Playing the GM Part 4: Free Agent First Basemen

Who could the Red Sox sign to play first base? The crop is pretty thin.

'Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche (25)' photo (c) 2011, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken a long look at the Red Sox’s current roster.  I’ve reviewed player performance, examined contract situations, and made assessments of each player’s future in Bostonin 2013.  (See Part 1 on Position Players and Part 2 on Pitchers and Part 3 on free agent catchers)  Here’s the roster I came up with:

Position Players

C – Ryan Lavarnway

C – David Ross (projected – signed as free agent)

1B – Jarrod Saltalamacchia (?) or Free Agent

2B – Dustin Pedroia

3B – Will Middlebrooks

SS – Jose Iglesias

UT – Pedro Ciracio

LF – VACANT

CF – Jacoby Ellsbury

RF – Cody Ross

OF – Ryan Kalish

OF – Daniel Nava

DH – David Ortiz

Starting Pitching

SP 1 – Jon Lester

SP 2 – Clay Buchholz

SP 3 – VACANT

SP 4 – John Lackey

SP 5 – Felix Doubront

Bullpen

Closer – Andrew Bailey

Set-Up – Junichi Tazawa

RHP – Daniel BardMark Melancon

LHP –Franklin MoralesAndrew MillerCraig Breslow

Remainders

In Reserve – Rich HillClayton MortensenRubby De La RosaAlex Wilson

Out – James LoneyMike AvilesRyan SweeneyDaisuke MatsuzakaAaron CookAlfredo AcevesScott AtchisonVicente Padilla

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After trading Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers in the monster contract purge in August, the Red Sox have a very serious need at first base.  There will be a number of potential free agent options available to Ben Cherington and company.  None of the options are particularly inspired, but they’re options nonetheless. Let’s take a look at a few.

James Loney (.249/.283/.336 in 465 Plate Appearances) – Loney is a borderline starter at best, even on a middling team like the Royals or Astros.  That’s a big reason Tom Werner’s comments about Loney this past September were so baffling.  Despite some of his obvious limitations, he does have some have a few valuable skills.  For instance, he has doubles power, which theoretically should play well in a doubles paradise like Fenway Park.  Plus, he’s an excellent (and underrated) first baseman, defensively.  All of that said, he pretty average in the on-base department; lacks the typical home run power at a power position; and doesn’t add value on the base paths.  Even if he agreed to return at a rate that’s significantly lower than the $6.375M he earned in 2012, he’s still not worth re-signing.  He’s a replacement level player at this point.

Kevin Youkilis (.235/.336/.409 in 509 PAs) – Entering 2012, I thought it was a nearly a foregone conclusion that the Red Sox would pick up Youk’s option.  Clearly, that didn’t happen as he was traded to the White Sox for Zach Stewart and pocket change.  After the season, the White Sox declined his $12M option; thus making him a free agent for the first time in his career.  Despite Youk’s declining skill set and lengthy injury history, several teams will likely take a long look at the fiery goatee cloaked corner infielder.  He has excellent on-base skills; solid home run power; and above average defensive abilities at first base.  Still, due to the incredibly shallow third base market; he’ll likely field a number of offers that are greater than what the Red Sox will be willing to offer to have him play first base.

Adam LaRoche (.271/.343/.510 in 647 PAs) – What a difference a season can make!  Just one injury riddled season prior, he’d produced a woeful .546 OPS.  In 2012, LaRoche finally escaped the label of “the prototypical league average first baseman” label, and proved he could be a major presence in a champion contender’s lineup.  Unfortunately, his breakthrough came during his age-32 season, a time when most players are beginning to decline.  Still, as the premier first baseman on this year’s relatively thin market (especially in comparison to last year’s free agent bonanza at first base), he’s likely to get a few looks from teams willing to give him a bigger contract than they should.  Still, he’s an interesting option, and someone the Red Sox should take a look at signing.  If they can get him to sign a two year $25M deal, he might be worth it.  At the very least, he’s a consistent, semi-long term solution.

Carlos Pena (.197/.330/.354 in 600 PAs) – It was just six years ago we were all lamenting Pena slipping through our fingers.  We allowed him to leave as a free agent after the 2006 season, only to watch him break out in Tampa Bay to the tune of 46 home runs.  While he never repeated that season, he displayed prodigious power and solid on base abilities in 2008 and 2009.  Since 2010, things have been different.  His skills have eroded; he can no longer hit for average; and his slugging hit an all-time low despite hitting 19 home runs last season.  He’s unlikely to have a rebirth in his age-35 season, but he could be an interesting option for the Red Sox.  This is especially true if the Red Sox whiff on other options and/or he’s available for pennies on the dollar.  He’s certainly not ideal.

Aubrey Huff (.192/.326/.282 in 95 PAs) – I’m totally kidding on this one.  Honestly, I’m not sure who I’d want less:  Huff or Loney.

Lance Berkman (.259/.381/.444 in 97 PAs) – Fresh off of a tremendous comeback campaign in 2011, Berkman spent much of the 2012 season on the disabled list with knee injuries.  Coming back from such an injury might be tough in his age-37 season, but Berkman has proven he still has the skills to be a quality major league hitter.  The big question is whether or not he can stay healthy enough to show off those skills.  He’s definitely a high risk/high reward type of free agent.  Luckily, his price will be greatly reduced because he’s not a sure thing.  Signing him would require an adequate backup plan.

