Dejan Kovacevic says through Twitter that Arizona have signed first baseman Adam LaRoche to a one-year contract. Jon Heyman follows up by tweeting that it's a deal worthbetween $4-5 million for LaRoche. Thanks to Elway4Prez and Dbacks fan in Taiwan for the heads-up on this. [Update] Nick Piecoro ssays, "KTAR is reporting LaRoche’s deal to be worth $4 million with an $8 million mutual option for 2011 or a $2 million buyout. So it’s either one year and $6 million or two years and $12 million."
Between Pittsburgh, Boston and Atlanta last season, Laroche hit .277/.355/.488, with 25 HR and an OPS+ of 122. In his six major-league seasons, he has yet to post an OPS+ below a hundred, with a career figure of 116. It definitely addresses the thorny issue of first-base: he is a left-handed batter, though does hang in there fairly well against left-handed pitching (his OPS splits are .857/.751) . But it seems that this probably puts an end to a) Brandon Allen seeing much playing time in 2009, and b) Conor Jackson being our full-time starter at first this year.
More details and analysis after the jump.
Averaging out the LaRoche projections from Bill James, CHONE and Marcel, we get an expected line for 2010 of .266/.341/.472, an OPS of .813, with 24 home-runs and 83 RBI. These numbers are before the signing and so do not include a park factor, but still... Compare them to the collective line posted by our first-basemen in 2009 - .228/.321/.396, a combined OPS of .717 - and it's clear that's this ia a massive upgrade for the D-backs. I have a great deal more faith in this projection (and the resulting WAR) than the one for Jeff Bailey.
In that area, our siblings at Beyond the Box Score were almost as quick off the mark as we were, with their review of the signing. They rate LaRoche at 1.6 WAR [a little higher than Bailey's CHONE-projected WAR, per paqs, of 1.4]. Assuming the contract is in the $6m mentioned by Piecoro, it would mean a cost per win of about $3.75 million, a decent discount on the generally-accepted rate of $4.5m. They point out that one-year contracts generally do come at a discount, but still call this "a solid move by the Diamondbacks." In the comments, xeifrank gives us an extra half a win as the result of the move.
What makes it particularly amusing, is that, just last weekm LaRoche turned down a two-year, $17.5 million offer from the San Francisco Giants. Indications at the time are that he was looking for a three-year deal - but if that was the case, it doesn't make much sense for him to settle for even less, barely a week later. I am inclined to think it much more likely that he just didn't want to play for the Giants, and that's a position behind which I'm sure we can all get. The signing will re-unite him and Kelly Johnson: the pair played together on the right side of the infield, for a bit in Atlanta, so there should be no confusion over pop-ups.
Defensively, Johnson has been a bit up and down, but seems workmanlike enough overall. Last year, his UZR/150 was -0.5, virtually dead in line with his three-year average of -0.6. Again, even medicority would be a signifcant upgrade for the Diamondbacks, since last year, the collective UZR/150 at first-base was -6.0. He has only just turned 30 in November, so it doesn't seem likely that his range will be falling off an age-related cliff this season.
Certainly, if you compare this to the other free-agent signings this season, it looks like a very good deal. So far, we've seen rich in potential, but injury-prone Nick Johnson go to the Yankees on a one-year deal for $5.75 million, and the less-impressive Aubrey Huff (with a lower career OPS of 113, and definitely on the downward side of the curve, three years older than LaRoche) sign a similar deal with the Giants for $3 million. Compared to those, this looks like a good way to spend the money.
Speaking of which, I'm a little surprised we found the money. It's not so long ago that Nick Piecoro, who usually has a good handle on such things, was saying that the Diamondbacks’ existing commitments "wouldn't leave them much to spend this off-season.". There was always thought to be a little wiggle-room, but the range being reported for the LaRoche signing seems a bit more than expected. It brings our total payroll up to about the $78m mark, and unless we can free up payroll (coughByrnescough), seems to nail the coffin on bringing back Valverde, and even signing Randy Winn seems unlikely. Whew.
It's clear that LaRoche will be the everyday starting first-baseman for the Diamondbacks. What's less clear is what this means behind him. If Brandon Allen was a right-handed batter, then he could still have a place on the roster, but as an LHB, backing up an LHB, and who doesn't handle LHP very well, it seems more likely he'll spend the season in Reno. That's not necessarily a disaster: this is only a one-year contract, so we're not talking a Quentin-Byrnes scenario here, and Allen won't turn 24 until next month. A season spent learning how to hit southpaws is no bad thing.
It seems that, when LaRoche needs a day off - I imagine, against tough lefties like Kershaw or Happ - Conor Jackson will move to first, with someone, probably not named "Gerardo", taking up the spot in right. Eric Byrnes, if he's still with the club? Anyway, I'm now off to update the sidebar roster and first-base preview.