First basemanwill worry about his contract after the season
Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche has no idea what will happen at the end of this season. In a way, he is enjoying himself too much to care.
There will come a time when contract talks again will dominate his life. With a mutual option year on the table at a reported $10 million, it seems unlikely LaRoche and his agent will choose that route, not after a rebound season that will go down as one of the best of his career. There is too much money to be made on the open market now -- though that doesn't mean LaRoche won't be back with the Nats in 2013.
Entering Wednesday's series finale with the New York Mets, LaRoche had 29 home runs, 29 doubles and 92 RBIs. He has been Washington's most consistent offensive player all season with a .342 on-base average, a .505 slugging percentage and an .847 OPS.
But while those numbers are nice, they also aren't out of line with LaRoche's career norms. He had 25 homers and 100 RBIs with Arizona in 2010. He had 25 homers and 83 RBIs the year before while spending time with the Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates. He had 25 homers and 85 RBIs in a full year with Pittsburgh in 2008.
In fact, maybe the most important number to LaRoche this season is 135: the amount of games he has played after a torn labrum in his left shoulder limited him to just 43 miserable ones last season. LaRoche, who batted .172 as he fought through the pain in April and May, finally underwent surgery in early June and began the long rehabilitation process.
"Last year in missing a lot of time and how frustrating that was on one hand, on the other I got to spend more time with my kids," LaRoche said. "I got to be disconnected from the game enough to know that I really miss playing. Little extra motivation. Again, not to anybody else, but myself to get back out here and help the team win, a lot of things fell into place."
LaRoche would like to stay. He has never had much stability in his career, playing for five different teams since 2006. But it remains to be seen what other offers he would get on the open market if he chooses to decline that mutual option. He will turn 33 in November, so a long-term deal seems doubtful even after a strong 2012.
But LaRoche remains a fine defensive player and for another two or three seasons could provide good value. If not, the Nats could turn to outfielder Michael Morse, who played first base for them when LaRoche went down, and go after a free agent center fielder instead. But that may end up being more expensive than just re-signing LaRoche, whose return has stabilized what was a right-handed heavy lineup.
"He's a big, even-keeled guy. You don't see him getting too high or too low," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "And that's that good veteran presence. We have a little more balance, so there's not that much heat put on [the other hitters]."