Adam LaRoche is one of the Buc's more enigmatic figures. Laid back to the point that fans think he sometimes just doesn't care, but red-blooded enough to be the face man for a hunting organization.
In a team starved for production, he cranks out 25 homers and 85-90 RBI like clockwork, but spends much of the time batting sixth.
He's 29, so LaRoche is certainly young enough to be a key piece of the Pirates moving into the future. But many feel his dismal performance during the opening weeks of the season is one of the major reasons the Bucs are traditionally behind the eight ball by Memorial Day.
What to do with Adam LaRoche?
The Pirates are apparently unsure themselves, having broken off talks that began last year to ink him to a long-term deal and instead signing him to one year pacts worth $5M and $7.05M. This is it for arbitration, so 2009 is the last year he's under team control.
GW doesn't have a clue what figures LaRoche and the Pirates exchanged. But he does know this - there aren't very many first basemen running around in baseball today that can replace him, and certainly none in the Pittsburgh system (see the post below).
After a little checking, the closest comparable player we could find to LaRoche was the Yankee's Nick Swisher. He's 28, LH, and his 2006-08 batting stats are 1592 at-bats, .246/81/242.
Over the same period, LaRoche, 29, has been up 1547 times, and compiled a line of .275/78/263. Swisher makes $5.3M this year, part of a deal he signed in 2006 while with the Oakland A's.; LaRoche $7.05M. Both are considered above average glovemen.
From 2010-2012, Swisher will make $6.75M, $9M, and $10.25M (club option) for $26M. The Yankees have him on the market, and it's said to be pretty hot for his services, much hotter than the response to Xavier Nady, in fact.
LaRoche has the advantage of 2010 being his walk year when he can finally dive into the free agent market and test the waters. There are a couple of scenarios possible.
One is that the dearth of 1B leads him to the promised land of a sweet contract. LaRoche would be the top first sacker out; Nick Johnson is the next closest thing to a big name coming out to compete with him. Yah, it's that thin next year, although there could be a couple of options not picked up or non-tendered arb guys available, too.
Second would be that the economy continues to floor, and Obama and Congress for some reason decide not to bail out baseball. LaRoche could be treading water, looking for a deal that never materializes, falling into the category of a solid but not difference-making player.
The Pirates, too, are taking a roll of the dice. There is no one to replace him, and the market is bone dry in 2010. They can hope that the second scenario is the one that happens and he comes back home, but if LaRoche defies history and comes out hitting the ball in April, there will be virtually no chance to get him back in the fold.
And his status as a free agent after the season really puts a cap on what value the team can get in return for him if they decide to move him at the deadline.
The Pirates have said many times that they don't negotiate during the season. If that's the case, they don't have the luxury of seeing if LaRoche is past his April no-show. They have a span of a few weeks to hammer out a deal or in all likelihood lose him.
We say offer him three years at $30M - $8.5M in 2010, $10M in 2011, and $11.5M in 2012, with incentives for 30 HR and 100 RBI, plus the usual All-Star, Golden Glove, etc. honors. Hey, we could also live with a bit of an overpay if that's what it takes, considering both the upcoming market and the Pirates' depth.
Three years gives the Bucs a chance to groom someone, and lets LaRoche hit the market again at age 33, not very long in the tooth for a first sacker.
That's fair to us, although we have no idea what he's asked for; maybe Adam would think we're low-balling him, or the suits think we're throwing money away. C'est la vie.
But that's his value as we see it, and the team needs another contract out of him to compete in the coming seasons. We hope they do sign him, April follies or not.
Then we'll be convinced that they do intend to be a MLB contender by 2011 or 2012. He's a piece they can't replace in the near future.