The most interesting thing about the deal that sent Casey Kotchman from the Atlanta Braves to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Adam LaRoche is what that deal says about our long term plans for first base. With Kotchman we had a plan in place, as he was under team control through the 2010 season, but with LaRoche, who can become a free agent at the end of the year, we opened up a big question mark this off-season.
A quick scan through the free agent first baseman at the end of the year, yields a depressing list of have-beens, almosts, or never weres -- light hitting 30-somethings that make Kotchman look like a power hitter. The best guy available (in terms of power stats) might be Russel Branyan, who is having his best major league season at age 33. The best all-around player of reasonable baseball age may actually be Adam LaRoche. So we just gave up a first baseman we controlled for another year for the most attractive free agent first baseman at the end of this year.
My thinking, and the thinking of many fans, is that Kotchman was the bridge to Freddie Freeman, simply a place-holder until the talented young first baseman was ready -- but a pretty decent place-holder. As Baseball American's number-11 top-prospect in all of baseball, Freeman is having a solid year after a mid-season promotion from hi-A to double-A, but most people don't think he'll be ready until 2011, or mid-2010 at the earliest. That leaves a pretty big gap, and the only likely candidate from within the organization to fill it is Barbaro Canizares -- a "prospect" who's almost the same age as LaRoche.
The most likely scenario that must be floating through the Braves' minds is to re-sign LaRoche for a season, but how agreeable does anyone think he'll be to signing a one (or even two) year deal as the best and youngest first baseman on the market in his first go-round as a free agent in his prime free agent years. This is the time in LaRoche's career where he's looking for that rainmaker contract that will take him into his mid-30s -- a three-year contract at a minimum. With the market for first basemen being what it is, he's bound to get that. And that presumably leaves the Braves worse off for next season than they would have been had they not made the trade.
I know some people will suggest that the team may plan to move Chipper Jones over to first, but that presents two problems: (1) who plays third, and (2) what do you do with Freeman when he's knocking on the major league door in a year. Aside from the currently injured Troy Glaus, the 2010 free agent options at third base look just as bad as the first base options. Let's rule that Chipper-to-first scenario out.
We seem to be left with hoping to re-sign LaRoche to a non-long-term deal, or handing the job over to the love-child ghost of Julio Franco and Scott Thorman. If it's the latter, next year we'll be asking ourselves why we're not getting any offense out of first base, just like we asked oursleves why we weren't getting offense out of the outfield in the first half of this season.
On the surface, I like the move to try and get more power out of first base this year by acquiring LaRoche. Though, I would have been happy to stand pat and stay with Kotchman for another year. It seems that behind it all the Braves may have tired of Kotchman, and may have also long-desired to have LaRoche back. When they saw the opportunity to swap with Boston they took it, with the thought that they'll worry about who will be next year's first baseman this off-season. I'm sure this is only the first of many articles that we'll be seeing asking that very same question.