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Roster preview: Adam LaRoche

Jan 14, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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Age on Opening Day 2014: 34

How acquired: Signed as free agent, January 2013

2014 salary: $12 million

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

2014 storyline: After a dismal season that resulted in the lowest batting average, slugging percentage and OPS of his career, LaRoche enters 2014 as perhaps the biggest question mark in the Nationals lineup. Was last year evidence of a career in regression, or was it a mere blip in the big picture?

LaRoche has been in a similar situation before, not all that long ago. His first season in D.C. was a train wreck due to a major shoulder injury that left some writing him off. But he bounced back the following year to post the best numbers of his career, earning the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove award at first base. LaRoche knew he was playing for a contract, and that’s the same situation he’ll find himself in this year. There’s a $15 million mutual option for 2015 which the Nationals will pick up only if he has a strong season. Another down year and LaRoche could have a hard time finding any suitors next winter, putting the pressure on himself to bounce back big-time in 2014.

Best-case scenario: Motivated to prove everyone wrong — and healthy after figuring out how to keep his weight up despite his ADD medication — LaRoche duplicates his fantastic 2012 season. He clubs 30 homers, drives in 100 and goes on several prolonged tears during which he carries the Nationals’ lineup. He also finds his missing Gold Glove and bails out Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman from countless throwing errors, re-establishing his status as one of baseball’s best defensive first basemen. Recognizing his value to the club, the Nationals pick up LaRoche’s $15 million option and he returns for one final hurrah in 2015.

Worst-case scenario: LaRoche opens the season in one of his all-too-frequent slumps, going 1-for-23 to put himself in a deep hole early. He manages to put together a couple of strong streaks but never does find his hitting stroke. Desperate for production from his spot, the Nationals turn to Tyler Moore on a more regular basis, leaving LaRoche in a platoon. He finishes with a .235 batting average and 15 homers in only 120 games. The Nats decline his 2015 option and a 35-year-old LaRoche must decide whether to give it another shot elsewhere next spring or to trade in his spikes for a crossbow on a permanent basis.

Most-likely scenario: LaRoche, as has usually been the case in his career, is one of baseball’s streakiest hitters. He goes on multiple, month-long tears at the plate, but he also goes through stretches where he simply can’t make contact. He remains a key component of the Nationals’ lineup and still plays a smooth first base, but he does get benched every once in a while against a tough left-hander. He finishes with typical LaRoche numbers: a .270 average, 23 homers, 80 RBI, leaving the Nats in a quandary whether to pick up the option or not.

  1. DaveB - Jan 14, 2014 at 7:57 AM

    There would be no quandary in that most likely scenario. I like Adam, but for $15M you would want someone in whom you have more than 50% confidence they will show up in a given year.

  2. ehay2k - Jan 14, 2014 at 8:04 AM

    When he came back from surgery in 2012, he had a new offseason regimen and got off to a torrid start. This year, he will have at least a new ST regimen with new coaching staff, so it will be interesting to see what that produces. But he is no spring chicken, and history shows that hitters drop off fast with age. So we just have to watch and see how Williams handles him. Seems like that is the case for every player. (Mark, I think I just finished off the roster report.)

  3. Section 222 - Jan 14, 2014 at 8:23 AM

    The most likely scenario would be just fine for a No. 6 hitter. I’m not sure it’s actually the most likely though.

  4. edshelton2013 - Jan 14, 2014 at 8:42 AM

    I’d like to see Williams let ALR know in ST that he’ll be rested vs. tough lefties. That would take away the pressure and hopefully minimize Adam’s infamous slumps. We need to find out if TyMo is our 1B of the future or part of a package deal. Or is it someone on the roster (Zimmerman, Werth?)? Finally, there’s always FA or trade.

  5. Joe Seamhead - Jan 14, 2014 at 8:46 AM

    Last year I was thrilled that the Nats re-signed ALR after the year that he had in 2012. I thought that it was going to be the catalyst to propel the Nats to the NL East crown. Boy, was I ever wrong on that one. Adam’s poor year was probably at the top on disappointments from the 2012 Nats. Ryan’s defense, Span’s June thru early August offensive woes, Espinosa’s total collapse after a good ST, Haren’s terrible starts, Moore andTracy’s ineptness,the injury plaque to Werth, Ramos, and Harper, and Mattheus’s self destruction, all were all pretty tough to overcome, but Adam’s AWOL bat, and at times mediocre defense, seemed to be the worst thing to me. I have no expectations or predictions about him for 2014, just hoping that he reverts back to something closer to what we saw in 2012.
    Go Nats!

  6. Joe Seamhead - Jan 14, 2014 at 8:51 AM

    I just don’t see this team ever winning with Tyler Moore at first base.He seems like a great kid, but on the field he seems like a right handed Lucas Duda, i.e. big and slow.

