After a career-best offensive season for the Washington Nationals in 2012, first baseman Adam LaRoche was awarded the first Rawlings Gold Glove of his career Tuesday night, recognizing his superb defense for the National League East champions.
LaRoche, known throughout his career as a sure-handed first baseman, had never received the annual award. He becomes just the second Nationals player ever to be honored with one — and the first since third baseman Ryan Zimmerman brought home the organization’s first in 2009. Senators catcher Earl Battey earned the first of his three career Gold Gloves in 1960, his lone season in Washington.
LaRoche beat out Cincinnati first baseman and former MVP Joey Votto, as well as Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman for the award.
Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond was a finalist for the honor as well, but Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins was awarded his fourth Gold Glove at the position. Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart and Miami’s Jose Reyes were also finalists at shortstop but fell short to Rollins.
Rawlings established the Gold Glove Award in 1957 as the “greatest measure of fielding excellence,” the glove maker said in a press release. The award is presented annually to one player for each position in the American and National Leagues. Winners are selected by managers and coaches in that league before the end of the regular season.
For LaRoche, 32, the defensive award acknowledges a season in which he made just seven errors and had a 6.1 Ultimate Zone Rating — the fifth best mark for the defensive statistic among major league first basemen and second only to Votto in the NL. Votto played 354 1/3 innings less than LaRoche this season due to injury. LaRoche led all NL first basemen in fielding percentage (.995), games started (149) and innings (1323 1/3).
It’s also another line on the resume for the first baseman as he continues to attempt to hammer out a contract extension with the Nationals with free agency beckoning.
LaRoche and the Nationals hold a mutual $10 million option for 2013 on his current contract but it appears likely that it will not be exercised by LaRoche as he hopes for a multi-year contract with the Nationals. He could test free agency if the sides do not agree to terms before Saturday’s deadline when their exclusive window expires, but he could also continue to negotiate on a new deal with the Nationals after that date.
“I’d love to [stay in Washington],” LaRoche said at the end of the season. “I think [general manager Mike Rizzo] would like me to come back and I’ve made it clear all year that this is where I want to play. On the other hand, I’ve got to do what’s right for my family, too.
“If it works out, I’m all in. I love these guys. I love being here. One more season for all these young guys, playing in big games like this is going to make them so much better next year.”
LaRoche added a possible Silver Slugger season to his Gold Glove defense, hitting .271 with a career high 33 home runs and 100 RBI, hitting primarily out of the cleanup spot. He’s also a clubhouse leader and one of the team’s most well-liked players.
“He’s the catalyst in here,” Desmond said during the playoffs. “[Jayson Werth] does a lot, [Ryan Zimmerman] does a lot, all the other guys, but Rochey’s that steady head. He’s really, really, really respected in here.”
“Rochey, he’s such a good guy and such a big part of the team,” Werth said in September. “When he does get hits and does do well you’re even more happy for him because you want to see a guy like that succeed.”
LaRoche joins Chicago’s Darwin Barney, San Diego’s Chase Headley, Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen and Atlanta’s Jason Heyward as first-time winners in the National League. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina, Colorado left fielder Carlos Gonzalez and Miami pitcher Mark Buehrle rounded out the NL winners.
Here is the full list of winners from both leagues:
Pos Player 2012 Team
P Jeremy Hellickson Tampa Bay Rays
Jake Peavy Chicago White Sox
C Matt Wieters Baltimore Orioles
1B Mark Teixeira New York Yankees
2B Robinson Cano New York Yankees
3B Adrian Beltre Texas Rangers
SS J.J. Hardy Baltimore Orioles
LF Alex Gordon Kansas City Royals
CF Adam Jones Baltimore Orioles
RF Josh Reddick Oakland Athletics
Pos Player 2012 Team
P Mark Buehrle Miami Marlins
C Yadier Molina St. Louis Cardinals
1B Adam LaRoche Washington Nationals
2B Darwin Barney Chicago Cubs
3B Chase Headley San Diego Padres
SS Jimmy Rollins Philadelphia Phillies
LF Carlos Gonzalez Colorado Rockies
CF Andrew McCutchen Pittsburgh Pirates
RF Jason Heyward Atlanta Braves