After fan favorite Adam Dunn left the Washington Nationals after the 2010 season for $56 million in Chicago, the club was on the hunt for a replacement. After failing to sign numerous others, on January 4th, 2011, the Nationals ended up signing 31-year-old Adam LaRoche to a two-year contract for a seemingly cheap $16 million. At the time he was considered one of the most consistent first basemen in baseball playing over 135 games each season since 2005 while accumulating a career .271 batting average and hitting over 20 homeruns a season.
Unfortunately this all changed in 2011. Early in spring training, LaRoche was diagnosed with a shoulder injury but continued to play through it. After hitting .172 and striking out 37 times after 43 games, the Nationals finally sent LaRoche for a reevaluation. Shortly after, the team announced that he would be shut down for the rest of the season. Although this allowed for the emergence of Michael Morse, LaRoche drew numerous critics from fans, bloggers, and sports writers.
Coming into the 2012 season, there were two big name first basemen on the market, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Rumors swirled that the Nationals were interested in both despite the high contract prices and the fact that LaRoche was set to return, but as time went on, nothing materialized. Eventually, Pujols signed a 10 year deal worth $240 million with the Angels, and Fielder signed 9 year deal worth $214 million with the Tigers. LaRoche meanwhile was prepping for the season. Come spring training, once again he was plagued with a foot injury that only allowed him to play in ten spring training games. Regardless of this injury, the Nats named him to the opening day roster.
Ten games into the season, LaRoche is off to his hottest start ever in spite of being a historically slow starter offensively. He is currently batting .341 with a .426 on base percentage in 41 at bats along with hitting two homeruns and driving in 12 RBI leading to a .537 slugging percentage. His performance in a couple of clutch situations has allowed the Nationals to get off to their best start in its team's short history in DC. It has also caused numerous critics to rethink their prior criticisms.
Compared to both Pulojs and Fielder, LaRoche has by far had the best start. Pulojs has started the season with a weak .250 batting average and has failed to hit any homeruns in 32 at bats. His team, the Angels, has only won three games putting them dead last in the weak AL West. Fielder on the other hand has hit .353 with two homeruns but he has only driven in five runs. He is also considered a defensive liability for his team mainly because of his weight. In addition, LaRoche has bested them both in on-base percentage attributed to his six walks. Even further, Fielder is making an incredible $23 million this year and Pulojs is making $12 million compared to LaRoche’s measly $8 million.
While LaRoche may not match up with both at the end of the season, he has already made it his mission to make up for last season and to be one of the best first basemen in the majors. His performance so far both offensively and defensively has proved this. Even if he does regress back towards his career averages, numerous critics and fans everywhere will be elated with the deal the Nationals got for only $8 million compared to the other’s huge contracts.