  7. Hiram Hover - Jan 14, 2014 at 9:03 AM

    Our host is a kind soul and an optimist.

    ALR has been a good receiver at 1B compared to other options on the Nats roster (Morse, Tyler Moore, Chris Marrero) but calling him of the best defensive 1B in baseball is generous–ranking by either DRS or UZR/150, he’s maybe at the bottom of top 10 over the 6-7 years prior to 2013. And there’s virtually no chance that he approaches his 2012 offensive numbers, many of which were career highs.

    We can hope for some rebound from 2013, but we’re likely to get something much closer to the worst case than the best case scenario.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jan 14, 2014 at 9:20 AM

      Uh… Adam did get the Gold Glove in 2012, Hiram. He was a wizard for that whole year, and by how he played he made Desi, Zim and even Espinosa look better, and by extension the pitchers. I will give you that last year’s Adam was barely a shell of the 2012 ALR.

      • zmunchkin - Jan 14, 2014 at 9:38 AM

        I agree Joe. And defensive sabermetrics are a best guess and use lots of assumptions that one can legitimately debate.

        And other than 7 more HRs in 2012 (which then impact SLG), his numbers that year were pretty much in line with his career. And 7 more HRs is slightly more than one more HR every month.

      • DaveB - Jan 14, 2014 at 11:18 AM

        I agree also. My sense is that the defensive sabermetrics put a lot more emphasis on range for making plays on balls hit toward 1B, and less emphasis on reliability for saving infielders on bad throws. Adam excels at the latter, and there are more opportunities there to make a difference (especially recently with our IF). I expect ALR to have another good year in that respect, but hopefully it will be less needed this year and Zim, Desi, and Rendon can be steady from the start :-)

      • Hiram Hover - Jan 14, 2014 at 11:42 AM

        Yes, he had a great year in 2012, and no (in response to zmunchkin) defensive metrics aren’t perfect. But I’ll take them over the GG selection process any day.

        Anyway, rehashing what everyone thinks of sabremetrics wasn’t really my point. I think fans and observers of this team tend to overestimate ALR’s defense because other Nats have set the bar so low – in addition to the guys I named above, think also (if you can bear it) of Dmitri Young and Adam Dunn.

        ALR is a good receiver and a solid 1B, but he has not over his career been an elite defender, as Mark’s best case scenario seemed to suggest.

      • zmunchkin - Jan 14, 2014 at 4:04 PM

        Well Hiram, we will have to agree to disagree. Any metric (UZR/150) that says that Mike Napoli was the best (by far) defensive first baseman in all of MLB in 2013 is questionable at best. And according to DSR he is the 4th best defensively. That is all I need to see to conclude that a the opinions of MLB managers and coaches (combined with defensive stats) are a better judge of defensive play.

      • Hiram Hover - Jan 14, 2014 at 5:12 PM

        zmunckin

        I’m happy to agree to disagree, but it seems like there’s plenty we agree on. We both think that defensive metrics aren’t perfect, but they are useful, if you use them the right way–which means taking multiple years of data when you can and comparing different metrics. The GG folks obviously agree that the advanced metrics have some value, since they added a sabremetric component to their process this year.

        So the only thing left we might disagree about is ALR. Yes, he won the GG in 2012, and good for him – he was excellent that year. But over his career, he looks to me like a good but not elite 1B, which is the point I made from the start, and which the advanced metrics support as well. But if you think otherwise, I’m happy to agree to disagree.

  8. Theophilus T.S. - Jan 14, 2014 at 9:13 AM

    LaRoche’s future with the Nats holds more spins than the Teacup ride at Disneyland. Ideally, in 2015 the Nats get younger and less expensive at 1B. Unfortunately, you don’t get less expensive, quality players in free agency and, as Luke Erickson’s recently-published Watch List makes clear, the farm system is painfully tissue-paper thin at every position except possibly starting pitching and CF. No matter how well LaRoche plays this year, there is no way the Nats get themselves tied to him for two more years (age 37). That leaves four possibilities: (1) decline the team option and try to sign him for one year at maybe $10 or $11MM; (2) decline and trade, for whom? (who has a spare 25 y/o everyday 1B?); (3) decline in favor of Tyler Moore, whose future in Washington is more problematic than LaRoche’s; (4) take a $15MM crapshoot.

  9. scnatsfan - Jan 14, 2014 at 9:18 AM

    MLBTraderumors has us interested in Mark Reynolds. That’s a new one.

    • letswin3 - Jan 14, 2014 at 5:07 PM

      Another 30 year-old 230 hitter.

