LaRoche Will Probably Explore Free Agency

Charles E. Sutton | 10/29/2012, 8:47 p.m.

At the start of the 2012 season, Adam LaRoche was simply hoping to make a meaningful contribution after left shoulder surgery eliminated most of 2011.

Some baseball analysts feel that LaRoche was the most valuable player the Nationals had in 2012.

LaRoche homered 33 times, matching a career-high, and drove in 100 runs. In addition, he had the best OPS (.853) amongst Nats regulars. In spite of all this, LaRoche doesn't know where he'll be playing next season.

It's almost certain that the 32-year-old will decline a mutual option in his contract which will allow him to become a free agent. Although the team has had some discussions with LaRoche's representatives, according to general manager Mike Rizzo, a signed contract extension is not a given.

His teammates also don't know what to expect. But they've made it clear they want the steady LaRoche to be a part of the team. In addition, they feel that LaRoche wants to remain in Washington.

The Nats have a lot of good players such as, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Bryce Harper. But LaRoche provides a balanced, steadying influence that has earned him a lot of respect from his teammates. He's a player that the Nats would sorely miss.

Last season, La Roche committed just seven errors at first base and is viewed by scouts and his peers as one of baseball's smoothest players at the position. The Nats have to determine the value of all that. LaRoche earned $7 million in 2011 and $8 million in 2012. If he and the team both chose to pick up the mutual option, he would stand to make $10 million in 2013. However, in all likelihood, the open market will provide leverage for LaRoche to sign for more.

LaRoche will turn 33 on Nov. 6, which raises the issue of how many years the Nats want to commit to a player of his age. Tyler Moore is a first baseman by trade and had a quality season off the bench. But you can't assume that he would duplicate LaRoche's offensive numbers as a full-time player. And, he is not nearly as accomplished defensively.

Outfielder Michael Morse could probably match La Roche's offensive production. He basically did so in 2011 in only 522 at-bats (31 homers and 95 RBIs). But Rizzo would have to find a starting outfielder to fill that void.

We'll see what the two parties can or can't get worked out. It certainly appears that the Nats would love to have LaRoche back.