Adam LaRoche did not have a good season. In fact, when we looked at where he ranked among NL 1Bs, it was below average in AVG, OBP, SLG and OPS. While he might not have been replaceable by any old minor leaguer out there, his .237/.332/.403 line was really only saved by his ability to take a walk.
His WAR, according to fangraphs, was 0.6. That ranked him 12th among NL first basemen, which might be even worse than it seems. WAR is a cumulative stat, and when guys like Satin, Adams, and Sanchez outpace him with half as many PAs, that’s a indicator of some poor performance.
Adam will turn 34 next year, and if we think back to pre-90s baseball, which appears to once again be the paradigm, that is a pretty old position player. Sure, the Hall of Fame/All Star caliber guys often make it longer, but declines do happen, they tend to happen in the early-30s, and by the mid-30s guys are in it. The Nats might look at LaRoche, see a guy who is just too far down the aging curve, and want to move him.
Whether they can find someone to take him is another argument, but let’s just pretend that’s easy enough. Who would they be able to get to replace him? Here are a few players that might be available, and might actually fit the bill.
[button url=’#’ size=’small’ style=’blue’] Free Agents [/button]
Mike Napoli – Napoli’s completely moved off the dish this year with Boston, and it’s served him well. He’s a good defensive 1B (9.7 UZR this year, 7.0 career at the position) who has hit like an actual first basemen this season. While Fenway tends to do nice things to people’s numbers, his .259/.360/.482 is actually lifted by his .888 OPS away from home, as opposed to the .817 at home. He is a righty, and while the Nats would be left with only one lefty in the middle of their lineup, that probably isn’t as much of a concern as getting someone who can just plain hit. On the downside, he is turning 32, and his success in the postseason could drive his price up. Not being a superstar, he may be able to be had for short term, even if the AAV is high right now. He also has a ton of strikeouts, and doesn’t hit for average, which could drive fans crazy. But his ability to get on base would be a nice complement to some of the streaky hitters on the Nats who would have higher batting averages but bigger slumps. Age and price are the biggest issues here.
Kendrys Morales – Morales hit .306/.355/.569 in 2009 with the Angels. Since then he’s been a “disappointment”, with a measly .793 OPS in two pitcher’s parks. He doesn’t walk a ton, but he’s got power (23 HRs this year was the second most of any Mariner), although of course in order to confuse us his line was almost identical home or away. Well, except for his lower power… away from Safeco. Defensively, he’s been pretty good, even though he DH’d most of this year, with a career UZR of 17.1 at first, and his worst year (this year, in only 274 1/3 innings) is a -1.2, which is just barely below average. He’ll be 31 next year, and he can still play first, but the qualifying offer that the Mariners are likely to give him is probably quite a turn off.
Justin Morneau – It is a sad story, that since he had a 1.055 OPS in 2010, Morneau has only a .726 OPS, due in a large part to concussion issues. He hasn’t looked great with his new team, Pittsburgh, and it’s hard to know whether he will ever hit as even an average 1B any more. He’s certainly got some history as a superstar player, but the more recent history will probably scare some teams away. He’s also a lefty who can still rake against RHP but has shown little or no ability to hit LHP, much like the Nats current 1B. The fact that he might be a bit better vs RHP than LaRoche probably doesn’t earn him much of a look from the Nats.
James Loney – Another low-powered 1B with an ability to take a walk, Loney has a great year with TB, hitting .299/.348/.430. But that was on the back of a great first half, dragged down by his .700 OPS in the second half. If you think the first half was the real Loney, he’s be a good signing, considering his ability to play very good defense on top of the hitting. But he hasn’t hit well other than that in quite a while, so that would be a hard thought to have. Now, if you think he is better because Dodgers Stadium, a bad hitters park, got in his head, you might have a case. You could point to his .700 career OPS at home and his .819 OPS away – yeah, that’s right, he’s a .302/.354/.465 hitter away from home – and make your case. It would be a very risky signing, just to move a guy who can also play defense and take a few walks, but, well, you never know.
Mike Morse – His bad D and poor season with Seattle and Baltimore (.215/.270/.381) probably eliminate him anyway. But even without that, I’m not sure if the Nats would look to re-sign him, in that it would look a bit like an admission of poor lineup construction in 2013, or at least a large mistake, rather than just a “thems the breaks” shrug and let’s go at it again in 2014.
Corey Hart – Hart might be one of the more underrated players in the game, playing behind Fielder and Braun in the Brewers best seasons can do that to a guy. But he’s slugged over .500 each of his last three seasons, and has an OPS of .857 over that time. He has a pretty good eye but also hits for a decent enough average, with a career mark of .276. Hart played most of last season at first base, his first year with any significant time there. It was definitely an adjustment, with an UZR of -6.5, but some of that may be owed to the transition itself. The real problem with Hart is that those stats are not including 2013, in which he had none. He was out all year with surgery on both of his knees, and we just don’t know what he’ll have left. If he can continue to hit the way he has, he’d be a great addition to almost any team, but who knows what he’s got left. He might have to show something first, but it’s hard to imagine him being had on the cheap, and turning a not-too-old 32 next year with 87 HRs in his last 3 seasons. In terms of a “risky” target, I really like Hart, and not just for all the sunglasses at night jokes.
