Table of Contents

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jason LaRue to the Royals

Some rather belated coverage of the LaRue deal...

The Kansas City Star reported that the Royals expect to pay roughly $2.5 million of LaRue's $5.45 million salary next year (hat tip to Austin Kearns at RedsZone). That means the Reds are kicking in ~$2.95 million and LaRue in exchange for the Royals' player to be named later.

Recent Stats on LaRue:

LaRue's season was one of the most disappointing that I've ever seen. After a career year in 2005, LaRue stumbled into the season with a knee injury and never recovered, ultimately losing the starting catching job to another guy having a career year, David Ross. Based on most standard evaluations of player performance, LaRue was awful last year (-4.3 VORP). It's not unheard of for catchers to fall off the face of the earth at age 32, so many people justifiably feel that Jason is probably done.

But, as discussed here last summer, there are some really strange things about LaRue's batted ball data. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is an absurdly low 0.220, which is far below what we'd reasonably expect from a MLB hitter--even when they're struggling horribly. Furthermore, his batted ball data are largely in line with what he did in prior seasons, his strikeout rate was down, his walk rate up, and even his HR rate is slightly higher than in prior season. Therefore, there's the distinct possibility that LaRue was swinging the bat reasonably well and just encountered some miserable luck last season. If you believe J.C. Bradbury's PrOPS statistic--and I (cautiously) do--LaRue's performance with the bat (batted ball data) would typically be sufficient for a career-best OPS of 0.861!

The truth probably lies somewhere in between the two extremes. I do expect that LaRue will bounce back, though probably not all the way up to the 0.800+ OPS range. He'll be 33 next season and has caught a lot of games over the years, so it's a bit much to expect he'll come anywhere near his '05 performance again. But I see no reason why he can't hit in the mid-high 0.700's next season (see his 2004 season, maybe with a bit higher OBP and a bit lower SLG), all the while providing a good throwing arm and (mostly) acceptable performance as a backstop.

That's not a bad pickup for a player to be named later and $2.5 million, so I think Kansas City did well for themselves in this deal. I have little doubt that this is the best the Krivsky could expect to get for LaRue after Jason's miserable season. But it might have been better to wait until next year, see if he gets hot, and then try to unload his contract. As it is, we're paying $3 million next year for a catcher who is not even on our team. If the basic rule of trading players is to buy low and sell high, the Reds didn't do well here.

Even so, I liked this deal better when it was made on November 20th, because it freed up a spot on the 25-man roster and seemed to guarantee that Javier Valentin would actually get some plate appearances next season. ... but then Krivsky signed Chad Moeller a week later. More on that later.