Saturday, November 22, 2014

LaRoche Leaves D.C., Joins White Sox With 2-Year, $25 Million Deal

Came the news today that the Chicago White Sox have added Washington Nationals first-baseman Adam LaRoche to their team. Here's the view from a longtime Nationals observer.

Meh. It's a move for the Sox, though it may not prove to be a great one. Just turned 35, LaRoche has certainly had a productive career ( His 243 home runs and 838 RBIs over 11 years are nothing to sneeze at, and LaRoche is a fine glove man (2012 Gold Glove winner). Of course, if he becomes the Sox' DH, a logical move to make with an aging guy who can be considered a reliable producer, the Gold Glove won't mean much, with 2014 Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu already penciled in as the starter at first base.

As a consistent lefty hitter with decent—if not overwhelming—power numbers, LaRoche takes over where Adam Dunn left off. If he can stay healthy, and avoid his historic bad starts, LaRoche could become a fan favorite at US Cellular Field, and there is hardly any chance he won't be a huge improvement over Dunn, who also came to Chicago after his best years in Washington but whose skills went the way of Rob Deer.

Dunn's tenure with the ChiSox was pretty sad, especially when you consider how much he was paid and how much he didn't help the team. He did blast some long homers, but after arriving in 2011 at the age of 31, Dunn was waylaid by emergency appendectomy surgery and never recovered that year. He did put up better power numbers subsequently, and hit 106 dingers for the Sox  in four years. But Dunn's batting average completely tanked, and his homer-or-bust routine became pretty painful to watch.

LaRoche arrives with a workout ethic at least, and in this modern age of gross overpayment for mediocre players, the projected 2-year, $25 million deal could be a relative steal.

The down side? Well, when a guy is 35, you can't ever really be sure what kind of numbers he'll put up in relation to his previous best. In a good year, LaRoche could be a 30-100 man, and if the Sox get that in 2015, they'll feel justified with the move. But 35's a tricky age for a less-than-elite athlete. At some point, those fine skills start to degenerate, and if LaRoche suddenly finds himself struggling to excel...well, he won't be the first ballplayer to discover that the downside of a career can begin when you least expect it.

LaRoche's departure from D.C. presumably paves the way for Ryan Zimmerman to take over at first base for the Nationals. Zimmerman, injury-prone and also saddled with a rag-arm that prohibits him from playing third base regularly ever again, should be an okay replacement. He played left field very capably last year upon his return from a bad hamstring, but the outfield is still not a great place for a guy with a bad wing, and it appears that if RZimm stays in the National League, first base is his only option. DHing in the AL, however, may be Zimmerman's future. For now, Zimmerman's historic power and production numbers are strikingly similar to LaRoche's, and RZimm is five years younger than his now-former teammate. Letting LaRoche walk may have been pretty easy in the end for Nationals management.

Washington fans wish LaRoche well in his endeavors. He was a good soldier in D.C. and a rock-solid pro. He could provide some stability and maturity to a White Sox team that keeps trying to rebuild. If his hitting skills have not diminished, LaRoche has a shot at a big year, though 2015 will be, for all practical purposes, his first trip through the American League.  


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