Addressing The Kotchman/LaRoche Situation

So it seems the Diamondbacks have signed Adam LaRoche. Not for three years. Not for two years. But for one year, and only four or five million dollars. This is a far cry from LaRoche's reported initial demands of $30m/3yr, and remember that only a week ago he turned down a $17m/2yr offer from the Giants. This is, in other words, a bargain, at least relative to what it was assumed LaRoche would cost.

As such, a significant number of Mariner fans - fans who were unimpressed by the Casey Kotchman acquisition - have taken to voicing their concerns and complaints. LaRoche is an above-average lefty hitter who can hold his own in the field. Why settle for Kotchman when LaRoche is so readily available?

I'll be honest - I'm as surprised as you are that it came to this. But before anyone claims that we missed the boat, I think we have to consider a number of different factors here, factors that could help explain why the team went the way it went.

  1. First and foremost, do not take this news as an indication that the Mariners could've signed Adam LaRoche for $4-5m/1yr. LaRoche settled for a small contract because his market caved. The M's, for example, got Kotchman. The Giants added Aubrey Huff. Without any suitors left, there was no longer much demand for LaRoche's services, driving down his price. Had the Mariners chosen to get involved, that would've meant competition, and competition means more money.

  2. Assuming a ~$4m or so arbitration reward, the Mariners will have acquired Kotchman for a net cost of $2.75m. LaRoche + Bill Hall would've cost quite a bit more than that, as the M's were on the hook for about $1.25m of Hall's 2010 salary. Doing what they did provides the opportunity and financial flexibility to improve on Hall's roster spot. Remember that LaRoche projects as maybe - maybe - a win better than Kotchman, and likely less. This route deprives the M's of that 0.5-1 win boost, but also gives them at least $4m and an open roster spot.

  3. Casey Kotchman has spent 73% of his career in the American League. Adam LaRoche has spent 99% of his career in the National League. No matter how significant you feel the AL/NL gap may be, it does exist, and that's a concern. Note that LaRoche's career batting line over 300 plate appearances of interleague play is .261/.316/.429, with a .302 BABIP. 

  4. LaRoche is 30 years old. Kotchman turns 27 in February. One of these players is unlikely to take a step forward, while the other should, in theory, be entering his prime. The Mariners have talked about Kotchman's potential. He was a hot prospect, he's always had the tools, and people have spoken to some off-the-field issues that might've affected his performance. I think the organization believes he's going to be a little better than his track record. You can't really make the same argument for LaRoche.

On the surface, this looks like an annoying turn of events, but when you take a closer look, I think you'll find that it was entirely reasonable for the M's to do what they did. LaRoche is a better hitter than Kotchman, and he's a better baserunner, but Kotchman's younger and plays better defense, and when you throw the age and league considerations into the mix, the overall gap between the two turns out to be pretty small. For Arizona, Adam LaRoche is a bargain. Seattle, though, seems to have done just fine.

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