November 3, 2009 at 1:31 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Front Office, Player Analysis, Transactions
Depends on a lot of things, obviously, but what parameters would make signing him a net positive. First of all, let’s look at Adam LaRoche, the player™.
LaRoche was re-acquired for Casey Kotchman at the 2009 trade deadline in the hope that he would provide some much needed power for the line-up that had been largely starved thereof. Even though Kotchman wasn’t slated to become a free agent until after the 2011 season and LaRoche would be a free agent at the end of 2009, the organization believed that he would help them out enough to justify parting with 2 additional years of Kotchman.
LaRoche had previously spent his entire development period (minor league career) and 3 major-league seasons with the Braves before he was traded to Pittsburgh during the ’06-’07 season in a deal that sent Mike Gonzalez, the closer™ to Atlanta. In LaRoche’s 2 and 1/2 seasons with Atlanta (2004-2006), he hit .274/.337/.504/.841 (114 OPS+) with 65 HR. He was with Pittsburgh for another 2 and 1/2 years (where he posted nearly identical numbers), then he was shipped to Boston for a pair of interesting, albeit unspectacular, prospects. A week later Boston, having acquired Victor Martinez, flipped him to Atlanta for the slick-fielding, light hitting Casey Kotchman.
LaRoche didn’t disappoint for the Braves, hitting .325/.401/.557 over the season’s final two months, even though the Braves failed to make the playoffs. This was fueled by an insane .399 BABIP (career avg. .313), but it was also to be expected–somewhat. LaRoche has historically been a 2nd half player. His hits like Nate McLouth (and we won’t get into McLouth, but his bat certainly doesn’t play at 1st) in the 1st half – .252/.326/.447/.773 with 63 HR (4.0% of AB’s), but he turns into Derrek Lee in the 2nd half -
.300/.363/.546/.909 with 73 HR (5.7% of AB’s). It isn’t like this happened just once or twice, either, he hasn’t deviated from the patter for a single year of his career. I’m yet to see one scientific study that suggests this phenomenon is an actual attribute and not simply fluctuations of chance, but I do tend to believe he is destined to hit better in the 2nd half. The Braves experienced that first hand in 2009, but counting on him to produce like he did for those two months over an entire season is probably foolish.
He’s painfully slow–thus a below-average base runner–and, despite the organizational mouths trying to convince you he’s defensively equivalent to Casey Kotchman at 1B, he’s a below-average 1B. UZR has rated him below-average in every season, save one (2007, +6.3 UZR) and his career average (we’ve got a big enough sample size that makes our results statistically significant) UZR/150 is -4.1. +/- pretty much tells the exact same story. The lesson–don’t believe everything you hear, always ask, “is that true?”, empirical data is a more reliable source of knowledge than an organizational mouth spitting out the company line.
All in all, he’s been worth about 2.25 wins, on average, over the past 4 years. This doesn’t include non-SB base running, which would undoubtedly make the number go down, though probably not significantly. Someone that produces 2.25 wins should, in theory, get around $10 million a season on the open market. Maybe the market will be depressed this coming season, but I’d bet on him getting something in the $8-10 million range. A raise from his $7.05 million salary in 2009, but not an extremely significant one.
The fact that he hits better in the 2nd half probably lessens his value on the FA market, so I’m guessing a $9 million salary is probably what he gets this coming off-season.
The question: should the Braves re-sign Adam LaRoche?
Well, he’s a left-handed hitter who hits righties much better than lefties (career .857 OPS vs. RHP, career .751 OPS vs. LHP). The Braves have publicly stated that they’re in the market for a right-handed bat. LaRoche isn’t that. Re-signing LaRoche would also narrow the search for the big right-handed bat down to the corner OF positions. I think the Braves are right, they need a right-handed bat.
Then there’s Freddie Freeman, the organization’s future 1B. There’s no telling when he’ll be ready for MLB. Could be at some point in 2010, could be 2011, could be 2012–we don’t know. Signing LaRoche to a long-term contract could inhibit Freeman’s path to the big leagues. The Braves don’t want to block him, should he be ready soon. Personally, I don’t see any harm in giving LaRoche 2 years. If Freeman is ready at some point in 2011, trading LaRoche is an option. Three years is a different story, but I don’t think demanding a 2-year deal is enough to deter the Braves from signing him.
LaRoche could certainly be a piece of the puzzle. His career .491 SLG% is certainly something the Braves could use in their batting order. However, if signing LaRoche in any way obstructs the acquisition of a big RH bat (presumably for LF), I would be adamantly opposed to it.
In general, I believe the following three things need to fall into place for the Braves signing Adam LaRoche to be a good decision:
1) A contract of no more than two guaranteed years.
2) An annual salary of less than $9.5 million.
3) An accompanying move for a big right-handed hitting left fielder.
If those three things happen, I’m all for re-signing LaRoche. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense.
Final note: I apologize for the lack of updates. I’ve been busy and rather uninspired by what’s going on in baseball these days. I should have more time/motivation to write once the world series is over.