MLB Offseason 2012: Top 10 Free Agent First Basemen
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The major difference between catchers and first base can be seen immediately. Sometimes you have a strong group of free agents and sometimes it’s weak. The catchers list is pretty weak this year, with maybe two starters available. All of the first basemen are capable of being regulars, and nearly half of them are All-Star quality performers.
As with the catchers, we will be looking at the top 10 available first basemen on the free agent market.
First, a couple of points for those just joining us. These first basemen will be listed in alphabetical order. I don’t want to rank these guys because some of them will be fits for different teams. Plus, I should add that there are some multiple position players here. I will only list them once, so some guys will be left off this list because they fit better at another position.
As we get started, we will see a few statistics some may be unfamiliar with. The first two lie on the hitting side of the equation. Secondary average (SEC) measures everything a hitter does that does not include batting average. This includes base running, power and patience. When you combine batting average and secondary average, you get real offensive value (ROV). It is expressed like batting average.
We will also include batting average on balls in play (BABIP) as a final offensive statistic. Additionally, we will look at defensive statistics. Primarily, we will look at innings and composite runs (combination of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, Baseball Prospectus and The Fielding Bible). Finally, we will show wins above replacement. WAR is a combination of offense and defense.
Jorge Cantu: San Diego Padres
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Composite Runs: +3.0 runs
WAR: -1.0 wins
Jorge Cantu has already driven in 100 or more runs twice and 90 or more runs one additional time in his career. He is only 29 years old, so there is little reason to believe he is done. However, these numbers above will be enough to scare most teams away.
Prince Fielder: Milwaukee Brewers
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Composite runs: -14.4 runs
WAR: 5.2 wins
Fielder is either the No. 1 or No. 2 available first baseman depending on who you ask. He has the age advantage on Pujols, and he was more productive this year. Obviously, Pujols is the better all-around player.
Likely Fit: Fielder is a better investment over the long-term. I don’t see the Brewers bringing him back, but you never know. Ultimately, the total dollars will be in excess of 100 million, but the number of years is probably more important.
Jason Giambi: Colorado Rockies
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Composite Runs: +2.6 runs
WAR: 1.0 wins
Jason Giambi has a player option that he can exercise by the end of October. So, by the end of the day, we will know if he will be a Rockie. Colorado has been a good situation for him, so it would be surprising if he doesn’t exercise the option.
Likely Fit: Back in Denver
Brad Hawpe: San Diego Padres
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Composite Runs: +2.5 runs
From 2006 to 2009, Hawpe had at least 23 home runs and 80 RBIs in each season. Unfortunately, he looks like a 21st century version of Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla. He can play some right field, so he might still catch on somewhere.
Likely Fit: Non-roster invitee with someone looking for quality depth.
Eric Hinske: Atlanta Braves
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Composite Runs: +12.1 runs
WAR: 0.7 wins
Eric Hinske played more in the outfield for the Braves, but he is an infielder by trade. He made quite a bit of money for himself by showing that he could be useful off the bench. So many regulars that lose their jobs can’t handle that role.
Likely Fit: He’d be a nice bench piece for a lot of teams.
Conor Jackson: Boston Red Sox
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Composite Runs: +1.4 runs
Back in the good ol’ days, Conor Jackson would have a regular job somewhere. He can hit you a solid .280 and hit between 10 and 15 home runs. That won’t cut it at first base or left field these days, so he will have to catch on as a backup.
Likely Fit: Sign with someone that wants some bench help.
Casey Kotchman: Tampa Bay Rays
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Composite Runs: -1.8 runs
WAR: 2.9 wins
Casey Kotchman is living a charmed life. He has never hit more than 14 home runs, and .306 pretty much tops out his hitting ceiling, but he has found regular work every year since he has entered the league.
Likely Fit: Look for Kotchman to slot in somewhere that needs a one-year stopgap.
Derrek Lee: Pittsburgh Pirates
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Composite Runs: -2.2 runs
WAR: 1.1 wins
Lee has quietly forged a very good career for himself. The team that signs him will get the PR bonanza that will come from his 2,000th hit. In all seriousness, he is good for solid defense at first, 20 home runs and 80 RBIs a season.
Likely Fit: Back with the Pirates.
Carlos Pena: Chicago Cubs
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Composite Runs: -0.6 runs
WAR: 2.2 wins
If I were a team wanting a first baseman, I would sign Pena and just laugh at the teams falling over themselves to bid on Fielder and Pujols. His basic numbers aren’t sexy, but he draws a ton of walks and will provide a good power source for an affordable rate.
Likely Fit: Maybe the Cubs if they fail to get one of the big time guys. He would be a real nice fit with the Giants.
Albert Pujols: St. Louis Cardinals
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Composite Runs: +27.6 runs
WAR: 5.4 wins
Lost in the World Series hysteria is that face that Pujols' 5.4 WAR output was the lowest of his career. Pujols might be the best first baseman of all-time when it is all said and done, but no one beats the clock. I can’t help but think that any contract beyond five years is a sucker bet.
Likely Fit: The Cards are still the best bet, but Tony Larussa’s retirement makes things more interesting.