MLB Free Agency

Best Available First-Base Options After James Loney Deal with Rays

Jason CataniaMLB Lead WriterDecember 14, 2013

Best Available First-Base Options After James Loney Deal with Rays

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    Now that James Loney has been re-signed, there aren't many quality free-agent first basemen left, outside of Kendrys Morales.
    Now that James Loney has been re-signed, there aren't many quality free-agent first basemen left, outside of Kendrys Morales.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    And then there was one.

    With news Friday that James Loney has re-upped with the Tampa Bay Rays for $21 million over three years, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, there aren't many first basemen of note left on the free-agent market.

    In fact, it's pretty much just Kendrys Morales, the former Seattle Mariners slugger, who hit .277 with 23 homers and 80 RBI last year.

    Recently, other free agents like Mike Napoli (Boston Red Sox), Justin Morneau (Colorado Rockies), Corey Hart (Seattle Mariners), Garrett Jones (Miami Marlins) all inked new deals, leaving the pickings rather slim.

    And yet, there are still teams searching for and in need of help at first base, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics, New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros.

    That's why aside from Morales and the few other bottom-of-the-barrel free agents, there's also a trade market developing at the position. Here, then, are some names to follow among readily available first basemen.

Kendrys Morales, Free Agent

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    Morales is far and away the top free-agent first baseman who remains on the market.

    As a 30-year-old switch-hitter with power, he's an enticing option for a number of reasons, even though he's not the stud he once was before that infamous career-threatening broken ankle in 2010. Still, Morales is good enough to be a starter for a contending club, ideally if he can spend some time at designated hitter, too.

    In addition to the fact that Morales is repped by Scott Boras and seeking a big-money, multiyear contract, the big problem is that he's tied to draft-pick compensation after turning down the Mariners qualifying offer. That means any team that signs Morales will have to give up its first-round selection (unless it's one of the first 10).

    That's a definite sticking point and likely eliminates the Pirates and A's, while the financial factor could take the Brewers and Astros out of the running.

    The Mets, though, have a protected first-rounder and have already lost their second-round selection for signing Curtis Granderson. It might be a stretch for them to pony up yet again for Morales, but it could also complete an offseason makeover.

    Otherwise, Morales could wind up being this offseason's Kyle Lohse.

Justin Smoak, Mariners

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The Seattle Mariners, it seems, finally have had enough of Justin Smoak.

    By inking Corey Hart and trading for Logan Morrison in the span of a few hours earlier in the week, the M's essentially turned Smoak, 27, into excess baggage. That, of course, makes him prime trade bait.

    While he's been a disappointment in Seattle, with whom he's hit .230/.313/.391 in parts of four seasons, Smoak has pedigree as the No. 11 overall pick by the  Texas Rangers in 2008. The switch-hitter also had his "best" year yet in 2013, compiling career highs with 20 homers, 64 walks and a .746 OPS in 454 at-bats.

    It won't be easy for the Mariners to sell him, but a team, like the Pirates or A's, that would rather give up a minor piece than pay money for a free agent could find a way to make use of Smoak in a platoon.

Mitch Moreland, Rangers

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    When your team brings in Prince Fielder in a trade, chances are, you've been displaced. That's just what happened to Mitch Moreland.

    The 28-year-old isn't all that unlike Smoak in that he's offered more potential than production to this point in his career. Sure, he hit 23 homers and drove in 60 runs—both career bests—in fewer than 500 at-bats. The lefty-swinging Moreland also is a flawed hitter who has struggled mightily against same-sided arms (career .657 OPS).

    While the Rangers still could use Moreland as a designated hitter or perhaps even in a corner outfield spot, it's just as likely that they move him in a small deal (for a reliever?) to shore up their roster elsewhere. In that scenario, the Pirates, Brewers or Astros could make sense.

Mike Carp, Red Sox

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    With Napoli (and his beard) returning to Boston, Mike Carp remains in a limited role with the Red Sox. That doesn't necessarily make him available in trade—he succeeded in exactly that capacity in 2013—but it likely means the club would be open to moving him.

    Carp, 27, batted .296/.362/.523 with nine homers, 18 doubles and 43 RBI in a mere 216 at-bats. Perhaps a team will come calling based on that, with the idea that Carp is worthy of an expanded role.

    In reality, though, Carp is a lefty hitter who never has been given a shot at a full-time gig because that would mean exposing him against southpaws. That makes him a prime platoon candidate, and because he'll face the lion's share of plate appearances in that role, he might be worth trading for.

    Among possible fits? The Pirates, Brewers and Astros.

Ike Davis, Mets

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    A former first-rounder, Ike Davis has seen his once-promising career be derailed over the past year.

    After slugging 32 homers—albeit with a .227 average—in 2012, the 26-year-old lefty took a turn for the worse, batting just .205 with 101 strikeouts in 377 plate appearances for the season. In fact, things got so bad, he spent a large chunk of 2013 trying to find his elusive swing at Triple-A.

    At this stage, Davis is purely a long shot...in the dark...with eyes closed for a team that might be willing to hope a change of scenery could do some good.

Eric Chavez, Free Agent

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    In recent years, Eric Chavez has found a second career as a backup corner infielder who can still get it done when called upon.

    A former All-Star-caliber player from his long-since-gone days with the A's, the 36-year-old Chavez has hit a very respectable .281/.341/.488 in about a season's worth of at-bats (506) across 2012 and 2013.

    At one point last season, he had worked his way into a near-everyday role at the hot corner for the Arizona Diamondbacks, only to—you guessed it—have his production cut short by injury.

    Chavez's bat remains potent (when used properly), and he offers a bit more versatility on defense than the other names on this list, which could make him a nice pickup for a team like Pittsburgh, Houston or perhaps even his old squad out in Oakland.

Kevin Youkilis, Free Agent

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Like Chavez, Kevin Youkilis is a one-time top-notch player with an impressive resume who is now in his mid-30s and constantly battling injury problems.

    The big differences are that Youkilis, 34, might be a bigger injury risk—he only played in 28 games a year ago—and a less productive player at this stage. When he actually makes it onto the field, that is.

    Once a strong defender who could play third and first, Youkilis would be a risk at anything other than first base going forward, and he's no longer any good against right-handers either.

    At the moment, it's tough to see where Youkilis might land, but it wouldn't be surprising if he gets a spring training invite and latches on with some team that sees the benefit of rostering him for his "veteran savvy." Of course, it wouldn't be shocking if his career is just about finished, either.

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