Sometimes as I lie awake at night, I wonder if Andy LaRoche and Lastings Milledge were meant to have the same career. Okay, maybe I just wondered that today, but the similarities have continued to mount.
Milledge and LaRoche were once up-and-coming potential stars. In 2006, they were regarded as two of the top-20 prospects in the game by Baseball America, with Milledge ranking slightly ahead of LaRoche. Similar marks were given by John Sickels, who graded Milledge as an A- prospect, while LaRoche landed a B+ grade.
The similarities continue from there. Both players were very highly valued by their respective teams, turning down trade overtures from rivals hoping to pry them loose. But both players eventually began to fall out of favor, and they were eventually traded in-season to the same team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. LaRoche was acquired in the Jason Bay trade during the 2008 season, while Milledge was packaged with Joel Hanrahan and traded to Pittsburgh during the 2009 campaign.
Each player was given a shot to play every day, and both showed flashes of potential. Milledge played every day in center field for the Nationals in 2008, and put up a solid .268/.330/.402 line, although there were serious issues with his defense that culminated with a move to the corner spots. LaRoche played everyday at third base for the Pirates in 2009, and put up a practically identical line to the one that Milledge had the previous year: .258/.330/.401. I mean, whoa.
But for both players, things fell apart right after their respective .330 OBP/.400 SLG seasons. Milledge struggled so much at the beginning of the 2009 season that he was demoted to Triple-A, and eventually traded to the Pirates. LaRoche didn't get demoted, but similar early-season struggles led to his benching and a non-role on the league's worst team. In either case, both players totally failed to follow up on their solid debuts while playing in Pittsburgh.
And now, both players are free agents after being non-tendered by the same team. Neither player has garnered much interest thus far, although presumably they'll find some takers considering they're both still in their respective primes. I don't know what's going to happen to either player, but if history is any indication, they'll presumably both meet a similar fate.