The last we heard about the negotiations with Adam LaRoche, the Washington Nationals were either hoping to get a deal done by the end of last week as ESPN.com's Jayson Stark's sources said, or before Christmas, as Washington Post reporter Adam Kilgore's sources told him. FOXSports.com's Jon Morosi said he heard the Nats remained confident that they would get a deal done. MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote last week that the Nationals' Asst. GM Bryan Minniti told reporters as the Winter Meetings wound down that he was, "... optimistic that LaRoche will remain a member of the Nationals," though he repeated what Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said has said often.
"'We obviously would love to have him,'" Mr. Minniti said, but, "'If things don't work out, we have capable options. We'll see how it plays out. You never know.'" The one thing that hasn't changed since the negotiations started is that the Nats have steadfastly refused to go beyond two years to bring the 33-year-old back to the nation's capital.
When the Nationals' General Manager was asked during this past Friday's teleconference if there was any update on the negotiations, Rizzo said simply, "It's been quiet since the end of the Winter Meetings." The Nationals don't need to rush into anything, of course, as Rizzo has explained, since they have Michael Morse under contract for 2013, have Tyler Moore as a backup option at first and believe they have a potential future first baseman in 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Matt Skole.
Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell noted in a chat this morning, in discussing whether or not the Orioles might be interested in meeting the free agent's demands for a three-year deal, that the comparables for LaRoche at this point in his career argue against giving him the contract he's reportedly after this winter. "'Look at LaRoche's 10 'most comparable' players at age 33," the WaPost reporter wrote, "Plenty were useful at 33. But, of the 10, only Joe Adcock was good enough at 33-34-35 to be worth the kind of 3-yr deal LaRoche would want in [Baltimore]."
Checking Baseball-reference.com's list of comparables for LaRoche, among the first baseman, Tony Clark had what was arguably the best season of his career as a 33-year-old in 2005 with a .304/.366/.636, 22 double, 30 HR, +3.3 fWAR season before his production declined sharply over the next four seasons and his career ended. Joe Adcock, who played from 1950-1966 with the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Braves, Cleveland Indians and LA/California Angels, put up a .298/.354/.500 line with 21 doubles and 25 HRs as a 32-year-old in a +4.4 fWAR 1960 season, then put together a .285/.354/.507, 20 double, 35 HR, +4.1 fWAR campaign as a 33-year-old in 1961. In 1962, at 34, Adcock posted a .248/.333/.506 line with 12 doubles and 29 HRs in a +2.6 fWAR season.
New York Yankees' first baseman Bill Skowron had a .294/.346/.496 line with a 162-game average of 26 doubles and 25 HRs over the first nine seasons of his career (1954-'62) then bounced back from a .203/.252/.287, eight double, four home run, -1.0 fWAR 1963 season (his first in the NL) with a .282/.322/.482 '64 season in which he hit 21 doubles and 17 HRs and finished at +3.1 fWAR as a 33-year-old. Skowron had a .274/.316/.424 line with 24 doubles and 18 HRs as a 34-year-old in a +3.2 fWAR 1965 season, but was out of the game after two more subpar seasons in the majors.
J.T. Snow had a .284/.365/.459, 33 double, 19 HR, +1.5 fWAR season as a 32-year-old in 2000, then had a .246/.371/.379, 12 double, eight home run, +0.8 fWAR season as a 33-year-old in '01 and a .246/.344/.360, 26 double, six home run, -0.8 fWAR campaign as a 34-year-old in 2002 before bouncing back with three strong seasons from '03-'05 before his career petered out. Dick "Dr. Strangleove" Stewart followed up on a .279/.320/.491, 27 double, 33 HR, +2.4 fWAR 1964 season as a 31-year-old in Boston with a .234/.287/.429, 19 double, 28 HR, +0.9 fWAR '65 campaign at 32-years-old in his last full major league season and a .242/.325/.365, one double, seven home run, +0.6 fWAR '66 season.
Bill James' projections for LaRoche have the 33-year-old putting up a .256/.334/.471 line with 34 doubles and 26 HRs in 2013 after his big .271/.343/.510, 35 double, 33 HR, +3.8 fWAR 2012 season in D.C. After a breakout .303/.360/.550, 36 double, 31 HR, +3.3 fWAR season in 2011 and a .291/.321/.470, 17 double, 18 HR, +0.3 fWAR year in an injury-shortened 2012 campaign, Mr. James' projections say Michael Morse has a .295/.342/.501, 29 double, 23 HR season ahead in 2013. "Morse is consistently underrated as a hitter," the WaPost's Mr. Boswell wrote elsewhere in today's chat, "In 1246 at bats as a Nat his slash line is .294/.343/.514 or an .857 OPS. That can bat cleanup, or certainly fifth, in almost any lineup. The guy is a Beast."
"Morse should consider it a compliment that the Nats are so comfortable with him as their 1st baseman that they aren't moving off two years for LaRoche," Mr. Boswell writes. If they do sign LaRoche, however, most people following the situation, and several unnamed sources who have commented on the matter see Morse getting dealt. "When I 'grill' the stats," the WaPost reporter writes, "it says Morse will have a big year in '13 and LaRoche may not. But most baseball people certainly think the Nats look like a better more complete team with LaRoche at 1st."
How much importance do the Nationals place on LaRoche's defense? How comfortable are they that Morse can stay healthy for a full season? How comfortable are they with Tyler Moore backing up at first if LaRoche leaves and Morse gets injured? The Nats get a compensatory draft pick for LaRoche since they made a qualifying offer to him before he hit free agency. The Nats still have one big decision to make and then potentially a trade to work out depending on which way they go. The Hot Stove season isn't over just yet.