Tuesday, December 21, 2010

LaRoche Talks Break Down, O's Look to Lee

Perhaps the LaRoche to Baltimore deal isn't a done deal after all.
While the Orioles haven't abandoned hope of signing free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche, their inability to get a deal done has prompted them to renew talks with Derrek Lee, according to multiple sources.

It's unclear whether that is because LaRoche is reportedly seeking a three-year deal while the Orioles would prefer not giving him three guaranteed years, or LaRoche simply has better, more lucrative offers, and doesn't want to play in Baltimore.
I'm asking the same question a lot of people are asking right now.  What is it about Baltimore that free agents don't like?  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they play in the AL East with the Yankees and Red Sox?  Or maybe Peter Angelos has a much worse reputation, among the players, than I'd originally thought?  Unfortunately, I don't really have a concrete answer.  What ever the reason, the O's need to figure out a way to reverse this disturbing trend.  Otherwise, they're destined to be the major league's perennial free agent bride's maid.

No one knows for sure how the Orioles and LaRoche have reached this impasse.  Many have speculated (including the author of the article I've linked to) that either the O's are unwilling to guarantee a third season, or LaRoche has received a more lucrative deal from another team.  The former sounds pretty reasonable, as I opined as much the other day when I first reported the LaRoche deal.  The latter, on the other hand, seems a little more far fetched.  Based on all of the credible reports I was able to find, there are only three teams reported to be looking for a first baseman:  the Orioles, Nationals, and Padres.  The Padres, due to their current ownership and payroll situation, are unlikely to give LaRoche $7M, let alone a figure greater than that amount.  While the Nationals seem to have money to burn, they seem to be more interested in signing Lee than LaRoche.  I haven't found any reports indicating the Nationals have had anything more than a passing interest in the former Brave.

While the deal for LaRoche isn't dead, the Orioles have reignited talks with former Cub All-Star Derrek Lee.  According to Ken Rosenthal, Lee is reportedly looking for a one year deal worth around $8-10M.  While at first glance, this might seem like a bit of a reach considering Lee produced only a .340 wOBA and 2.0 WAR in his age-34 season, but it's not.  After doing a 5-4-3 WAR regression, I project Lee will likely provide between 2.7-3.0 WAR next season, or $13.5-15M in value*; thus, making his $8-10M salary a bargain.  Lee still has plenty in the tank.  He has above average power, good patience at the plate, makes solid contact (line drive vs. pop ups), and plays average to above average defense at his position.  Considering his desire for a one year deal, Lee is probably a better fit for the Orioles than LaRoche. 

* Based on Fangraph's WAR salary model.  Average cost of a win on the free agent market is currently around $5M.

Should the unexpected happen and the Orioles lose out on both Lee and LaRoche, I expect the Orioles to make a run at a quality bat like Johnny Damon, Vlad Guerrero, or Jim Thome to fill the DH spot.  The Orioles currently have a couple of internal options at first base in Luke Scott and Nolan Reimold, should it comes to that point.  While neither are ideal options defensively, their defense shouldn't be a detriment to the team. 

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