Adam LaRoche and the Current Free Agent Market

Adam LaRoche has turned down the National’s $13.3 million qualifying offer, although he is reportedly willing to re-sign with the Nats if they make him a competitive offer.

LaRoche was the one player out of the nine offered the $13.3 million qualifier (the amount that entitles a team losing a top free agent to receive draft pick compensation under the new system), who I thought might accept his old team’s offer.  At age 32 in 2012, LaRoche had a career year.  However, the odds that he will regress towards his mean in 2013 are enormous.

Also, the Nats are a young team who, despite making the post-season in 2012, are likely to get better before they get worse. Players of LaRoche’s age, who have already earned substantial salaries (LaRoche has already earned in excess of $36 million since the start of the 2007 season), often value the chance of playing for a winner more than they value maximizing the amount of their next contract.

As I said, LaRoche had a career year in 2012.  While his offensive numbers still weren’t particularly impressive for a 1Bman(.853 OPS), his defense was good enough that fangraphs valued his 2012 performance at $17 million.  However, fangraphs also values the next best three seasons of his career at $10.6M (2009), $9.5M (2007) and $9.3 (2006).

In short, given his age and his past performance, any team offering him more than two years for about $22M is likely making a mistake.

In fact, if LaRoche returned to the Nats in 2013 on the $13.3 million one-year deal and had another big year, he would probably be better situated for big contract next off-season, even though he’d be a year older, simply because he would have proved his 2012 was no fluke and he genuinely has improved his game.

Early indications are that the 2012/13 off-season will be a good year for free agents, and LaRoche and his agent are likely well aware of these indications.  Even so, I’m slightly saddened that LaRoche didn’t take the $13.3 million qualifier and try to get a ring with the Nationals in 2013.

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