When the Washington Nationals signed Adam LaRoche to a 2-year/$16M in January of 2011, bringing the veteran infielder in to replace Adam Dunn, who'd left as a free agent, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said the selling point for both sluggers was their consistent production. "I think you're talking about two of the most consistent players that there are," Rizzo told reporters.
"You can look at their numbers consistently and you can more or less draw a conclusion of what [LaRoche] is going to bring offensively to the table," Rizzo said. "Defensively, he's going to bring run prevention and I think that's going to help balance our club much more."
A torn labrum in his left shoulder limited the then-31-year-old first baseman to 43 games and 177 plate appearances in his first season in D.C., however, over which he had a .172/.288/.258 line, four doubles and three home runs. He finished at -0.3 fWAR. Surgery to repair the damage ended the first year of his two-year deal in May of 2011.
LaRoche earned a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 2012 though, posting a .271/.343/.510 line with 35 doubles and a career-high 33 HRs in 647 PAs and 154 games over which he was worth a career-best +3.4 fWAR. The veteran first baseman returned to the postseason for the first time since his Atlanta days and went 3 for 17 with 2 HRs in five games before the Nationals were eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals.
LaRoche declined his option for 2013 and became a free agent, but after testing the market in search of a multi-year deal, he and the Nationals agreed on another two-year contract, this one worth $24M.
"Adam was a huge part of our success last year," Rizzo told reporters after the deal was announced. "He does a lot of things for us. He balances our lineup. He's a middle of the lineup bat. He's a run producer. He's a terrific defensive player, and beyond that he's a great clubhouse presence and a quiet leader that's very, very well-respected in the clubhouse."
Once again though, the first year of LaRoche's second two-year deal with the Nats was a disappointment. In 152 games and 590 PAs in 2013, the 33-year-old first baseman was worth +0.6 fWAR.
In his third year in the nation's capital, LaRoche had a .237/.332/.403 line, 19 doubles and 20 HRs. Davey Johnson, who last winter openly lobbied for LaRoche's return, told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Sports Junkies late this season that he had no explanation for the infielder's issues.
"It's just one of those years," Johnson said. "You don't expect it. He's put the numbers up many times in the past. But... it's tough."
A career .244/.300/.430 hitter against lefties, LaRoche had a .268/.319/.506 line vs LHPs in 2012, but a .198/.254/.313 line this season. Rizzo said he saw the 2013 campaign as an anomaly. LaRoche's .136/.213/.259 April was followed by a .330/.416/.608 May, a .287/.370/.437 June, .159/.227/.284 July, .233/.337/.400 August and finally a .265/.414/.397 September.
"'I think this year was an anomaly for him. He showed streaks of being the Adam LaRoche that we all know,'" the Nats' GM explained to reporters including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman.
LaRoche's well-documented issues with ADD medication and weight loss played a part as well, but Rizzo said he thought the infielder would be ready for the second year of his two-year deal. "'I’m confident he’ll come back to spring training next year fit, healthy and ready to produce, as he always has.'"
Are the Nationals confident that Tyler Moore can platoon at first if LaRoche's issues against lefties continue? Moore, 26, split his 2012 campaign between Triple-A Syracuse and the majors. In 63 games and 178 PAs with the Nats, the 1B/OF had a .222/.260/.347 line with nine doubles and four home runs. He had a .189/.238/.270 line against lefties in the major leagues. With the Nationals' top affiliate, Moore had a .318/.395/.584 line with 14 doubles and 10 HRs in 45 games and 200 PAs, and a .366/.451/.707 line against LHPs.
Will the new Nationals' manager have as long a leash with LaRoche as Davey Johnson did? Did Johnson stick with LaRoche too long? What options did he have? If Tyler Moore had produced early this season, if Matt Skole had stayed healthy and continued to hit or Chris Marrero had torn up Triple-A or impressed when he did come up, would one of them have forced the Nationals' manager's hand? Can Adam LaRoche find the form that he had in 2012 again in 2014?
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