Monday, November 2, 2009

The Adam LaRoche Situation in Atlanta and My First Move as GM

As promised, here is the early-offseason decision-making series.

Let's go in the order of the questions I posed in the linked piece above, and start with Adam LaRoche.

LaRoche was, arguably, the best offensive deadline acquisition of any team in the Majors when he was sent to Atlanta from Boston for Casey Kotchman.

As the Braves had hoped, Adam's annual second-half "show-up" happened, as he knocked 12 homers, drove in 40 runs, and hit a robust .325 in 57 games (while committing one error to boot).

As Braves' fans re-discovered the love for their former first baseman, LaRoche seemed to re-discover his love for the town that gave him his first professional shot.

With all of these factors swirling around LaRoche's free-agent-to-be head (along with a Chipper Jones endorsement), it seems like a given that the Braves will retain their late-'09 power threat.


Not so fast.

As I see it right now, there are two factors that could potentially lead Adam to a city outside of Atlanta: his staple first-half blues, and Freddie Freeman.

LaRoche is and always has been a second-half hitter.

His '09 splits define him perfectly.

In 87 games with Pittsburgh: .247/12 HR/38 XBH
In 63 games with BOS & ATL: .320/12 HR/24 XBH


Maybe you can put it on his comfort in Atlanta, but I put it on the man himself.

Just look at his average and homers in these seasons:

2008: .251 & 11 vs. .304 & 14
2007: .239 & 13 vs. .312 & 8
2006: .251 & 13 vs. .323 & 19

It's not that he wouldn't be GOOD in the first half, it's just that his average wouldn't make him a great option in the heart of the order (3, 4, 5)

That becomes a moot point if the Braves were to get a legit 4 hitter and would be able to move Adam to the six hole to slack (not that he's lazy) for the first half.

Still, how much love would Braves' fans give the son of LaLob is he hits for his .240 with six or seven home runs?

My guess would be: Not very much.

Secondly, you must consider the fact that the Braves currently have a 6'5" big-bopper in waiting sitting in AA in Freddie Freeman.

Granted, the 19-year-old first baseman struggled a bit with Mississippi, but I think a lot of that has to do with a wrist injury and having to play next to Jason Heyward (who is a freak of nature).

I'd put Freddie's ETA at June 2011 right now with the potential for full-time duties to start 2012.

What does that have to do with LaRoche?


LaRoche is exiting his 29-year-old season, and will be hitting the Free Agent market looking for two things: years (first and foremost) and green.

These are two things that the Braves, who could have a cheaper stud in a couple of years, may not have available.

With names like Vazquez (at least in 2010), Lowe, and Kawakami eating up significant portions of the Braves always-sub-100MM payroll, LaRoche may not, financially, be a fit.

If I were a betting man, I'd say that the Braves would want to offer LaRoche a two-year deal at about 7.5 or 8 MM (that's a pretty generous hometown discount) per season with a third-year club option if they either decide to let Freeman heat up longer or throw him in the "fail" can.

I'd also say that LaRoche is probably looking for a deal in the neighborhood of four years at an annual salary at or around 9.5 or 10 MM per.

Those, from my analysis (and probably your own as well), are two fundamentally different deals.

That, my friends, is why I say this:

I put the odds of an Adam LaRoche return in real life at 33%, and why I choose not to retain him in my GM world.

I think that, even though a mutual desire for each other's services may be there, the two sides are looking for two different things this offseason, and that Rochey isn't going to be waiting for a Braves counter-offer if a team like the Mutts...erm...Mets, Blue Jays, White Sox, or Giants come knocking.

Instead, I look to the free agent market (with meager names like Millar, Branyan-no confidence in this guy, and Nick Johnson available).

Names like Jorge Cantu, Adam Dunn (40 homers and a ridiculous OBP make up for the low average (and 12 MM for his player-type is fair), plus he could man LF with a possibility of Schafer and Heyward in center and right in the future), and Prince Fielder (though this one is highly, highly unlikely-and Freeman would be gone in this scenario) all possibilities on the block.

My choice: Jorge Cantu.

Braves Get: Jorge Cantu, Brian Sanches
Fish Get: James Parr, Brandon Hicks, A pitcher (their choice)

Twenty homers and a .290 average would be expected out of Cantu on a full-time at first base, and at a very reasonable $4-5MM salary (through arbitration), and Sanches (31) could serve as a solid right-handed middle reliever (the Peter Moylan role if the Braves decide to split closing opportunities with the Aussie and O'Flaherty-or just another reliever if the Bravos retain Gonzalez...more on that later in the series).

The Marlins, who have a great eye for talent, would probably be happy with a MLB-ready starter with 3-spot ceiling, a great-fielding middle-infielder with a little pop (especially if they trade Uggla), and their specialty: napping up far-away talent.

So, let's re-cap the offseason so far:
Hudson retained (this is real-life)
LaRoche out, Cantu at first (my head)

Next up: The BIG trade-chips.

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