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MLB Free Agency: First Base Market

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Welcome to the second installment of INSC’s MLB Free Agency Positional Breakdown! As move into day two of the series, we will be taking a closer look at this year’s crop of free-agent first basemen. We will be taking a look at the list of names, what they bring to the table, where they could end up and which teams could be looking for first base help.

So for us to get into any analysis, we are going to need a list of upcoming free agents. It just so happens that mlbtraderumors.com formulates such a list every season. If you would like to access their full list of upcoming free agents, you can take a look right here. From that full list, here are the first basemen who are poised to be free agents at the conclusion of this season’s World Series!

Edwin Encarnacion (34)
Ryan Howard (37) — $23MM club option with a $10MM buyout
Chris Johnson (32)
Dae-ho Lee (35)
Adam Lind (33)
James Loney (33)
Mitch Moreland (31)
Logan Morrison (29)
Brandon Moss (33)
Mike Napoli (35)
Steve Pearce (34)
Sean Rodriguez (32)
Carlos Santana (31) — $12MM club option with a $1.2MM buyout
Eric Thames (30)

When looking over this list of names, there are certainly some guys who will find themselves in starting roles come 2017. Edwin Encarnacion, despite being 34, will be the cream of the crop here. Mitch Moreland and Logan Morrison provide some youth in comparison to the rest of the field, and both men will see their fair share of at-bats no matter where they end up in 2017. Mike Napoli certainly earned himself a job next season with his power display this season, although his age will scare some teams. Steve Pearce and Sean Rodriguez are both utility type of players who always find a way into lineups.

One of the more interesting names here is Carlos Santana. Santana launched 34 home runs this season for the Cleveland Indians. On the whole, he had a very nice season for the Tribe, and with a 12 million dollar club option, his return to Cleveland is almost a guarantee. After rebounding the way he did this season, it would be a total shock to see him be a part of this free agent class.

That brings us back to Edwin. As part of one of the most dangerous offenses in baseball, Edwin hit 42 home runs while slugging .529 and driving in 127 runs. At his age, teams are not likely to offer much beyond a three-year deal, but he could certainly be set up for a very nice average annual salary. A slugger with 40 home run power is extremely hard to find, and teams will certainly look to add that type of thump. Now Edwin did spend more games at DH then he did on the field this season, and a return to the AL is probably far more likely then going to a National League club.

The Blue Jays will certainly be interested in retaining his services, but they will likely have some serious competition. Divisional rivals like the Boston Red Sox could be involved, as could teams like Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners.

Teams who miss out on Edwin will likely turn to the likes of someone like Mike Napoli, who offers a similar profile. He is an older bat with power. He will not need a longer deal and is capable of hitting over 30 homers, as he hit 34 while driving in 101 this season for Cleveland. A return to Texas or Boston could be in the cards, while the same list of teams in on Edwin should be in on Napoli once Edwin signs. Napoli’s value comes in his bat more than his defense, and that means an American League team is most likely in his future.

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Mitch Moreland of the Texas Rangers provides the next most intriguing option. Moreland is a lefty who is best served as a platoon partner. He has been improving against lefties each of the last few years, and Texas has never really given him a look as a full-time player. Cleveland, Texas, Colorado, Milwaukee are among some of his possible suitors. He is a 20 plus homer type of guy, and at 31 he is one of the younger options available at the position.

The youngest man on the market is Logan Morrison of the Tampa Bay Rays. Morrison is a former top prospect who has done nothing but disappoint in his seven year career. His first season in Tampa ended with a wrist injury that required surgery, and he is facing some rehab time over the winter. The injury will likely mean he does not sign until 2017, and will likely land on the team that misses out on all of their other options. Given his former status as a top prospect, someone will likely give him a chance, probably with some incentives in his contract. A return to the Marlins, whom he came up with, is not out of the question completely. More than likely he goes to a club who is rebuilding, rather than a contender, so he can attempt to regain some value.

Dae-ho Lee and Adam Lind both come from the Seattle Mariners, as they were platoon partners. Both men have a bit of pop in their bats, and both men are best off in that platoon type of role. Neither man is going to be atop any teams wish list, and both men will likely sign as either a backup or a platoon partner. Since neither man is going to draw a big deal, teams like the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland Athletics could be involved on both men. Both men profile better in the American League, and either man could get some DH at-bats. Seattle and Cleveland could be in the mix here. Lind could draw a little interest from the Angels as well, as they could pair him with CJ Cron as a platoon.

The other two names that will draw some interest because of their power are Ryan Howard and Brandon Moss. Howard hit 25 home runs to Moss’s 28 in 2016. The Phillies are set to decline Howard’s option, and he appears to move on from the franchise he came up with. He could very well retire, but more likely he signs with an AL team as a bench player. He can provide a backup at both first base and at DH. Moss is a little more interesting, as he is also capable of playing the outfield. This will certainly expand his market, as teams in need of corner outfield depth will be taking a look at the former Cardinal. He is a very streaky hitter, and finding a full time job is probably not going to happen.

So which teams are losing first basemen or designated hitters? Baltimore could have an opening at their DH slot. Boston, Tampa, and Toronto could all say the same. Napoli’s status leaves a whole in the Cleveland lineup, while Kansas City could be looking to replace Kendrys Morales. The Mariners and Rangers are both losing first basemen, and both will certainly be in the market here. Colorado does not have a definitive man to hold down first, while Milwaukee could move Chris Carter to open up their slot.

The market may not be loaded with superstars, but there is a fair share of guys who can hit 20 to 30 home runs, plus one or two 40 long ball guys. This type of power is always coveted at the corners, and it should make for an interesting market. Edwin will be the big name, but some guys like Moreland and Moss could become important parts to teams in 2017 as well.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when we go to the second base market! If you have not already, check out the Positional Breakdown Series Preview page to see what date we will look at each position, with links available upon the release of those articles. You can check that page out right here.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com