Contrary to what it may seem, the Seattle Mariners are a mess at first base.
Justin Smoak was supposed to be Seattle's first baseman of the future, but has been wildly inconsistent, even getting demoted to Triple-A for stints in each of the past two seasons. The relegations have helped, but he hasn't made great strides in his offensive game.
Dustin Ackley can play first, but may need to share time at second base or in the outfield next season, depending on who Seattle can sign in free agency. He's also been disappointing and may be better suited for a utility role until further notice.
First round pick D.J. Peterson will probably eventually be making the transition from third to first, but is in Single-A and won't be seen in Seattle for at least another season or two.
Kendrys Morales is the ideal first baseman for the Mariners, although he was mostly a DH. He's already said he won't accept Seattle's qualifying offer, but that doesn't mean Morales won't play for the Mariners next season. He'll be tough to bring back, considering the limited power on the market, but his familiarity with the club and the organization could help Jack Zduriencik's chances of bringing him back, or hurt them depending on their relationship.
Based on their career-long body of work and estimated salaries, here are free agent first basemen the Mariners should target this winter.
All stats via ESPN.com and baseball-reference.com.
2013 stats: .277/.336/.449, 23 HR, 80 RBI, 2.7 WAR
Morales flourished as a middle-of-the-order bat for the Mariners. He was the most consistent hitter in the lineup and hit well from both sides of the plate (.275 left-handed, .282 right-handed). His numbers also got better as more runners reached base, hitting .312 while slugging .482 and 56 RBI with runners in scoring position.
He's average defensively and won't get many web gems, nor will he lose any games on defensive blunders.
Morales' numbers from last season are on par with his career averages, so he can be expected to produce at a similar level for at least a few more seasons.
He's reportedly seeking a long term deal and won't accept the Mariners' $13.8 million qualifying offer, which is likely more than he'll make on a season-to season basis. $50 million over five years should be enough to sign the 31-year-old.
2013 stats: .299/.348/.430, 13 HR, 75 RBI, 2.7 WAR
Besides a sub-par 2012, James Loney has been an excellent hitter throughout his career. He rebounded last season with the Tampa Bay Rays and increased his stock considerably. He hit .299 against both lefties and righties, and had at least one at-bat from every spot in the order, proving his versatility.
Like Morales, Loney had success with RISP, hitting .310 with 62 RBI. He's also slightly above average defensively, having an Rdrs of 38 last season. Loney's a patient hitter who doesn't draw a ton of walks, but won't strike out a ton either.
He's been extremely affordable thus far and can likely be signed for three years, $20 million at the most.
2013 stats: .259/.323/.411, 17 HR, 77 RBI, 2.0 WAR
The former MVP didn't do much with the Pirates after being traded (0 HR, 3 RBI in 92 AB) but still put together a solid season to end his six year, $80 million deal. Not only is he consistent and capable of putting together more successful seasons, he's one of a few legitimate everyday starting first basemen on the free agent market.
Erik Hinske, Paul Konerko, Casey Kotchman, Adam Lind, Mike Napoli, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Pena, Mark Reynolds and Kevin Youkilis are the other candidates. Napoli and Reynolds have a ton of power, but not much else. The same could be said of Pena, and the other guys on the list really aren't viable candidates for the Mariners.
Morneau's one weakness is left-handed pitching. He hit just .207 against south paws last season compared to .280 off of righties. However, he would be a nice addition to the middle of the order and could be signed for three years at around $32 million.