Carlos Beltran – Since we talked about Hart, a semi-converted outfielder, Beltran hasn’t ever actually played first base. But he’s also going to be 37 years old next season, and 1B is the best place for the semi-ambulatory. He also made $13M a year for the last two years, and earn it in spades. He’s hit .282/.343/.493 in his two years with St. Louis, slightly better last year than this. He hasn’t appeared to slow down too much in the last few years, and appears to be ready to keep playing. He may miss a few games thanks to his age, but it doesn’t look like he’s ready to stop hitting like an All Star just yet. Probably not cheap, but I have doubts that he’d cost them a pick, so he will certainly garner interest, and at his age, the deal won’t be very long term. Alternatively, at his age, even a 1 year deal could end up being too long term.
[button url=’#’ size=’small’ style=’blue’] Trade Targets [/button]
Matt Adams – With David Freese still under control for a couple of more seasons, and Allen Craig under contract until the end of 2017, Matt Adams ends up being a really nice insurance policy for the Cardinals. By buddy Mike pointed me towards this guy and I really like him as a target, due to the Cards other players. That’s usually trade bait, but the problem with anyone who wants him is that policy was cashed in this postseason, as Craig is hurt. Adams is only 24 right now, and in 319 PAs this year he hit .284/.335/.503. The power looks real, and he isn’t an all or nothing type power hitter, he can hit for some average. He isn’t going to be a particularly good fielder, but his bat might carry him to be a very good player anyway. He won’t come cheap because he really can hit, but since he’s probably not really an All Star, either, he could be had for the right price. And the better his postseason, the higher that price will probably go.
Victor Martinez – Not that his name is out there, or that the Tigers need help in any position that they’d want to trade him, but I’m trying to come up with some possibilities here. And Detroit has three first basemen in their lineup, they just happen to be playing 3B, 1B and DH. At some point, one of them might be asked to leave, and at 34, with the most flexible contract, Martinez could be the one. His contract expires at the end of 2014, so if the Nats are looking for a one year solution, he could be of interest. After sitting out all of 2012, he recovering nicely in 2013, hitting .301/.355/.430 – a little lighter on power than in the past but really strong in the other two. He played first only a bit this year, but he was healthy enough to start at catcher three times this year, none of them in emergency situations, so he might be feeling pretty mobile. He’d bring a veteran presence with a good amount of postseason experience, but more importantly he’d bring a career .369 OBP with 15-20 HR power.
Michael Cuddyer – This was probably more likely last season, before he, you know, won the National League batting title this year. And with Helton retiring, and his relative bargain price of $10.5 M next year, Cuddyer would be pretty valuable to Rockies next season right where he is. But the Rockies also finished last in the NL West this year, and could see flipping Cuddyer as more valuable than keeping him. If so, whoever gets him probably won’t get a repeat performance – his average this year was the highest of his career… by 47 points. His career line of .277/.345/.462 is probably not an unrealistic expectation, tough, and he can play in the OF or at 1B, and can hit enough in either one. His HR power has diminished a bit over time, even in this great season in Colorado he only hit 20, so expecting that many would probably be folly. A .340+ OBP with doubles and the 15+ HR potential is plenty, though.
Daric Barton – The price is what’s appealing about Barton, because at 28 years old with a career.250/.360/.372 line, he doesn’t look like a future star. But that .360 OBP is eyebrow-raising, and perhaps with a change of scenery that power will improve a bit. He has hit better away from Oakland, but still only slugged .390 in his career as a visitor. His arbitration-eligibility ends after 2014, so the A’s may be interested in getting rid of him. The problem, of course, is that he doesn’t really look like a full time starting 1B. Even with that glittering OBP, he just hasn’t yet shown any real power, he’s just really patient. He may be better than LaRoche at this point, thanks to the OBP, but it probably won’t LOOK that way to fans, and the cost of obtaining him, and getting rid of LaRoche, probably makes a move distasteful anyway.
Joe Mauer – Ok, yeah, he’s a superstar. And ok, yeah, he’ll take alot. Like, top prospects and maybe a quality major leaguer that you don’t want to lose, alot. And no, it aint gonna happen. But as occasional Nats Review photographer Brian said ” it’s tough to have a 1B who hits 15 HRs a year when you have no other power threat.” This is both disappointing – it shouldn’t matter that he only hit 11 HRs this year, he hit .324/.404/.476 – and totally 100% true – fans and front office folks alike look for power out of first. But he’s a spectacular hitter at any position, his career so far is on a Hall of Fame track, and his lack of HRs shouldn’t be a negative. He is, however, owed $23 M a year until 2018 and is the favorite son of St Paul, MN – you know, the Twins other twin city. The Nats would have to trade a significant amount of minor league talent, and have to pony up $115 M, to put a guy at 1B who isn’t going to be the best 1B in the league. He is certainly more valuable at C, but at 31 next year, those days will eventually have to be behind him. If people think that is now, the Twins could make a case to their fans that he’s worth trading away, and the Nats lineup, heck every lineup, would improve with a career .328 hitter / .405 OBP guy joining.
There are more potential free agents and trade targets out there, and before you start yelling about the guys I’ve missed, I’ll mention at least some of those guys in the next piece when we talk about replacing LaRoche with LaRoche… and someone else.