If you want to know how long it takes to forget about a formerly productive player, Adam LaRoche might help you answer that. Two seasons. It takes two seasons to dismiss a formerly productive player, especially if he's over 30. LaRoche was chugging along just a couple years ago, entering his age-30 season after consecutive seasons with a 122 OPS+. That's good. He was good. He was supposed to continue on this path of good, doing good baseball things for good teams.
Then there was a down year. The power didn't change much, and he set a career mark in RBI, but he matched a career low in on-base percentage. His walk rate went down, and his strikeout rate shot way up.
After the down year, there was a lost year. Over 151 at-bats for the Nationals in 2011, LaRoche hit like a pitcher. Or his brother. Something like that, and that's how long it takes for everyone to forget about an over-30 player. A down year, a lost year, and then poof. He's in the waiting room of the damned. Miguel Tejada was an All-Star who led the National League in doubles in 2009, then he was a guy who lost a step in 2010, and then he was a punchline in 2011. Poof. I'm sure you find another dozen examples without much effort.
But LaRoche was exceptional in 2012. Did you know that he finished sixth in the NL MVP voting? He finished ahead of R.A. Dickey and Joey Votto, and he tied with David Wright, who was the favorite at one point in the middle of the season. LaRoche set a career high in home runs and tied his career mark in RBI. He hit so well that he even won a Gold Glove.
That's how long it takes for a player to get right back into the land of relevance. A season. Hit like your old self for a year, and watch the suitors line up outside your door. LaRoche went from an afterthought to a free agent of note. All he had to do was hit.
Can he be trusted, though? And, if so, for how long? Two years? Three years? It's kind of a lukewarm bidding war, but it's still a bidding war, and you never know who will offer that third year just to have him on a roster for 2012. The favorites, and then the team that makes the most sense:
Over the holidays, I literally had a dream about the Texas Rangers announcing a big signing. It wasn't even one of those dreams where my first-grade teacher was there carrying a harpoon and painting of my mother, either. It was the most boring dream of all-time, with the Rangers announcing a move, and me commenting, "It's about time they did something" to the person I was sitting next to. If there was more to it than that, I can't remember it.
So if you're wondering, yes, I enjoyed the holidays quite a bit.
The Rangers have had a great offseason when it comes to avoiding contracts that will smell fishy in three or four years, but they haven't had a great offseason when it comes to making their team better. Details, details. As it stands, the Red Sox are quite noticeably worse. Even if you consider it a wash to swap out Mike Napoli for A.J. Pierzynski, that's still David Murphy hitting third and Nelson Cruz hitting fifth. Maybe a long-rumored Justin Upton trade will finally materialize, but if it doesn't, a great lineup slowly became underwhelming over the winter.
But would LaRoche fix that? For one, Mitch Moreland isn't exactly incompetent. He's perfectly acceptable. And if the option is an iffy three-year deal to LaRoche and burying Moreland (or Mike Olt) at the same time, well, I'm not sure I'd go with LaRoche.
The Rangers probably feel a little itchy, though, as if they have to do something to justify their offseason. LaRoche wouldn't be the sexiest upgrade to the lineup, but he'd almost certainly be an upgrade, at least for the 2013 season. And while the Rangers have done a good job avoiding bad contracts, at some point they have to improve the team that's built to win right now.
It's hard to look at the Blue Jays' offseason without being impressed. They've brought in high-salaried players and buy-low guys to fill in an impressive roster. The rotation is completely new, as is the top of the order. But when it comes to their DH/1B slot, they're going to fill one with Edwin Encarnacion and the other with Adam Lind. I don't know what kind of Ben Greive vortex Lind got sucked into, but more importantly, neither do the Blue Jays. The hope is that he'll figure it out, three years after his last (and only) good season.
Keeping Lind in the starting lineup is like bringing your dirty undies with you to Club Med. You've spent a lot of money to get away from the harsh realities of your life, not bring them with you. A new shortstop, left fielder, second baseman, and top-third of your rotation is a pretty nifty overhaul, but the easiest position to fix should be first base or designated hitter.
And the easiest way to fix the easiest position to fix should be to sign the guy who isn't looking for a somewhat-reasonable deal. Hell, they're paying all these guys with money that has pictures of actual queens on them, so it's not like they can't just print more.
Rangers, three years, $30 million. The loss of a second-round pick isn't ideal, but it's not the worst penalty in the world. And if the Diamondbacks trade Upton or Jason Kubel elsewhere, the Rangers' whole offseason will have been a weird exercise in prudence for a team that should have just the slightest tick of urgency.