Before the 2011 season, the Nationals stirred up quite a bit of attention with free agent signings. While some regarded Jayson Werth’s and Adam LaRoche’s contracts as busts considering their 2011 production, something is often forgotten: we haven’t seen the real Adam LaRoche play in a Nationals uniform.
LaRoche entered 2011 injured. He tried to play through it, but a .172 batting average and continuous pain wasn’t helping anyone and he took the season to have his rotator cuff surgically repaired.
Before last season, LaRoche averaged just over 141 games per season over the previous seven years. Before last season, LaRoche had a career batting average of .271. In 2011, LaRoche played in just 43 games with a .172 average.
2011 is not an indication of the kind of player LaRoche is, and it doesn’t mean that he can’t contribute to the Nationals lineup. One of the key things to look for during Spring Training will be to see how LaRoche has recovered.
LaRoche will have plenty of outside motivators to prove himself this season. Michael Morse broke out at first base last season, and Chris Marrero is still potentially waiting in the wings. If LaRoche slips up, the Nats have options to make a change.
There are also contract implications. LaRoche’s $8 million per year deal is only guaranteed through 2012. After that, the team has an option to pick up 2013 or LaRoche will go to free agency.
Either way, he will need to prove himself in 2012, whether he wants to stay in D.C. in 2013 or drive up his free agent offerings.
After last season’s disappointment with the Werth contract, some of the frustration from Nats Town regarding Werth’s performance might carry over to LaRoche. The general displeasure over perceived overpayment will set the bar high for a healthy LaRoche.
Whether or not he meets them will have a lot to do with his recovery, which we’ll get a chance to see in just days now. Either way, LaRoche needs to look at this season as proof that he is still the same player despite a major injury.