  10. Theophilus T.S. - Jan 14, 2014 at 9:24 AM

    I realize the unmentioned possibility is that Zimmerman moves to 1B, but that requires the IF musical chairs game to stop with the players in ++ positions. Recalling the aforementioned condition of the farm system, that seems to require the resurrection of Espinosa’s bat — which is as much or more in doubt as any of the other possibilities. The truth, it appears, is that LaRoche’s future in DC depends as much on the performance of other players as it does his own performance.

    • zmunchkin - Jan 14, 2014 at 9:42 AM

      And another player to throw into that mix is Skole. Before his injury that cost him most/all of 2013, he looked like a good future 1B candidate. So if he has a great season in the minors, he might get the first shot as the future at 1B. Plus he is a lefty.

    • pdowdy83 - Jan 14, 2014 at 12:50 PM

      Next year’s free agent class has several guys that will be usable every day players that could interest the Nationals if LaRoche is gone at the end of the season.

      Alberto Callaspo, Jed Lowrie, Pablo Sandoval, Chase Headley, and Asdrubal Cabrera are all available and could either play 2B or 3B which would allow for a move of Zimmerman to 1st. None of those guys look to get huge contracts unless they have a really strong 2014 season. Next year there are much better options on the infield free agent list than last year.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 14, 2014 at 1:59 PM

        you can add OFs to that list if Werth were to be moved to 1B.

  11. Theophilus T.S. - Jan 14, 2014 at 9:25 AM

    Reynolds is an underperforming Adam Dunn. Please spare us.

  12. flnatsfan - Jan 14, 2014 at 9:27 AM

    Anybody notice that Doug Fister made this list of MLB pitchers known for intentional hit-by-pitches? Interesting…

    http://wallstcheatsheet.com/stocks/7-dangerous-mlb-pitchers-known-for-nailing-batters.html/?ref=YF

    • Joe Seamhead - Jan 14, 2014 at 9:53 AM

      I like this line from that piece:
      “Considering he walks fewer than 2 batters per 9 innings, it’s difficult to chalk up all the hit batters to poor control by Fister.”

      • ArVAFan - Jan 14, 2014 at 1:55 PM

        Yes, well, that’s why my New Year’s resolution for Strasberg included letting Doug handle any “necessary” HBP’s.

  13. Eugene in Oregon - Jan 14, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    With regard to the discussion of what to do next year, these are the 1Bs on MLBTR’s free agent list for 2015:

    Billy Butler (29) – $12.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout
    Michael Cuddyer (36)
    Corey Hart (33)
    Adam LaRoche (35) – $15MM mutual option with a $2MM buyout
    Adam Lind (31) – $7.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout
    Mike Morse (33)
    Ty Wigginton (37)
    Kevin Youkilis (36)

    • pdowdy83 - Jan 14, 2014 at 12:53 PM

      As I stated above you don’t necessarily have to look at 1st basemen if you move Zim over. You can look at 2B and 3B and that group includes Chase Headley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Alberto Callaspo, Jed Lowrie and Pablo Sandoval. That is a more promising group than the 1st basemen on the market.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jan 14, 2014 at 6:43 PM

        I still say though Ryan Zimmerman may fill in at first against tough LH’ed pitchers in 2014, he is not moving to 1B in the near future. Why? Because you weaken two infield postions, or effectively your whole infield defense. Just my opinion.

  14. edshelton2013 - Jan 14, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    Thanks, Eugene. Not much to choose from here.
    How about a blockbuster, multi-player trade next winter for a big-bat 1B??
    In Rizzo We Trust!

  15. Theophilus T.S. - Jan 14, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    Notwithstanding the collective lack of enthusiasm among this group, I see that Bleacher Report ranked him 12th among the top 35 1B, with a relatively rosy prognosis. Among the 35 the only good/attainable trade candidate I saw was Eric Hosmer.

  16. Faraz Shaikh - Jan 14, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    I think even in best case scenario, I would like Nationals to move away from ALR and attempt to get a 1B via trade/FA/prospects/position switch that can stay there for more than two years. we have never had a stable presence at 1B. johnson was frequently injured, young’s flash lasted a season, dunn’s defense was not good, and now LaRoche is absent every other year.

    • masterfishkeeper - Jan 14, 2014 at 11:53 AM

      I agree it would be nice to have a long-term solution. Unlikely to happen by trade or FA, at least at a reasonable price. Because they are big hitters, first basemen tend to be expensive.

      I’m open to a position switch or having a prospect (Skole) earn the job.

      Also, while it’s nice to have one person manning first, it’s not the most challenging job defensively (probably the least), so the Nats should be okay filling the position with more than one person, in a platoon situation.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 14, 2014 at 12:13 PM

        Actually I think for Nationals, 1B might be the most challenging job defensively. Pretty much all others defense is tied to ALR’s defense.

