Oct 13, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
Age on Opening Day 2014: 34
How acquired: Free agent, Jan. 2013
MLB service time: 10 years
2013 salary+bonuses: $10 million
Contract status: Signed for $12 million in 2014, $15 million mutual option (or $2 million buyout) in 2015, free agent in 2016.
2013 Stats: 152 G, 590 PA, 70 R, 121 H, 19 2B, 3 3B, 20 HR, 62 RBI, 4 SB, 72 BB, 131 SO, .237 AVG, .332 OBP, .403 SLG, .735 OPS, 11 E, -2.3 UZR, 0.6 WAR
Quotable: “It just never took off. It was a ton of 1-for-4’s and 0-for-3’s with a walk, it seemed like. And that just doesn’t cut it.” — Adam LaRoche
2013 analysis: After plenty of back-and-forth negotiating, LaRoche returned to the Nationals over the winter, signing a two-year, $24 million contract that also included a mutual option for 2015. The Nats deemed the veteran first baseman an essential piece to their puzzle at the plate, in the field and in the clubhouse.
Well, LaRoche remained a key team leader off the field but his performance on it this season was extremely disappointing. He hit a pathetic .136 in April, and though he did get hot in May following a video session with old pal Chipper Jones, he fell right back into the slump later in the summer and finished with the worst numbers of any season in his career (aside from his injury-plagued 2011).
Equally surprising was LaRoche’s regression at first base. One year after winning the Gold Glove, he ranked as the NL’s least-effective defensive player at his position, according to Fangraphs. His 11 errors also matched a career high.
2014 outlook: Few players have been as consistent producers over their careers as LaRoche, which made this season all the more alarming. So, was this an anomaly, or a sign of an inevitable decline for an aging player? LaRoche himself believes it was an anomaly, citing his decreased weight this season (an unfortunate byproduct of the ADD medication he takes) for his continued struggles.
There is some statistical evidence to support the anomaly idea as well. LaRoche’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was .277, worst of his career (aside from the injury-filled 2011 season). He did, however, hit more line drives than in any previous season, a full 25 percent of the balls he put into play. That suggests at least some degree of bad luck. The other encouraging news: LaRoche still drew plenty of walks and reached base at a .332 clip nearly identical to his career .337 mark.
There will be some who question whether the Nationals need to upgrade at first base over the winter, though LaRoche’s guaranteed $12 million contract (plus the 2015 option that either pays him $15 million in salary or a $2 million buyout) won’t be appealing to other clubs. The Nats still view him as an integral part of their organization, and they hope that as was the case for the entire team, 2013 was an aberration.
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