On Tuesday, the Washington Nationals announced they’ve agreed to terms with their free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche. LaRoche’s new contract is two years guaranteed, netting him $10M in year one, $13M in year two, with a team option for year three, or a $2M buyout.
As was previously reported on eDraft, LaRoche, 33, was leveraging his uncharacteristically strong 2012 season to secure a guaranteed three-year contract. Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo, smartly aware that LaRoche, was tied to draft pick compensation for any other team that’d sign him, had an out of character 2012 season, and that the Nationals had a 2013 first base backup plan, didn’t budge beyond a two year contract offer.
Coming into 2012, LaRoche was considered a known quantity, with eight full seasons behind him. He was reliably expected to produce 20 HRs and a 1.5-2.2 WAR over a full season. Blowing away all predictions, LaRoche’s 2012 was a career year, as he finished with 33 HRs, 100 RBIs, 3.8 WAR and an OBP over .853.
Rizzo was clearly wary of paying LaRoche at a level commensurate with his 2012 season. The new deal pays LaRoche as a 2.0 WAR player, which is in line with his career averages. If he produces closer to his 2012 production, the Nationals have landed themselves a bargain for the key first base position.
LaRoche’s resigning has broader implications for what is already a stacked Nationals club. Rizzo’s earlier offseason trade for outfielder Denard Span was to relegate power hitting Michael Morse to first base. However, with LaRoche’s return and Morse’s $7M 2013 salary, Rizzo can address a ripe trade market that is desperate for a young, cost-controlled power hitter capable of playing right field or first base. Expect to see Rizzo flip Morse to the highest bidder; he’ll likely be seeking a reliever to supplement his bullpen, and/or prospects that can restock his system after his trade acquisitions of Span and ace Gio Gonzalez.