At some point this fall, the Washington Nationals -- and Adam LaRoche -- will need to reveal their intentions for the mutual option on the first baseman's contract for the 2013 season.
As you may recall, the Nats signed LaRoche to a two-year, approximately $16 million contract in January 2011. His 2011 season was cut short by surgery for a torn labrum, resulting in a disappointing campaign in which he hit .172 with three home runs and 15 RBIs in 43 games. He was never really able to drive the ball, though he was flawless defensively: 412 chances without a misplay.
Because the ballclub was unsure what it would be getting from LaRoche in 2012, it pursued free agent first baseman Prince Fielder. In the end, Prince chose the Tigers over the Nats, and LaRoche stuck around.
To borrow an old expression, sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make. Entering Saturday, LaRoche had hit 29 home runs and driven in 92 runs. Fielder had 25 homers and 95 RBIs, so offensively it's a wash. Defensively, it looks like a draw as well at first glance. Prince has made eight errors in 135 games for a fielding percentage of .993, while Adam has six errors in 130 games for a .995 FA. What those numbers don't reveal is the number of throwing errors by the rest of the infield that have been negated by LaRoche's skill in picking bad throws out of the dirt. For a huge man, Fielder is pretty adept around the bag, but he's not LaRoche.
Have you noticed how well LaRoche hits lefties? Entering Friday, he was at .297 with 11 homers and 28 RBIs against left-handed pitchers. In fact, he has hit southpaws about as well as he has hit right-handers over the course of his career. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that one big reason for that has to be his dad.
Dave LaRoche enjoyed a successful career as a left-handed reliever in the American League from 1970 to 1983. He could make the ball sink and dive and was effective against left-handed hitters. Adam was born toward the end of Dave's career, but it's a safe bet that as a youngster Adam took a lot of batting practice against his dad, who probably still can make the ball move when he throws it.
Because it's a mutual option for $10 million, both sides have to agree to exercise it. LaRoche -- and his agent -- could opt to re-enter free agency, figuring that a season that will feature 30-plus bombs and 100 RBIs will snag a bigger multiyear deal elsewhere. The Nats could decide to hand the job over to the promising Tyler Moore or move Michael Morse back in from the outfield. It's a tough call either way.
Adam LaRoche has proved to be a valuable commodity and arguably the most valuable position player the Nats have had in this magical season. It's a decision with major ramifications for 2013 and beyond.
Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.