The news has broken that Chicago White Sox first baseman Adam LaRoche is planning to retire. The timing isn't great for anybody involved, but outside of the offseason, when would it be? It's a big deal for several reasons, not least of which because the White Sox signed LaRoche to provide a big bat from the left side for two years before the 2015 season. They didn't get that in the first year of the deal, and now they may not get it all, leaving them scrambling for solutions as far as getting DH-level production from their DH slot.
LaRoche's 2015 season with the White Sox was, simply put, horrible. He was overpowered at the plate by the right-handed pitching he's supposed to do damage against, delivering at just a .697 OPS while striking out almost 25 percent of the time. That was his good side; his overall numbers were made even worse by his struggles against American League southpaws (.383 OPS), which contributed to the second worst strikeout rate of his career (27.5 percent). Simply put, he was getting beat, and that was before a knee injury shut him down -- perhaps mercifully -- for most of September.
Where does this leave the Sox? Jose Abreu will probably not get a lot of days off from playing first base after getting 39 starts at DH last year. The four-way outfield rotation of Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, Avisail Garcia and Austin Jackson would have an easy outlet for playing time. They could also spread their DH at-bats around to get J.B. Shuck at-bats to provide some extra OBP from the left side of the plate or Jerry Sands power from the right side.
If that doesn't sound especially tantalizing, that might be because you're thinking about the LaRoche who averaged 26 home runs per 162 games of his career. Anticipating getting that guy was the thinking behind GM Rick Hahn giving him a two-year, $25 million deal, and in Hahn's defense, LaRoche had hit 26 homers on the nose in 2014 for the Washington Nationals. But after last season's struggles capped by the knee injury, and then this spring's back spasms, you can understand if some doubt might have started creeping in.
Will LaRoche be back? That remains to be seen. But the longer he takes, the longer it might take the White Sox to bring in someone else from outside the organization. Late spring cuts might provide a quick fix from among other clubs' castoffs. Former Minnesota Twins and Colorado Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau is also still unsigned. Morneau put up an .821 OPS for the Rockies last season, and while you might automatically be skeptical about a Rockie coming down from altitude, over the last two seasons the left-handed Morneau hit right-handed pitching at a .299/.361/.458 clip on the road. If there's a quick fix out there, Morneau is it. And if LaRoche walks, that $13 milliion he's owed goes back in the till and might go a long way toward getting Morneau to head to the Cell.
Why is this important? You can make a case for all five teams in the AL Central having the talent to win at least 85 games, and I wouldn't peg any of them as a slam-dunk favorite -- although I have picked the Indians -- so anything that moves the dial on offense for the White Sox, no matter how incrementally, could have a significant impact on the season.
So in terms of priorities, let's first hope that LaRoche makes a decision he can live with and get to a good place about what he wants to do from here on out. But for the Sox's sake, let's hope that decision comes soon so that they can respond appropriately -- and give Morneau a quick phone call.