Boswell: What to do about Adam LaRoche is No. 1 off-season issue facing Nationals

(Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Columnist Tom Boswell was asked about Adam LaRoche in his on-line chat with readers today. He examined the issues confronting the team as it decides whether to re-sign him. (Typos and shorthand courtesy of Boz.) Tom fielded a number of other Nats-related questions in his chat as well. To read the full chat, click here

 Question: Isn’t keeping LaRoche a no-brainer? He was our best hitter this year, bailed out Zimm more often than I’d like to think about, and said he wants to come back. There’s no better FA out there. Moving Morse/Moore to 1B would be a big hit defensively and would remove a LHB from the lineup. I understand that there might be an infield logjam in a few years, but (a) that’s a nice problem to have and (b) we’re built to win in 2013. Any thoughts as to how this will play out? This seems like the Nats’ most pressing hot stove league issue (with Edwin Jackson close behind).

Boswell: This is the Nats biggest issue, by far. Bigger than any free agent signing. This is a generally weak free agent class, imo. Those who are good have some serious injury, age or makeup issues. Aside from Josh Hamilton, LaRoche is the best LHed power bat. He sure picked the best possible year to be slightly above his previous best — but not out of line with his career norms. Per 162 games, LaRoche has averaged 27 homers and 93 RBI for his career. But nobody except Cal Jr actually plays 162 every year. So, it’s lower. But LaRoche hit .271 with an .853 OPS this year and his career numbers are .268 and .820.

This is really a tough call. He and the Nats really like each other. His defense helps everybody. His LHed bat gives balance to a lineup that needs it. OTOH, a lot of the Nats RH hitters don’t have much trouble hitting RHed pitching. So the “lefty power bat” angle isn’t as big as it seems. But it’s big to Davey. Lots of rival teams said the Nats were tough because of their L-R balance in both pitching and hitting.

The Nats have exclusive negotiating rights with him until 5 days after the World Series. That’s the time frame in which they really need to try to get this done if they seriously want him. Once you’re “free” and in demand, few players end up coming back to their old teams. Yes, you can spend the LaRoche Money in some other way. But he certainly is a good fit, probably for at least two years. His best “comparisons” are to LH hitters with similar numbers at 32 who aged well, like Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez. But there are a lot that didn’t age well or still hit when they were healthy, but didn’t stay healthy.

The only LH power bat in the farm system is Matt Skole (3rd baseman) — minor league Nat player of year. But that requires a LOT of extrapolating.

OTOH, there are a ton of pretty good free agent pitchers who could add length to Strasburg, Z’mann, Gio, Detwiler. A few (in no order): Peavy, Dempster, Greinke, Lohse, Marcum, Saunders, Ervin Santana, EJackson, Correia, Harden, Kuroda, McCarthy. And a dozen more. Peavy will get mentioned with the Nats. I kind of like Dempster as a fit. Doubt thyey’ll go hard after Greinke. We’ll see. Way too early to know.

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