Saturday, January 8, 2011

Nationals Sign LaRoche for Two Years

The Nationals finally have a first baseman.  According to MSNBC, LaRoche will sign a two year $16M contract that includes a $10M option (or $1M buyout) for the 2013 season.  The author of the report I found had this to say.
"The money is outrageous, but the Nationals have to overpay some free agents to convince them to join the organization, which hasn't had much success recently and could be several years from competing."
Is the money really outrageous?  Well, I guess it is in the "I can't believe baseball players are being paid $16M to play a game" line of thinking, but that's not really relevant for this discussion.  Is his salary outrageous in terms of baseball?  That depends on your perspective.  LaRoche is an average first baseman in just about every sense of the word.  He puts up solid offensive numbers, but he's never among the top ten or fifteen at his position.  After removing the 2005 outlier season, his defensive stats are just about league average for his career per UZR--Dewan's plus/minus tells a slightly different story.  In terms of value, he's been worth 2.0-2.5 wins above the replacement level over the last five seasons, which is the break even point for acceptable performance among league average starting players.  Is he a stud?  No.  Is he someone you're super excited to have on your team?  Probably not.  Still, he'll provide steady, consistent value, and likely will help his team more than he hurts it.

This offseason, we've seen the average cost of a win on the free agent market skyrocket from approximately $4M per win to nearly $5M.  Based on LaRoche's recent WAR history, it's not unreasonable to expect LaRoche to provide between $20-25M in performance based value during his the two guaranteed seasons of his contract.  If he continued to produce on this level, he would actually be underpaid not overpaid.  So to answer my original question, his salary is far from outrageous in baseball terms. 

Do I think the Nationals could've signed LaRoche to a more team friendly contract?  Absolutely, but that's a different question entirely.  

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