        My reservation against Skole is that he strikes out way too much in minors. How can he handle ML pitching with all those Ks?

  17. 3on2out - Jan 14, 2014 at 12:14 PM

    flnatsfan….just for the record…there is no “intentional” hit-by-pitch statistics available. The pitchers listed in the article led the majors in hit batters…which is often simply a product of a willingness to work the inside of the plate. It doesn’t imply the batters they hit were hit intentionally. With the body armor that many batters wear nowadays…I think there are a few batters that are always to willing to leave a protected elbow out there…intentionally!

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 14, 2014 at 12:20 PM

      I think we should look up HBP and WP together to get an idea of who hits batters intentionally. If someone with high HBP numbers, also has high number of WP, then their control is to be blamed.

  18. scbilly - Jan 14, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    Maybe I don’t understand the conventional approach, but shouldn’t that say he was acquired as a free agent in 2010/11? Or does re-signing as an FA restart the clock?

  19. jd - Jan 14, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    Skole has had exactly 7 PA above A ball. How anyone can extrapolate his numbers and conclude that he’s the 1st baseman of the future is beyond me.How about we let him dominate at AA before we make this leap of faith?

  20. masterfishkeeper - Jan 14, 2014 at 3:04 PM

    As far as I know, no one is saying Skole is the 1B of the future. We’re just hoping, since no one else in the organization looks better.

    • deelizzle - Jan 14, 2014 at 5:28 PM

      He may not be in the organization already. Maybe it’s Hosmer, or (dreaming big) Chris Davis, when they become free agents?

  21. letswin3 - Jan 14, 2014 at 5:45 PM

    I was hopeful that Rizzo would find a way to deal ALR in some kind of an unlikely, but dream induced “Rizzocentric” multi-player deal this offseason, but that’s starting to look less and less likely. My guess is that he is our season starting guy at first base, but that neither the new skipper nor the GM will be very patient (learned lesson with Danny last season) ….. 237 hitters are a dime a dozen, and 237 hitting first basemen become full-time bow hunters. If he doesn’t show improvement from his ’13 numbers, it ought to be Moore. I fully understand that Moore woull be a defensive liability, but I also think that most of us see him as an offensive improvement in at least batting average and OBP, if he gets most of the AB’s for that spot … and he has the power numbers to add to his resume. I would be holding my breath too on every ball hit to the right side, but he would then be the better every-day alternative if there isn’t a deal to be made before then. And forget all this platoon stuff …. you’re either our guy of you’re on the bench waiting for late innings when the Nats are behind and they bring in a tough reliever who throws from the other side. For $12 million, or $12 dollars, we should demand more than Adam gave us last season, or else.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jan 14, 2014 at 6:55 PM

      Well, “define most of us.” I disagree vehemently. Moore didn’t change his approach at the plate last year and struck out at a better then 33% ratio.The league figured him out. If I was an opposing manager and my pitcher threw him a straight fast ball I’d send the pitcher down the next day. Great, he went back to AAA and crushed AAA fastballs, but the guy rarely makes contact with any kind of a ML off speed pitch. And the drop off defensively isn’t defined as a simple “defensive liability.” You can’t hide the guy in the field, at least not if you want to win.

    • sjm308 - Jan 14, 2014 at 8:57 PM

      Not sure where you get so much confidence in Tyler Moore. Laroche is a 10 year veteran. He had a bad year last year but if you look at his 10 year career he is going to hit .264 with 26 home runs and 90 rbi over a 162 game ave for his career.

      Tyler Moore hasn’t even played 162 games, just a total of 132 but if you average out what he has done it comes out to .241 with 16 home runs and 59 rbi.

      The defensive issues are even worse! You are upset with LaRoche for hitting .237 last year when Moore hit .221

      I don’t get it.

      • sjm308 - Jan 14, 2014 at 8:58 PM

        Unless you just don’t like LaRoche

      • letswin3 - Jan 14, 2014 at 11:06 PM

        Well, you’re right that I’m upset with Adam as a hitter. Whenever Moore has been given an opportunity to hit every day he looks to me to be a better hitter for both average and on-base percentage than Adam. Actually, I’m not in love with Moore either (particularly as a bench player), it’s just that I see him as pretty much the only alternative on the current roster if Adam starts stinking up the joint again…..237 just won’t cut it for a first baseman in the bigs.

  22. sjm308 - Jan 14, 2014 at 11:46 PM

    I am not a huge fan of either but I think we have a better chance with LaRoche. To me, this is our big hole in the lineup & I guess we will have to hope LaRoche gets at least some of his mojo back because I just can’t see them giving the job to Moore.

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