Adam LaRoche on a two-year, $25 million contract. The left-handed slugger is expected to share duties at first base and designated hitter with Jose Abreu.
The signing of LaRoche, 35, has been called foolish in some quarters. While I'm not necessarily printing playoff tickets as a result of this move, I don't blame the Sox for taking the risk on the veteran middle-of-the-order hitter. I'll explain why.
To start off our discussion, let's do some player comparison. Which of these five hitters would you say is the best?:
Player A: .283/.369/.448, 35 2Bs, 13 HRs, 71 RBIs
Player B: .219/.337/.415, 18 2Bs, 22 HRs, 64 RBIs
Player C: .259/.362/.455, 19 2Bs, 26 HRs, 92 RBIs
Player D: .231/.281/.405, 22 2Bs, 21 HRs, 58 RBIs
Player E: .279/.324/.415, 26 2Bs, 16 HRs, 73 RBIs
Without knowing the names of the players (these are all 2014 stats), who would you go with? Maybe Player A? Or how about Player C? I wouldn't take Players B or D. Player B's batting average is too low, and Player D's on-base percentage is by far the worst of the group. For that matter, Player E's OBP leaves something to be desired, as well, and that slugging percentage isn't the greatest either.
For me, I'd have to take Player A. Player A hits for the best average, has the most doubles and is solid in the OBP and slugging components. But Player C is worthwhile, too, because he leads the group in slugging, home runs and RBIs, and is a close second in OBP to Player A.
Player C is LaRoche. Player A is Hanley Ramirez, who just agreed to terms on a four-year, $88 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.
Now, Ramirez never would have fit in with the White Sox' plans. He's a right-handed hitter, and the overly right-handed Sox were looking for a lefty bat. But, I inserted him into this discussion because you could make the case he was the best hitter available in free agency after Victor Martinez re-signed with Detroit.
Ramirez is a better hitter than LaRoche, but not drastically so, and you could argue LaRoche is a better value at $12.5 million per year than the oft-injured Ramirez is at $22 million per year.
Who is Player E, you ask? That would be the other guy the Red Sox are reportedly going to sign: Pablo Sandoval. Boston is giving out a reported $90 million over five years to a guy who had a .739 OPS last year. Good luck with that. Sandoval was a postseason hero in San Francisco, and his fans wear panda suits, but I'm not convinced he's a better hitter over 162 games than LaRoche, who had an .817 OPS in 2014. I do know that LaRoche costs about $5.5 million less a year than Sandoval on the current market.
Player B is Adam Dunn, who was the Sox' DH for most of last season and the guy LaRoche is essentially replacing on the roster. Player D is Dayan Viciedo, who was the Sox' best internal option at DH had the club not acted in free agency. I'm not going to spend any time telling you why LaRoche is better than Dunn and Viciedo. Just look at the numbers and see for yourselves.
The Sox needed an upgrade at DH, preferably a left-handed one, so they signed one. It's not an overpay when you consider the contracts other free-agent hitters such as Ramirez and Sandoval received, and LaRoche is clearly a better option than the players the Sox had internally. That makes the signing worth the risk.
Let me leave you with this parting thought: There were only seven left-handed hitters in Major League Baseball who hit 25 or more home runs in 2014. Only one of those seven was a free agent.
The White Sox just signed him.