Adam LaRoche, eh? Let’s take a look.
Days after signing their first free agent of the 2014-2015 MLB offseason, your Chicago White Sox went out and made a fairly big splash in free agency.
For the second time in four years, the south siders have signed a veteran lefty power bat away from the Washington Nationals to come to the American League and serve as the good guys’ designated hitter. This time it’s Orange County-native Adam LaRoche, who’s on his way to Chicago to replace the failed signing that was Adam Dunn.
Tip o’ the cap to USA Today Sports’ Bob Nightengale for the scoop.
Yes, LaRoche is 35 years old (actually 3 days older than Dunn), and yes, he’s now coming to the AL for the first time in his 11-year career. Sure, those could be red flags, but I’ll leave the talent scouting to the professionals. So, when analyzing this deal, all us fans can do is look at the numbers, starting with the contract.
Considering the absurd deals that are now being tossed around throughout the MLB, committing 2 years and $25MM to LaRoche seems doable. A short term deal like this can only turn out so bad even though he will be bringing home eight figures each season. The fact of the matter is this: LaRoche’s track record suggests he is going to go a long way in covering up an area in which the White Sox organization is lacking: production at the plate from the left side.
Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia are certainly nice pieces to build the middle of your lineup around, but a patient lefty cleanup hitter has obviously been the missing piece. Jose and Avi aren’t consistently going to see tons of pitches and draw walks … that’s just the type of hitters they are. LaRoche will slow things down, draw his walks, and he too packs some punch.
Since an injury-plagued 2011 got things started off poorly for LaRoche in Washington, he was able to turn things around for the Nationals by averaging 26.33 HR and 84.67 RBI over the past 3 seasons. Most recently, LaRoche did all the right things throughout the 2014 campaign, slashing .259/.362/.455 with 19 doubles, 26 long balls and 92 RBI over 140 games.
Despite only playing in 140 games, he set career high’s in walks (84) and, in turn, OBP (.362). You have to figure that’s a large reason why Sox’ GM Rick Hahn and company were drawn to him. Not to mention, he only struck out 18.4% of his plate appearances, his lowest rate since 2005.
Production can be tough to sustain for a player getting into his late-30’s, but the fact that LaRoche is still growing as a hitter who’s simply taking what pitchers are giving to him, drawing his walks and putting the bat on the ball, all while still providing rock-solid power numbers, suggests that he has not yet reached the end.
He will not only help out Abreu by providing protection in the order, but also in the field. LaRoche is a solid first baseman defensively, and therefore will be able to lighten the workload for Abreu and his bad ankles. That could go a long way in helping Jose be on top of his game come August and September.
If all that doesn’t sell you, there are two more factors I’ll mention. First, U.S. Cellular Field.
If LaRoche has been good for 26+ homers playing 81 games in Nationals Park, notoriously a pitchers’ park, he may actually present some legitimate upside playing his home games at the hitter-friendly USCF. I wouldn’t go counting on 30 round trippers, but hey, I think it’s totally fair to expect 24-26 despite him turning 35 earlier this November.
And finally, as the Sox are mostly a young team, the veteran leadership LaRoche should bring to the clubhouse cannot be overlooked. If the team is able to contend even a little bit, many of the team’s players will be entering new territory, and you never know how guys are going to respond once facing some real pressure. LaRoche has been there before, and I can only imagine Hahn and manager Robin Ventura are gong to ask him to be a leader day-in and day-out.
I understand if the “oh, but LaRoche has been so solid for so many years” argument scares you. It’s that argument that blew up in the Sox’ face with recent signings like Dunn, Jeff Keppinger, and Scott Downs. But every free agent signing is a gamble to some extent, and all of the numbers suggest that LaRoche is a good bet to fill an organizational hole and help get the White Sox competitive in the near future.
Photo Credit: Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports