Adam LaRoche had a very good year with the Washington Nationals. He batted .271, hit 33 home runs and tallied 100 RBI’s. When Michael Morse, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman were injured, LaRoche’s offense output was an important part of keeping the Nats in the win column. LaRoche was awarded his first gold glove this week for his defensive play.
LaRoche had a $10 million dollar option to play for the Nationals in 2013. The Nationals exercised their end of the option, but LaRoche declined to accept it, making him a free agent. If the Nats don’t reach a deal with LaRoche by midnight Saturday, he is free to entertain offers from other teams.
It is no secret that LaRoche is looking for a multi-year deal of three to four years with his next contract. Should the Nats make that offer?
Adam improved on one problem that has marked his career in the past. LaRoche has been known as a notoriously slow starter, usually not hitting well until about June. Then his bat catches fire. This year, LaRoche came out of the gate at the beginning of the season on fire. He hit over .300 until May 22nd this season. Then his production began to fall off, and by the end of June his average was down to .251. By the end of the season he had dragged his average up to .271 and never matched the offensive output of his first six weeks of the season.
LaRoche seemed to hit a little better when he was coming off a day off or several days off which he had to take a couple of times during the season because of a recurring back spasm problem. Adam was 32 years old this season, and turns 33 on November 6th.
Looking critically at LaRoche’s career numbers yields the following information: the year he had this year is not so far off his nine year career averages, even including last year’s injury shortened disastrous numbers. His career batting average is .268. His home run average is 27 per year, and his total RBI average per year is 93. The bottom line is that so far, barring significant injury, what you see is what you get with LaRoche.
Whether that will continue to be the case as he ages is another matter. Playing first base does lead to longevity for a player. Outfielders have more trouble keeping up a high level of play defensively the older they become. That is not so much the case for first basemen. However, age can take its cut at the plate. Every MLB manager, GM and fan has seen that happen.
Should the Nats offer LaRoche a three or four year deal, with a probable minimum salary number of at least $15-20 million a year? It will probably take that type of deal to keep LaRoche in Washington. Several teams are in desperate need of a solid first baseman, and there is likely to be a bidding war for LaRoche’s services. The free agent market for quality first basemen is thin this year.
The answer may be no, considering that the Nats have in-house candidates for the position that may produce better offensive numbers. The Nationals need to find a regular position for Tyler Moore. Moore is a first baseman, and has played that position all the way through the minors. He is not an outfielder, which is where the Nats had him play most of the year. In the outfield he is only adequate. In limited plate appearances of 156 at bats, mostly pinch hitting, Moore hit .263 and smashed 10 home runs. His batting average isn’t that far off LaRoche’s, and would probably hit for a higher average if he was an everyday player. Extrapolated over 162 games, he would hit more than twenty home runs. LaRoche hit a home run this year every 17.3 at bats. Moore hit a home run this year every 15.6 at bats. There is a good possibility that Moore could hit more than thirty home runs a year. He is only 25 years old, and is under team control for years.
The Nationals can also use Michael Morse at first base. Morse enjoyed playing first base last year. Michael is a big personality and liked being able to chat with all the players as they arrived at first. Morse played first base during the offseason tour in Taiwan in 2011, and tried to speak to all of the Taiwanese players who arrived at first, whether they spoke English or not. Morse did a fine job filling in at first base last year, and plays a better first base than he does left field, where he is an adequate outfielder but not a great one. Let’s not forget that Michael’s offensive production took off last year when he got the opportunity to play first base.
The Nationals still have Chris Marrero in the minors. Depending upon how he recovers from his injury and progresses this coming year, he may be an option for the Nats if Moore or Morse don’t work out at first base.
Since LaRoche is probably going to be able to obtain the three to four year deal he is looking for with another team, the Nationals have to decide if they want to spend the money to keep LaRoche on the team for that length of time. It is a risk to do so at LaRoche’s age. If he is signed to a four year deal, he will be under contract until he is 37 years old. When you are talking ballplayers, you are taking a serious risk that the player will hit the age wall and his production will drastically fall off.
If the Nationals don’t sign LaRoche, they have in-house options to play the position who would probably produce better offensive numbers over the course of a season. Frankly, it does not make sense for the Nationals to get involved in the Adam LaRoche sweepstakes. The Nationals do not need to spend $15 million a year to get LaRoche’s offense. They can pay Tyler Moore less than $500K per year to get the same, or better, offensive production. Michael Morse is already under contract for next year. From a financial standpoint, signing LaRoche to a long term deal does not make sense for the club.