Atlanta Braves' Free Agent Decisions: Adam LaRoche

Jim CheneyCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2009

NEW YORK - AUGUST 19:  Adam LaRoche #22 of the Atlanta Braves bats against the New York Mets on August 19, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

This article is the third in a six-part series discussing the players on the Atlanta Braves' 25-man roster that will be free agents at the end of the 2009 season.

Previously we have discussed Rafael Soriano and Greg Norton in parts one and two of the series.

In this week's edition, we are analyzing the Braves' first baseman, Adam LaRoche.

LaRoche played for Atlanta from 2004 to 2006 before being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Mike Gonzalez. The Braves reacquired him at the trading deadline this year for Casey Kotchman.

Since coming to the Braves one month ago, LaRoche has been raking. In 26 games in Atlanta, he has a batting average of .370 with eight home runs and an OBP of .454.

Without LaRoche, the Braves would likely not even be in the wild card picture at this point in the season.

The trade for LaRoche did, however, leave the Braves with a decision to make regarding their future at first base due to his impending free agency.

First baseman Freddy Freeman, the Braves' No. 5 preseason prospect, had a somewhat disappointing 2009 season and doesn't project to be ready for the Majors until mid-2011 at the earliest. Until then, the Braves need to find a suitable fill-in.

In some ways, LaRoche seems to be a perfect fit for Atlanta.

Not only is he popular in the clubhouse, but his numbers since the trade also indicate he likes playing for the Braves. Unfortunately, LaRoche's big numbers this month will likely increase his payday this offseason.

Other than LaRoche, the best free agent first basemen are Russell Branyan, Nick Johnson, and, if healthy, Carlos Delgado—a relatively weak class for those looking for help at first base. This should increase the payday that LaRoche will receive as well.

The Braves also cannot expect the same level of production in a full season that they are receiving from LaRoche at the end of the 2009 season. After all, he is notorious for his poor first half production and his great second half performances.

For his career, LaRoche has a .252 pre-All-Star break batting average and hits a home run every 25 at-bats. By contrast, after the All-Star break his batting average jumps up to .301, and he hits a home run every 17 at-bats.

Clearly, LaRoche hasn't proven he can provide much help in the first half of a season, but he will heat up as the season draws to a close, just in time for the playoff push.

So, taking everything into consideration, should the Braves re-sign Adam LaRoche this offseason?

I say yes. I believe that LaRoche's love of playing in Atlanta will result in him giving the Braves a slight hometown discount this offseason. The Braves should be able to re-sign him for somewhere around $8-9 million a year and would be wise to sign him to a two-year contract with a team option for a third year.

This would give the Braves time to appropriately develop Freeman over the next several seasons and would give the Braves a big-time bat for the middle of their lineup until then.

Up Next Week: Mike Gonzalez


Writer's note

I have decided to accept a position as a Braves blogger for the new sports network Fan Huddle. Starting October 1 you can read my blogs on Braving Baseball.

As a result of this new position, I will not be writing as many articles on Bleacher Report. I will, however, continue my series on the Braves' Free Agent Decisions and will be on this site reading and commenting on articles. I hope to continue writing for this site as time allows.

Thank you to everyone who has read my articles and made me feel welcome during my two months on Bleacher Report. I have come to really respect this site and all of the writers and readers involved in the Braves community here.