Mike Napoli (.227/.343/.469 in 417 PAs) – After a monster 2011 season, many were hoping for a monster follow-up in 2012.  That didn’t exactly happen.  That isn’t to say he wasn’t still productive at the plate, but he didn’t come anywhere near matching the 173 OPS+ he produced in 2011.  In addition to big power and above average on-base abilities, Napoli brings a lot of versatility.  He can play catcher, first base, and DH.  He might be a good option, especially if the Red Sox sign someone like Berkman.  His presence on the roster would allow Cherington to trade some catching surplus, while providing a nice back-up plan should he sign a high risk/high reward guy like Berkman.

Carlos Lee (.264/.332/.365 in 615 PAs) – Mercifully, the disaster that was his six year $100M contract is finally over.  Bad news is Lee is a free agent who will likely be tempt some of the sad, desperate GMs throughout the league.  Don’t fear Dodgers and Phillies fans.  Ned Colletti and Ruben Amaro already have expensive first basemen signed long-term.  You’re safe–probably.  Still, he’ll sign with someone, and I’m not sure why.  He can’t play defense; average in the on-base department; and produced a .365 slugging percentage.  What is there to like?  Cherington needs to stay very far away from him.

Lyle Overbay (.259/.331/.397 in 131 PAs) – Remember when I was talking about LaRoche being the “prototypical league average first baseman?”  Well, Overbay was his twin until two seasons ago.  Now, Overbay is probably best used in a platoon role.  As a lefty, he could be an interesting option in a platoon situation, provided he sees the vast majority of his plate appearances against right-handed pitching.  He should NOT be used as the primary starter.

So there you have it.  The first base free agency situation isn’t exactly sexy.  There are a few interesting options out there, but there’s no one you’d like the Red Sox to commit themselves to long-term.  What do you think the Red Sox should do at first base?  Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Categories: Adam LaRoche Aubrey Huff Boston Red Sox Carlos Lee Carlos Pena James Loney Kevin Youkilis Lance Berkman Lyle Overbay Mike Napoli

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

8 Responses to “Playing the GM Part 4: Free Agent First Basemen” Subscribe

  1. Mowsen November 6, 2012 at 9:00 AM #

    I'd try to sign Napoli on the cheap and platoon him with Salty. This would also allow for some kind of rotation at 1B and C with Lavarnway and Salty. Maybe Youk as a good stop gap if he would be willing to accept a one year deal, maybe with a second year option.
    I'd also give Sands an extended look in Spring Training. 1B market is just too weak this year. I'd rather they save money for later and the right FA or spend it improving the rotation.

    • Robert Levesque November 17, 2012 at 4:52 AM #

      Mowsen,

      Napoli won't be cheap man. Also, If the Sox are gonna do any cathcer platooning, it will be Napoli and Lavarnway. We would have Salty, Ross, Napoli, and Lavarnway are on the books as catchers under this thought. The Sox would most likely trade Lavarnway for pitching help (rotation, most likely). Now our lineup would be different. Salty would be C, Napoli would be 1B/C/DH. While I like Nap's bat…his glove is not awesome. I think we should keep the money it would cost for Nap (about 7-8 million/year) and use it towards resigning Ellsbury (kid's a beast!!) and giving a shot at Youk (2-3.5 million/year). Both of those would benefit the Sox better than the Nap signing, We would get a better glove with Youk and solidify the future with Ellsbury. Plus money saved could be used for Hamilton too :) …good luck with that RedSox

  2. Daniel Poarch November 6, 2012 at 7:53 PM #

    A Napoli-Berkman platoon would be the most awesome thing if this were still 2011.

    I'd probably take LaRoche, personally. Man, that's a weak group, though.

  3. Hunter Golden November 8, 2012 at 1:52 AM #

    I like LaRoche. With a team with a billion question marks, I feel like LaRoche is the most projectable. I don't feel like overpaying to see if Napoli's 2011 was for real.

    • Daniel Poarch November 8, 2012 at 2:40 PM #

      Yeah. LaRoche is practically guaranteed 20-25 homers and a .260/.340/.500 every year, whether last year was sustainable or not. It would be nice to have some consistency.

  4. Kevin November 8, 2012 at 3:04 PM #

    Mauro Gomez folks! He'll give you average, obp, power and the same defense as Napoli (perhaps better), he's younger and he comes cheap! Where is all the Mauro Gomez chatter?

    • ChipBuck November 8, 2012 at 10:39 PM #

      Well, this was about external options. Also, Gomez isn't really a great option. He'll be 28 next season, and he still has rookie eligibility. I'm not saying he couldn't be successful. He's not exactly someone I'd want to bet on. Napoli has proven he can hit in the majors consistently. Gomez hasn't.

      • gerry November 14, 2012 at 4:37 PM #

        True. And I was hoping for Youk, Davis, Napoli. But really, Gomez is probably as projectable and productive as LaRoche at bat, and at least as good as Napoli with the glove. Ben has considered it as an option. He is aware that if Iglesias hits well enough to justify his glove, the Bogaerts is likely to bring his bat and growing body to LF or 1B. If Ben can't get a short term contract for 1B, then whoever he gets will block Bogaerts.

        If Gomez started at 1B, and Sands was off the bench as a righty
        OF bat and backed up 1B, it could work for 2013 and do a fair to very good job until he comes up, perhaps in the middle of this season, perhaps for 2014. Because of their combined production at the position (which could lead the team in HR and XBH), this wouldn't be punting the season at all, especially with a couple of good hitting outfielders (Choo, Hunter, Victorino ) and an above average SP. This also creates significant trade value for Sands and Gomez. Youk's bat is iffy, Napoli's glove is iffy. Davis' power and glove are offset by lack of projectability. No option is perfect, and IMO Kevin's comment deserves consideration as part of the larger picture.