Nationals Land LaRoche

Steve O Speak

After months of worrying about who will man 1B, with Adam Dunn’s departure the Nationals finally have their man. While rumors of LaRoche signing in D.C. have persisted since Dunn left for Chicago, it is nice that it is finally done. While the Nationals have some internal options for 1B, such as Mike Morse, none were really sound choices. At the same time the free agent market of first base options had dried up meaning if LaRoche signed elsewhere, the Nationals would be hurting.

First let me say I’m a big fan of this deal, and believe that LaRoche can be a solid addition to the Nationals lineup, but I do want to temper expectations, in saying that LaRoche is at best an above average first baseman. LaRoche isn’t going to suddenly make the Nationals World Series contenders, or represent the team in the Mid-Summer Classic. What he will do is give them consistent production from the position for the two or three years. His deal which pays him $7 million this year, $8 million in 2012, and $10 million or a $1 million buyout in 2013, is a pretty fair market price.

The Nationals were wise here to sign LaRoche and ignore the Prince Fielder free agent market next offseason. Fielder might be a far superior hitter and even a better all-around player, but he will cost 3x the amount and require at least a 7 year commitment. That kind of cost doesn’t make sense when the Nationals just got rid of a similar power hitting first baseman, Adam Dunn. The Nationals would be better suited in using that money over a number of positions (for instance the rotation).

The Nationals took a bold move here and proclaimed their focus is on defense. While fans might be disappointed in LaRoche’s offensive output compared to Dunn, they should be quite happy with his defense. Last year both Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond had a high number of errors (Desmond’s were REALLY high), and part of the reason is Dunn had trouble handling marginal throws. LaRoche will turn a number of those errors into outs and the Nationals will be better for it. Sure they will miss Dunn’s bat, but this is a faster, and better defensive team now. Essentially the Nationals have traded Dunn and Willingham for LaRoche and Werth. While offensively that is a negative, defensively it should be a major positive. Now if the Nationals can see Derek Norris (who still could be a trade candidate) and Bryce Harper join the team in 2012, they could have a very impressive lineup.

LaRoche isn’t a true long-term solution, but he buys the Nats time to develop a frontline first baseman (or to trade for one). The move could also free up the Nationals to trade Chris Marrero, if he continues to improve, to an A.L. team where he profiles better as a DH. All in all, the Nationals made the right move here, considering their options on the table. LaRoche, maybe isn’t the key to winning championships, but he should help take them out of the cellar.

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