Adam caught a lot of flack as a player in Atlanta before finally winning over Braves fans last year. My position on Adam has been strange: I like him yet I have wanted him traded. My view of Adam is the same as it was before his breakout.
– He is NOT a good defensive player. Those touting him for future gold gloves are either deluded or flat lying. Yeah, he’s not Giambi, but, he’s not good by any defensive metric out there. And my own perceptions of his play confirm what the stats show.
– He is slow, very slow. Because he is a lefty, he will never be able to play any position other than first.
– He doesn’t have the team-leader “intangibles.” By all accounts he is quiet, and his nickname “three-second delay” indicates he’s not the guy teammates rally around.
– He is NOT the type of first baseman you build around. The Braves should have moved Chipper to first and held on to Andy Marte.
Given all of this, Adam LaRoche is a quality MLB ballplayer who will have a decent career. And it’s possible that he will gain some more power that might make him even more valuable. I suspect he will play for a lot of teams in a first base platoon and pinch hit.
So, when he was traded to Pittsburgh yesterday for reliever Mike Gonzalez and shortstop prospect Brent Lillibridge, I was torn as to what to think. Gonzalez is the type of pitcher I like: he has a 2/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and is stingy with the longball. The problem is that while he’s been good for the the Pirates, he’s only covered about 3.5% of the team’s innings pitched. While LaRoche hasn’t been quite as good a hitter as Gonzalez is a pitcher, like most everyday position players, he’s good for about 10% of his team’s plate appearances. I’m worried that the runs the Braves are saving are going to be swamped in the fewer runs produced.
In 2006, I estimate the Gonzalez’s play generated $5.12 million, which is $4.67 less than LaRoche’s $9.79 million. Granted that 2006 was a career year for Adam—and steady sailing for Gonzalez—but I think LaRoche’s break-out is for real. PrOPS has him right at what he actually produced, which is a good sign.
Salary-wise, LaRoche and Gonzalez are similar. Gonzalez agreed to a one-year $2.35 deal to avoid arbitration for the coming season. LaRoche is still waiting for his hearing, but he will be getting somewhere between $2.8 and $3.7 million, probably on the low side of that range. All of this talk you’re hearing about the Braves clearing salary space is overstated.
So, straight up, I don’t like this deal, even if LaRoche falls back to an .850 OPS player. However, this isn’t a straight-up deal. Brent Lillibridge, the prospect coming to Atlanta, is intriguing. He’s a college product who has put up good numbers in the minors, and he plays a difficult defensive position. His minor league performance is a bit difficult to judge since he’s never been past high-A ball even though he’s 22. He certainly makes the deal better for the Braves, but I don’t know if it’s enough.
This deal has the potential to have one big side benefit. The word is that Scott Thorman is going to replace LaRoche at first. I don’t have a problem with Thorman, but I would prefer to see Chipper move to first and allow Willy Aybar to become the everyday third baseman. Chipper will have to field fewer balls, and I think the position will keep him healthier. A healthier Chipper would be a big boost to the offense. Chipper is also probably a defensive upgrade over LaRoche. Aybar is probably a defensive upgrade, and he’s certainly an offensive upgrade over Thorman. The Braves should take this opportunity to make the switch before the season starts. If this happens, then I think it’s definitely a good deal.