So long, LaRoche

It’s been a while since I devoted a post to the Braves, but it’s also been a while since I’ve been excited about them.  With GM John Schuerholz making short-sighted deals (throwing away prospects for Renteria, Wickman, etc.) and writing narcissistic books, I soured on management while the play on the field also declined.  For the first time since I was a small child, the Braves did not win their division, so it’s tougher to be a Braves fan now than it has been for most of my conscious life.

Perhaps things are now on the upswing.  Since yesterday afternoon, a handful of sources have been reporting that the Braves have traded Adam LaRoche and minor-league OF Jamie Romak to the Pirates for power lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez and SS prospect Brent Lillibridge.

At first, I was fairly neutral on this trade.  LaRoche started taking ADD meds last year, and in the second half, he turned into the hitter my fellow Braves fans were hoping he would be, finishing the year with an impressive .915 OPS.  I was expecting him to regress maybe a small amount in ’07, but he would still be a solid 1B on a contending team.

Regardless of LaRoche’s progress, though, the Braves appear to be looking toward the future.  This is with good reason, because they’ve been facing a logjam at 1B for a couple of years now.  Chipper Jones may need to play there some as he ages, and it would really save the bat of either Brian McCann or Jarrod Saltalamacchia to play one of them there.  Scott Thorman will be a stopgap, and it’s possible the Braves could still sign someone like Craig Wilson to play 1B in 2007.

Romak is basically a non-factor in this deal, so the exciting part to me is that the Braves got so much for a potentially fluky/inconsistent first baseman.  The addition of Mike Gonzalez actually makes the Braves’ bullpen look fairly strong, assuming they don’t flip him to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera and Scott Proctor, as has been rumored.  Rafael Soriano and Bob Wickman are already out there, and Gonzalez would presumably set Wickman up in ’07 before becoming the closer in ’08.

The other piece the Braves get in this deal is reportedly stud shortstop prospect Brent Lillibridge.  In 2 minor-league seasons between low-A and high-A ball (644 ABs), he has hit .289/.391/.467, shown excellent baserunning instincts (63 steals and caught 16 times for an 80% success rate), and played solid defense.  He doesn’t project to be a power hitter, but with that kind of OBP and speed, he could be a great leadoff hitter for years to come, and he could start as soon as 2008.  Both John Sickels and Baseball Prospectus rate Lillibridge as the Pirates’ #3 prospect, and BP’s Nate Silver is already calling him a steal for the Braves.

If this deal goes through as rumored (and the Braves hold on to Gonzalez), I’ll regain some of my lost faith in the Braves’ management, which has really shown a willingness to make necessary moves this offseason by turning Horacio Ramirez into Rafael Soriano and re-signing Wickman to a short-term deal.

References:
ESPN.com reports the deal
Discussion at Braves Journal
Adam LaRoche statistics at THT, Fangraphs and BR
Mike Gonzalez statistics at THT, Fangraphs and BR
Brent Lillibridge statistics at Baseball Cube
Jamie Romak statistics at Baseball Cube

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2 thoughts on “So long, LaRoche

  1. I know Gonzalez is good, but I’m still not thrilled about this one because I was a big LaRoche fan (on-field ADD moments notwithstanding); I met him on the subway once in St. Louis after a game and got an autograph.

    The Braves should be interesting this year. The lineup doesn’t seem to be quite as strong to me, but with a potentially improved rotation (assuming Hampton is healthy and productive) and a revamped bullpen, we should be improved.

  2. I liked LaRoche, too. I figured he’d eventually hit, and it turns out that he did. The Braves are obviously selling high, and they appear to have gotten a good return on him, since there are few relievers out there of Gonzalez’ caliber. I hope the Braves can get more than 50 innings out of him, which is about all he was pitching each year in Pittsburgh.

    Lillibridge also looks good, but I was reading yesterday how he’s been a bit old for his league each year (he’s 23 and probably headed for AA), so there is a question of how much he’ll develop. Both scouts and statheads like him, though, and that can’t be bad.

    You’re right, they should be interesting. The middle of the lineup looks great, and Renteria’s overrated but not bad. Hopefully they can get some production out of 2B (maybe Kelly Johnson) and LF (Langerhans/Diaz again, I guess), and maybe Francoeur won’t strike out 2000 times. I think Thorman and the newly-signed Craig Wilson will make a solid 1B platoon and let that not be a position of weakness. The question is: can they piece together a solid enough back end of the rotation to keep them in games until they reach the now-strong bullpen?

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