LaRoche Finally Dealt
Tim Chalberg • Thursday, January 18, 2007
It has long been speculated that Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche would be dealt to the Pirates and they finally shipped him there, along with minor league outfielder Jamie Romak, for closer Mike Gonzalez and shortstop prospect Brent Lillibridge. LaRoche will be the starting first baseman for the Pirates and is expected to bat fourth between Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay, while Gonzalez will be the Braves new closer.
So, who got the better end of the deal?
Let’s start with the Pirates. They expect LaRoche to come in and be the impact power bat they were looking for all off-season. While LaRoche does have good power, he is not as great as some make him out to be. Last year he was a 3.0 on my scale and for his career he is a 3.5. So, unless LaRoche takes another big step forward this year (and personally I think he will slide a little) he is a solid, every-day player. He will upgrade the Pirates offense, but calling him an impact bat might be a stretch. However, the upgrade comes at a price because it does weaken the Pirates bullpen. Mike Gonzalez rated a 5.2 on my scale, which makes him a good reliever. In his place the Pirates intend to use Salomon Torres, who is only a 6.6. That’s a fairly noticeable downgrade, so noticeable it might neutralize the added offense that LaRoche brings, even though according to my point scale LaRoche is more valuable than Gonzalez.
As for the Braves, they now have a formidable duo at the back end of their bullpen with Mike Gonzalez (5.2) and Rafael Soriano (4.6). They replace Danys Baez (6.0) and Ken Ray (7.6). So, Atlanta’s bullpen is clearly better. However, the belief is that the Braves will ask Scott Thorman to replace LaRoche. Thorman spent the majority of last year in AAA and, after adjusting his minor league numbers last year, he rates as a 4.6 in the major leagues. He is a very noticeable downgrade from LaRoche.
At the major league level neither team seemed to get much better or worse. Instead, they both solved a problem by creating another. This is rather remarkable for the Pirates because LaRoche is a significantly higher-ranked player than Gonzalez based on my rankings, yet despite that the team wasn't improved. So, the true winner of this deal (if there ever is one) will be decided by the prospects swapped.
Brent Lillibridge, the player the Braves acquired, played in both low-A and high-A ball last year and his stats combined yield an un-adjusted ranking of 1.4. Jamie Romak, whom the Pirates acquired, played only in low A last year and his un-adjusted ranking is a 3.3. Though Romak is two years younger and could develop, Lillibridge is the better prospect because he has done significantly better at a higher level, and he also has a longer track record of success.
In the end, though the Braves gave up more talent in the deal, they did a better job of improving their team in this trade than the Pirates. Because of that, I give Atlanta the slight edge in this deal.