Let it first be stated that Adam LaRoche is not a detriment to the 2014 Nationals. His 2013 numbers were below average for a first baseman, but they came in Adam LaRoche’s worst full season as a baseball player. Even factoring in age decline it is highly unlikely that LaRoche has a repeat of 2013. Think of it this way, during the 2013 off-season everyone felt that there was no way LaRoche could repeat the season he had in 2012 where he had an .853 OPS. Well that OPS is only .042 points above his career average whereas his .735 OPS from 2013 is .076 points below his career average. So if .042 points above a career average is unsustainable then .076 points below it is even more so. To add to this Adam LaRoche’s 2013 season wasn’t as bad as it appears in the final numbers. In three of the six months he had an OPS over .800 reaching as high as 1.024 in May, another month in the .700, and finally two downright putrid months under .600 including an April in which he had a .473 OPS. That is lower than Danny Espinosa’s April OPS of .545. If April is taken out of the equation then Adam LaRoche posted a .784 OPS in 2013 which is slightly above the MLB average .773 OPS for the position.
What the Nationals have in Adam LaRoche is a league average hitting first baseman that plays good defense, but it also means that it is a position that can be upgraded once the higher priority fixes are taken care of. If the rumors are true of interest in Adam LaRoche and the Nationals decide to move him there are several directions they can go internally and externally.
Let’s start with the first main internal option. Tyler Moore is what you may call a poor man’s Mike Jacobs. He has the ability to hit the ball a long way but can’t ever stop himself from swinging at everything. Over his first 340 plate appearances in the majors Moore has posted a .241/.293/.427 batting line. Lots of power but close to no one base skills. A first baseman should be one of the better offensive players on the team and while Moore’s career .720 OPS is above the league average it is below average for a first baseman and well below what Adam LaRoche would post if he remained on the team. Trading LaRoche and going with Tyler Moore would mean that the Nationals didn’t think this move out very well and jumped the gun in a trade of LaRoche before having a proper replacement in hand. Tyler Moore has shown ability to get on base at the AAA level posting a .387 OBP but in his time in the majors he has been a less than patient hitter much as he was at every other level of the minors. If Moore can ever find selectivity at the plate he could be a productive major league first baseman, but he isn’t someone that forces a trade of a veteran with vastly superior career numbers.
Morneau is a former MVP who has suffered a multitude of concussion related issues over the past several seasons. In 2013 he played in 152 games split between Minnesota and Pittsburgh posting an OPS very close to LaRoche’s .735 at .734. The left handed hitting Morneau is heading into his age 33 season and is known as a solid defender at first. With his career .829 OPS signing him would be like signing a marginally younger Adam LaRoche. It would almost be exactly like signing LaRoche one season ago as Morneau is likely to take at least a two year deal worth $24 million. The way this makes sense is if the Nationals can get something good back from LaRoche or if they want to spend big on left handed power off the bench. Morneau’s recent concussion issues and lack of durability are another minus on him that ultimately make LaRoche the better option, but again if the Nationals can trade LaRoche for a legitimate prospect and sign Morneau then that is ultimately a plus even if Morneau as a player isn’t that much different than Adam LaRoche. Morneau was also not eligible to be extended a qualifying offer as he was traded mid-season and wouldn’t cost the Nationals a draft pick. By trading LaRoche and signing Morneau the Nationals would see no drop-off at the position, get to keep their first round pick, and get the return in prospects that LaRoche would bring.
