After what has seemed like an amicable stalemate for the majority of the offseason, finally on Tuesday the Washington Nationals and Adam LaRoche agreed to terms on a 2-year contract with a mutual option for a 3rd season worth a guaranteed $24 million dollars. According to media reports LaRoche will make $10 million in 2013, $12 million in 2014, and there is a $2 million dollar buyout on a 2015 mutual option worth $15 million dollars.
Adam LaRoche, 33-years-old, bounced back from an uncharacteristically poor and injury-filled first season in Washington in 2011 (.172/.288/.258 3 HRs in 43 games) with perhaps his career best all-around season in 2012, batting .271/.343/.510 with 33 home runs and 100 runs batted in, en route to winning the NL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards and finishing 6th in the MVP balloting. For his 9-year major league career, LaRoche has a career line of .268/.338/.482 with 197 home runs and the reputation as one of the best defensive first baseman in baseball. LaRoche’s left-handed bat helps solidify and balance the Nationals 2013 offensive lineup, his excellent defensive ability saves the infield defense numerous throwing errors each season, thus saving pitches for the entire pitching staff, and his veteran presence in the locker room is invaluable to this still inexperienced roster.
Although this situation has resolved itself, this does leave the Nationals with a quandary in terms of Mike Morse, as the outfield seems set with Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth as the corner outfielders, newly-acquired Denard Span batting leadoff and playing center field, and Adam LaRoche firmly entrenched at first base. We will examine the Morse predicament more thoroughly later this week in another article, but for now, we assume the Nationals starting lineup projects as Span batting leadoff, Harper, Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and LaRoche batting numbers 2-5 in some order, leaving Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and the catcher, Wilson Ramos or Kurt Suzuki, rounding out the bottom of the lineup, with Morse on the outside looking in. This projected lineup has an outstanding combination of balance and power with 3 left-handed hitters (Span, Harper, and LaRoche), 4 right-handed hitters (Werth, Zimmerman, Desmond, Ramos/Suzuki), and 1 switch-hitter Danny Espinosa, and aside from Span, each player is capable of hitting 15+ home runs next season. Furthermore, LaRoche’s return gives the Nationals above-average or better defenders at each position.
While most Nationals fans are excited to have Adam LaRoche returning to Washington in 2013, this signing has a strange, bittersweet type feeling to it, as we have known all offseason if LaRoche re-signed, odds of fan-favorite Mike Morse returning next season are extremely unlikely. Certainly Morse has more offensive potential, but LaRoche’s veteran presence, consistency both in terms of games played and statistics posted, left-handed bat, and superior defensive skills make him a better fit for the Nationals in their chase for the World Series in 2013. Most Nationals fans do not expect LaRoche to replicate his tremendous 2012 numbers again in 2013 and 2014, but if he can produce similarly to his average annual numbers (.268/.338/.482 20-25HRs) along with his usual first-class defense at first base, general manager Mike Rizzo will be pleased he allowed the market to come to him and eventually made a 2-year commitment to LaRoche. It is difficult to judge this signing without seeing the subsequent fallout from an expected Mike Morse trade, but in a vacuum, the Nationals should be commended for keeping the duration of the contract with LaRoche to 2 seasons and for a reasonable amount of money, thereby keeping the team’s risk fairly minimal. Perhaps not the sexiest acquisition, but this is yet another smart decision by the Nationals front office this offseason.
NatsGM Grade -> B to B-
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