So long, Adam

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.

8 Responses “So long, Adam”

  1. Jean-Paul says:

    Mike Gonzalez is a pretty substantial improvement over what he’s replacing. He’s not replacing a setup man, he’s replacing…I don’t know, Ken Ray. He’s a big enough improvement there that he makes up most of the difference between Thorman and LaRoche.

    So, by basically staying as good as we were, we went from having a solid 1B who was going to get paid like Richie Sexson soon, to a potentially star caliber SS(not star in the sense that Derek Jeter or Nomar were stars, but more along the lines that Edgar Renteria and Marcus Giles were at one point stars). Lillibridge will probably be ready for a full time major league job in 2008. He’s not as great a prospect as Elvis Andrus, for instance, but he’s more than capable of being Omar Vizquel or Marcus Giles, and we are going to pay him nothing. This move keeps us financially and roster flexible, and we didn’t get worse.

    This is a good deal, and I hate trading for relievers.

  2. Andrew says:

    JC,
    I would imagine that Lillibridge will get an opportunity at either the third-base or second-base job soon. Possibly he plays second base this year, and Campbell and Lillibridge battle for who plays 2nd and 3rd in 2008.

  3. JC says:

    I don’t think the Braves are expecting much from Lillibridge this year. It’s a big jump from high-A to the majors. His stats are good, but it’s not like he blew the leagues away. I hope he starts the year in Mississippi and finishes it in Richmond.

  4. Johnny says:

    JC, I had the same mixed feelings. I agree even at his career averages LaRoche is a solid major league player. But you have to factor in more than the relative worth of the players involved in the trade. The ripple effect it has on the rest of the team is more postive than negative. With the price of even mediocre starting pitching at stratospheric levels I think that its pretty smart (and cheaper) to reduce the starters expected workload to 6 innings. As opposed to paying exorbitant sums for a ‘innings eater’ journeyman pitcher.

    LaRoche’s bat will be missed. I think that the Braves will go with Thorman until he proves that he can’t play. But it is disconcerting that at this point we are going to go with a rookie first baseman, hope that KJ delivers on his promise and give Ryan Langerhans yet another try at getting a lot of at bats. If you include Francouer thats 4 positions in the lineup that are very questionable.

  5. Mac says:

    But what’s the difference between LaRoche and Thorman, versus the difference between Gonzalez and McBride/McBride and a miscellaneous lefthander? Thorman’s minor league numbers are a lot like LaRoche’s.

  6. Jean-Paul says:

    Mac:
    If it’s the difference between Adam last year and Scott Thorman next year, enormous. If it’s the difference between Adam next year and Thorman next year, it’s probably something like 20 runs or so.

    That’s substantial, but the difference between Mike Gonzalez for 50 innings and, say Remlinger and Kevin Barry for 50 innings is probably right at 15 runs. The team got very little worse for next year, and potentially(Gonzalez pitches more than 50 IP or Scott Thorman is better than replacement level) stayed the same. And we got a nice piece for the future, and opened ourselves up rosterwise.

  7. David says:

    But apparently the Braves got Craig Wilson.

  8. Paul McCord says:

    Just take a quick peek at the number of save chances Braves relievers blew in 2006, and you’ll see why this trade is a good one. You’re right: the number of RUNS saved will be swamped in the number of lost runs scored — but those runs saved translate more readily into WINS saved, because Gonzalez will get the majority of his work with the game on the line (whether for a Hold or for a Save — either counts as a save opportunity if he blows it).