Coming into the offseason, the two top free agent first basemen on the market were Adam LaRoche and Nick Johnson. Besides the fact that they are both left-handed first basemen, LaRoche and Johnson have little in common as far as their careers and playing styles are concerned. LaRoche is a steady power hitter, who has hit at least 20 home runs in each of the past five seasons and has played in at least 135 games in every season since 2005. Johnson, on the other hand, is strongly regarded for his ability to get on base instead of his power and is notorious for always being injured.
Not surprisingly, when the offseason started, LaRoche and Johnson had completely different expectations of their next contract should look like. LaRoche was in the market (reportedly) for a three-year/$31.5 million dollar deal while Johnson was simply looking for a two-year deal , even though he was highly regarded by many teams.
However, late last night, the Yankees inched closer to signing Johnson to a one-year deal worth $5.5 million dollars. This deal would seem to suggest that even though Johnson had demand for his services, that teams were reluctant to give him more than a one-year deal, presumably because of his injury history. There is always the chance that Johnson took less to play for the Yankees, but one has to wonder what Johnson's contract will do to LaRoche's contractual expectations.
On one hand, LaRoche seems to be in a decent position on the free agent market:
- The Giants are known to be very interested in his services
- The Mariners need a first baseman
- The Braves should be looking to re-sign LaRoche as well
So, like Johnson, it appears as though demand is quite high for his services.
But on the other hand, there are so many options out there that LaRoche needs to be careful not to price himself too high.
- If the Giants are not satisfied with what LaRoche is asking for, then they can move on and make a strong run at Adrian Beltre, Mark DeRosa, or Dan Uggla.
- If the Mariners aren't willing to give LaRoche the money he is looking for, then they could simply re-sign Russell Branyan to play first base
- If the Braves cannot afford LaRoche, then they can opt for a low cost signing (Huff, Delgado, Blalock, Glaus), play Martin Prado at first, or even give Mitch Jones a chance!
The high number of options on the market makes it difficult for LaRoche to command a contract that guarantees him three years at an average annual salary of more than $7 million annually. If Johnson could only get $5.5 million, then why would any team pay LaRoche $9 million, especially when there are so many options out there?
Nick Johnson's deal should signal to LaRoche that he needs to expect less, hope for more, and if he can, sign quickly. With so many options out there, it's only a matter of time before money becomes scarce and the number of teams looking to sign first basemen starts to dwindle.