The Tigers may have finally found that there aren’t enough Hot and Ready’s in the world to cover the massive contracts they’ve handed out of late. Miguel Cabrera is better suited to be a first baseman and Prince Fielder has seven years left on a massive contract. There is no question that Fielder would be an upgrade over LaRoche. In his career worst season in 2013 Fielder posted an .819 OPS which is better than LaRoche’s career average and Fielder is just now heading into his age 30 season. He reasonably has three seasons of his prime left, but that leaves four years of a massive contract for a heavy player who is unlikely to decline well. The Nationals were interested in Fielder when he was a free agent and some of his offensive issues in Detroit may be with the ballpark, but it is still a lot of money and commitment to a player likely to be a burden in a couple of seasons. Especially consider the implications of taking on that much money when the Nationals have several of their own players approaching free agency and signing Ian Desmond to a long term deal is much more important than finding a replacement for Adam LaRoche. Fielder would be a benefit for the Nationals through at least 2015 and if they can win a World Series in that time there will be a lot less complaining about Fielder at the end of his deal, but it was the last two years of that deal the Nationals shied away from the first time around and not much could have changed. There is the chance that the Tigers would be willing to eat some of the salary, but then better prospects would have to be included. The final word on this move is that it could be good or it could be bad all depending on what is given up to make it happen.
Napoli is an interesting case. He was offered a qualifying offer and would be an offensive upgrade over Adam LaRoche. He has a career .859 OPS and while he’s been under that the past two seasons he has still be close. His defense isn’t going to be as good as LaRoche’s and he will take a three year deal to sign. He settled on a one year deal with Boston this past off-season in order to prove he deserved a long term deal and posting a .842 OPS and helping to win a World Series should make that case. Aside from the draft pick the other big issue with Napoli is health. The reason he had to take a one year deal in Boston was that they found issues with his hips. That is an important part of the body for a hitter, but Napoli was able to play through that for 139 games. Mike Napoli has only once in his career reached the 140 game mark and has never played in 150 games in a season. LaRoche is one of the most durable players in baseball and while Napoli would be an improvement over LaRoche, the 120 games of Napoli plus 42 of Tyler Moore may not. Factor the health concerns in with the drop off in defense and giving up a draft pick and Napoli would be more of a move to bring in a name than to build a solid baseball team.
Giancarlo Stanton is currently the right fielder for the Miami Marlins and has never played first base before, but first base isn’t a difficult position. It is the lowest position on the defensive spectrum and Giancarlo Stanton has suffered through knee issues in right field. When talking about a trade this is the one teams should make. The floated trade rumors of what it would cost the Nats to get David Price or Max Scherzer start with Rendon, Giolito, and Cole. A major league second baseman that played solid defense at the position with the potential to be a batting champion and have 20 homer power, a power arm with future Ace written all over him who some believe could be the best prospect in baseball by the end of 2014, and a mid-rotation starting pitching prospect who still has room to develop. That is a lot to give up for anyone and more than any team, other than the Royals, has given up in the multitude of starting pitcher trades seen over the last few seasons. Notice that last few seasons part in there. Every off-season for the past few years at least one top of the rotation starter is moved. This off-season both Price and Scherzer are reported to be on the trade block. When was the last time a middle of the order bat with transcendent power was on the block? Justin Upton is a solid player but Giancarlo Stanton has the potential to take the crown of best hitter in baseball from Miguel Cabrera and like Cabrera there isn’t a bad trade that can be purposed. A team could give up all of their top ten prospects for Giancarlo and it would still be a good deal. Move him to first and hope that fixes his health and not only will the 2014 Nats be better but they will have their first baseman for the next ten seasons.
Adam LaRoche should not be seen as an issue with the 2014 Nats, but it is also a position that can be upgraded. There are options out there and the best of them might be the most conservative in signing Morneau, trading LaRoche for draft picks, and getting to keep the first round pick. That puts players in the farm system and doesn’t cause a drop-off at first base with the potential for even better production should Morneau once again find his MVP form. The other idea that could work is trading for Giancarlo Stanton and moving him to first. It isn’t often that a hitter of that caliber is moved and acquiring him would help the offense of any team, and hopefully by moving him to first his knees would be able to hold up for an entire season. Stanton still has room to grow as a player, but that is what makes him so scary. At 23 he is one of the biggest power threats in baseball and is still a couple seasons from entering his prime. There are options out there should the Nats want to move on from Adam LaRoche, but before trading him they should first find his replacement or Nats fans should get ready to see a lot of Tyler Moore swinging at breaking balls in the opposite batter’s box.
/* Style Definitions */
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”;