.

Zimmerman11 said...

I've never seen my team retain players once they reach FA status, so I'm not going to be surprised or disappointed if the Nats don't bring back LaRoche, especially since we have capable, if not equal, replacements. Adam was never one of "our" players... not for me anyway, and so I have less of an emotional attachment to him than say Zimm, obviously. I chalk this up as a consequence of that terrible Werth deal.... Buster Olney says we have one of the top two rotations, and one of the top two outfields in baseball. We will contend with or without ALR.

Zimmerman11 said...

Olney also weighed in on the infields... putting the Nats in 8th w/o LaRoche and calling them "top 5" if he is brought back... I like this Buster Olney character! Now I just hope the Nationals don't let all this preseason bluster inflate their egos too badly :)

blovy8 said...

I think you're coming at this like a Yankee fan where spending money to have 11 regulars when you can only play 9 is the rule. 2015 payroll does matter to them, just like more than 160 innings for Strasburg mattered. There's a good chance they could have or acquire a better 1b then anyway, since ALR is probably average, maybe less by that age. It's not really risky when they have three 1b right now, not to have a fourth.

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

Harper- 2 things

I don't know if Rendon as a star is a sure thing, but I still think he is, though health is a concern, a sure thing to at least be a solid ballplayer (kinda like how Ackley has been).

In regards to the Stras and innings last year, do you think that was an effort to conserve him for the next 4 (or 5?) years he is under team control? Because if we let him loose after his team control years which we both thought would happen, I would think they would ramp him up more and faster since he's essentially not our ticking time bomb (if you will) once he leaves. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Considering that Morse is a litttle more solid offensively, and LaRoche is more solid defensively, it depends on what we want the team to be. I personally feel like Morse was solid at first when we had him there. and to move rendon or zimm there? thats just stupid.

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