|CHICAGO WHITE SOX|
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Signed 1B/DH Adam LaRoche to a two-year deal worth $25 million. [11/21]
White Sox fans might get a bit queasy thinking about their team adding a left-handed first baseman named Adam who most recently played for the Nationals. But while Msrs. LaRoche and Dunn have their similarities, the latter’s struggles in Chicago don’t portend LaRoche’s future at The Cell. LaRoche doesn’t bring nearly the pop that Dunn did when he joined the South Siders in 2011, but he’s coming at a fraction of the cost. The money is hardly eye-popping and the short-term nature of the deal shouldn’t keep the Sox—who need to continue to upgrade their team in other areas this offseason—from making more moves now or in offseasons to come.
LaRoche has seen his walk rate jump each of the past three seasons, peaking at 14 percent last summer—nearly twice what it was in his fine 2010 season with the Diamondbacks. Outside of a disastrous 2011, in which LaRoche played just 43 games and posted a slash line of .172/.288/.258, he has been remarkably consistent with the bat. In the past deacde, the lefty has slugged at least 20 home runs nine times and posted an OPS+ below 100 just the once. His strikeout rate peaked at 28 percent in 2010, but has largely hovered around league average since. At 35, LaRoche is bound to see his numbers start to trend down, but he brings a patient approach and much-needed lefty pop to a righty-heavy White Sox lineup that lost Dunn—who despite all his warts, still hit 106 home runs in his nearly four seasons with the club.
But how will LaRoche handle the transition to designated hitter, something that Dunn struggled with when he arrived in the American League and that MGL has shown is a bit of an issue in general? Or perhaps the better question is: Will LaRoche transition to designated hitter at all? Jose Abreu led all AL first basemen in WARP and would like to stay at the cold corner, but he battled ankle issues last season and could certainly use a break at times. According to Dan Hayes of CSNChicago, Hahn had this to say at the GM Meetings earlier this month:
We want to get Jose off his feet on a fairly regular basis. We were real pleased with how he did defensively at first, but I think for his long-term endurance and performance, spending a little time in the DH spot makes some sense.
It’ll be interesting to see how much, if at all, Abreu resists more time at DH, but it’s clear that no matter what Hahn might say, LaRoche would be an upgrade with the glove. If advanced defensive stats are your thing, LaRoche edged Abreu by four runs in FRAA, 11 according to Baseball-Reference. UZR rated them both below average (Abreu had the slight edge) and LaRoche received a sprinkle of votes in the Fielding Bible balloting—Abreu didn’t. These are all one-year samples, but that’s all we have from Abreu. LaRoche also has a Gold Glove to his name, but that’s just about as useful as judging this solely off the aforementioned single-year defensive statistics.
According to our very early, top-secret, not-final PECOTA projections, LaRoche would gain about a third of his overall value from his glove. Which, well, that’s a lot for a first baseman. It’s probably fair to say that advanced defensive statistics have struggled to really pin down the value of first basemen, so to go solely off any of these numbers, let alone just one, would be dangerous. LaRoche certainly has a reputation of being a solid glove at first, so if he’s really gaining a ton from that aspect of the game, the White Sox would be muting his value by having him get significant reps as a designated hitter—especially considering that nobody (but the White Sox) is standing up to back Abreu’s glovework, regardless of what method you use to evaluate such things.
As far as what LaRoche’s addition means to Chicago’s bottom line, in 2015 and beyond, it’s very likely he’s just one piece of what could be a winter of major upgrades on the South Side. Heading into the offseason, the White Sox had a little north of $50 million committed to their payroll. With the additions of Zach Duke (three years, $15 million) and LaRoche (whose $12.5 million AAV puts him second on the team, behind John Danks) the budget is at around the $70 million mark, plus a slew of pre-arbitration players. (Nearly two-thirds of the active roster has less than three years of service time.) General Manager Rick Hahn has repeatedly stated that he plans to be aggressive this winter, and he can do even more without spending past the White Sox’ recent payrolls:
• 2014: $ 90,062,659
• 2013: $118,914,500
• 2012: $ 97,669,500
• 2011: $127,789,000
• 2010: $103,080,000
• 2009: $ 96,068,500
• 2008: $121,189,332
• 2007: $108,671,833
• 2006: $102,750,667
Hahn will continue to focus on upgrading the bullpen—which led all of baseball in walks last year, while finishing last in strikeouts—while also adding to the back of a top-heavy rotation, and perhaps even upgrading in left field, where Dayan Viciedo is a possible trade or non-tender candidate.
It’s tough not to slap a down arrow on a 35-year-old first baseman who’s leaving a lineup off Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth, but let’s think about the positives for a moment. The White Sox lineup on the whole isn’t devoid of talent, with Jose Abreu, Alexei Ramirez, a returning Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton when he’s healthy. They also have the added bonus of not batting a pitcher ninth. U.S. Cellular Field should help his home run totals. He struggles against lefties and he’s streaky as hell, but he kills righties and he’s very good when he’s right. He’s a much better play in ROTO leagues where the dips in production won’t hurt you as much. I think there’s a lot of RBI/RS potential with the Sox' lineup construction, and I like the home run boost the Cell should provide. —Mauricio Rubio
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