|In a rare challenge trade of starting first basemen, the Braves dealt 26-year-old Casey Kotchman to the Red Sox for 29-year-old Adam LaRoche. Both players bat lefthanded and both head to teams in playoff contention, but the key separator is service time. LaRoche can opt for free agency after the season, while Kotchman is under team control for the next two seasons. The Braves also received cash considerations in the deal.|
|A slick-fielding first baseman, Kotchman didn't hit for the power numbers that the Braves expected when they traded for him last season. In 86 games for the Braves this year, Kotchman batted .282/.354/.409 with six home runs and 41 RBIs. And in 130 games for the franchise, he hit just eight homers and slugged a mere .378 over 511 plate appearances. Much like the role Doug Mientkiewicz filled for the 2004 Red Sox, Kotchman is expected to be a late-game defensive replacement and pinch-hitter for the club. He's arbitration-eligible following this season and next.
LaRoche became expendable after Boston traded for Victor Martinez. The Red Sox have a plethora of corner infielders—David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and now Martinez—and LaRoche didn't fit into that mix, at least not defensively. Boston had acquired the slugger just over a week earlier, but the move turned out to be a short-term stopgap. How short? In six games with the Red Sox, LaRoche went 5-for-19 with a home run and three RBIs. LaRoche should give the Braves added pop at first base as they attempt to chase down the NL wild card leaders. Prior to the trade, Atlanta had received a combined seven home runs from its first basemen. For his career, LaRoche is a .295 hitter with a .899 OPS after the All-Star break.
LaRoche returns to the organization that made him a 29th-round pick back in 2000. He spent most of the 2004 through 2006 seasons as the regular in Atlanta before his trade to the Pirates. The Braves still have reliever Mike Gonzalez from that trade, but at first base they've essentially swapped their starter for another model at each of the past two deadlines. Last year, they shipped pending free agent Mark Teixeria to the Angels to get Kotchman.
But LaRoche may only be a short-term solution. The future rests with 19-year-old Freddie Freeman, who was hitting .300 through 25 games at Double-A Mississippi. Still, few expect Freeman to be ready at the beginning of next year, so that leaves the window open, however slightly, for a return by fan-favorite LaRoche.