NASHVILLE — If he returns, the White Sox think Adam LaRoche should bounce back to form next season. But there’s a chance he might not be back.
The White Sox are reportedly shopping the veteran first baseman this week at the Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.
LaRoche — who hit .207/.293/.340 with 12 home runs and 44 RBIs in 484 plate appearances last season — is set to earn $13 million next season. While it has never been the team’s practice to eat significant chunks of salary to trade a player, the White Sox might be motivated to move LaRoche, 36, to free themselves up for other plans.
Still, White Sox manager Robin Ventura has to operate under the assumption LaRoche will return next season. Ventura said Tuesday he thinks LaRoche would receive a big boost once his stats are reset to zero.
“Anybody would need that,” Ventura said. “There's been a lot of guys that have had bad years, and once you can clear it off and almost reset your mind as well as the numbers ... it's not always easy going out there and looking up at the board, and it's not a very attractive number. You see it every time you walk to the plate. I think it would help him to just have it scratched out and ready to go next year.”
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Both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Seattle Mariners are in need of a first baseman and would prefer a left-handed hitter. The Mariners also place a premium on defense (LaRoche is still considered a strong defender) and have shown a willingness to take on players who could potentially rebound. But even though LaRoche has only one season left on his deal, neither team would sign on for the full amount.
One industry source suggested the White Sox would have to eat at least $8 million of LaRoche’s salary to trade him for a mid-level prospect. Though the White Sox absorbed more than $7 million of Jeff Keppinger’s three-year deal when they released him in May 2014, they haven’t made that type of move a common practice.
Still, $5 million of freed up salary could help general manager Rick Hahn in his quest to improve the team’s offense. It also would clear more playing time for Trayce Thompson, who impressed the White Sox down the stretch.
But the White Sox view LaRoche as a bounce-back candidate and could hang on to him. LaRoche owns a career .798 OPS and has hit 20 or more home runs 10 times in his career, which leads the White Sox — and perhaps other clubs — to think he should make a comeback in 2016.
“He did have a couple of injuries during the year that hopefully are behind him now, and hopefully they don’t reoccur once we get to Glendale,” Hahn said. “And simply because we have had such a long track record of performance, he’s the type of guy you’d want to bet on at least in terms of having the potential to bounce back.”