First Base Options
I know the excitement-o-meter is off the charts right now, and the last week has raised everyone’s expectations for how Jack is going to finish the off-season. First base is the obvious next step, and since they got Cliff Lee, why not dream about Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Lance Berkman, or Joey Votto, right?
The problem, though, is that you can only acquire players who the other team wants to trade. And there’s just no real signs that any of those guys are available right now. You can want them to be, but if they aren’t, they aren’t. They may be available at some point in the future, but as of today, the odds of getting any of those kinds of players are slim, and the price you would have to pay to get it done is prohibitive.
That is why, in reality, I think the M’s are going to end up spending $4 to $5 million on a solid, non-star first baseman for 2010. They have around $10 million or so left in the budget, and I’d expect them to save some cash to sign one of the injury prone/old starting pitchers on the market, whether that be Erik Bedard, Ben Sheets, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, or whoever. I also get the feeling that they’re going to sign a reliever, and they’d love to have a lefty for Wak to use in the 7th/8th innings. So, saving some cash and getting a less sexy name at first base is probably the way to go. And if something opens up for a bigger acquisition down the line, you can evaluate whether it’s the right move then.
Essentially, here are the options that I’m aware of as of now:
Lyle Overbay, Toronto
The classic average first baseman. He doesn’t do anything well or poorly. He makes okay contact. He draws some walks. He hits for some power. His defense at first is fine. He’s just average across the board, offering little risk and little upside. Given the M’s roster, that’s actually a pretty valuable piece, because he’s the kind of player you can count on without worrying about significant variance. The win or two he would add over Mike Carp is pretty important in terms of the M’s playoff chances, so even if he’s not exciting, it is a real upgrade and potentially worth pursuing.
He’s due $7 million in the final year of his contract, then he’s a free agent. You could probably get the Blue Jays to kick in a couple million if the M’s were willing to take him, as they just acquired Brett Wallace to be their first baseman of the future, and Overbay is just in his way. As a one year fill-in who didn’t cost much, he could help the team score some runs and not be a big obstacle if the Padres put Gonzalez on the market in July. The price has to be right, though, and that depends on Toronto’s desire to move him.
Luke Scott, Baltimore
Scott, we’ve talked about. An outfielder who is willing to transition to first base and could probably be acquired for the right price, he’s arbitration eligible and will make around $4 million in 2010. Lefty with power and patience who strikes out a bit, he’s similar in total value to Overbay, though he also offers the defensive flexibility to be able to play the outfield if need be, and the M’s could keep him past 2010 if he had a good season. Whether those positives outweigh the cost of acquiring him from the Orioles, who would not give him away, is a pretty big factor.
Ryan Doumit, Pittsburgh
Another guy we’ve talked about as a potential fit for the team. He offers a bit more risk and upside than either Overbay or Scott, as he’s young and could catch part-time, giving the M’s the chance to get some offense from behind the plate while offering insurance if either Moore or Johnson are not ready for the start of the season. He’s also a switch-hitter, so from a flexibility standpoint, it would be hard to do better. Lots of downsides, though – he’s coming off a bad season, he’s had wrist injury issues which are known to sap power, and he has next to no experience at first base. He’s also an overly aggressive hitter, which the M’s are in the process of getting away from. That’s a lot of extra risk for the M’s to be taking on, though the upside is there.
He’s under contract for $3.5 million in 2010 and $5 million in 2011, so the contract is right. Pittsburgh would want something useful in return, though, so like Scott, the M’s may decide that they’re better off acquiring a cast-off that won’t cost them any talent and could offer similar production, even if it comes with less flexibility.
Willy Aybar, Tampa Bay
A bit of a personal favorite, he’d be an upside play, kind of in the mold of what the M’s did with Gutierrez and Aardsma a year ago. A switch hitter with gap power and good contact skills, he has the tools to be an above average hitter, but the results haven’t been there the last two years due to low BABIPs. Some players really are true talent .270 BABIP guys, but we’re still dealing with a small sample on Aybar, and we shouldn’t conclude that he is just yet.
He’l be 27 next year, and remains on my list of guys who could take a big step forward if given regular playing time. He also has experience at both 3rd and 2nd (though he may getting too large for second base, especially on a team that values defense), offering the positional flexibility that the team likes. In a lot of ways, he’s a really good fit for the roster.
Unfortunately, he plays for Tampa Bay, and they are the hardest team in the league to trade with. They value their young, cost-controlled players and are reluctant to make any deal that is not a heist for their franchise. They know that Aybar has some upside, and given his team friendly contract, they’re not likely to part with him unless they get something back that they like even more.
James Loney, Los Angeles
The gap between what Loney has been and could be is pretty large. He has tremendous contact skills, the kind of swing and frame that should generate power, and the athleticism of a guy who could be a really good defender at first base. Heading into his age 26 season, though, he has yet to translate the skills into performance.
His lack of power is the real problem at the moment. His ISO was just .118 last year, simply not good enough from a non-premium defender at the position. He has more juice in his bat, as he’s shown in the minors and in his 2007 season, but the power can only be hoped for, not expected. Despite the athleticism, his UZR is below average in nearly 4,000 innings at first base. And the walks don’t make up for the rest of the package.
The Dodgers are unlikely to give up on him so soon, so he won’t be easy to acquire. And yet, he just hasn’t produced at a level where the M’s should be comfortable paying a premium to acquire him in lieu of other available options. The upside makes him interesting, but the cost to acquire probably eliminates him from discussion.
Mat Gamel, Milwaukee
In some ways, Gamel makes a lot of sense. Jack drafted him in Milwaukee, so there’s not much of a question over whether they like what he brings to the table. A 23-year-old lefty who pounds the ball all over the field and draws a bunch of walks is certainly appealing to the M’s, and he’s basically major league ready. Rather than serving as a short term solution, he could help the team win in 2010 and beyond.
There are problems, though. He’s not good defensively, and probably won’t be anywhere. He lacks the physical abilities to be a quality glove guy. He also strikes out an awful lot and doesn’t have the power of a guy like Branyan, so you have to live with a bit lower average without getting the 35 homers. The doubles and walks make him a good hitter, but given his defensive issues, he’s not going to be a star unless he’s a great hitter. And, while Milwaukee probably would trade him if they got the right return, his price tag will be high.
He probably won’t outproduce the veteran options for 2010, so acquiring Gamel would be a move for the future. But if it takes a big part of the future to get him, is the team really better off? A Morrow-Gamel deal has been discussed, but it seems like neither team is really pushing for it. The M’s may be better off just getting a player who can produce in 2010 and worry about the future later.
Via Free Agency:
Everything I said about Overbay is true about LaRoche. They’re very similar players. LaRoche has a tad more power, though he’s spent his career in the National League, so you have to adjust his numbers down a bit. He’s a good but not great hitter and an okay defender, and the overall package makes him about league average. The problem, though, is that his strong finish to the 2009 season has deluded him into thinking he’s worth significant money. Rumors have him asking for 3 years and $30 million. Anything more than 1/7 is an overpay in this market, so he’s probably out unless his agent can talk some sense into him.
As I mentioned the other day, the M’s already have enough health risks, and they may not want to compound that by bringing Branyan back and counting on him to play the field. His power makes him a good player when he’s healthy, but whether he’ll be able to play well or often is a real question. Even at a discount, the M’s might now be best suited going for a lesser player with a healthier profile.
See Russ Branyan, just replace the herniated disc with knee problems and the fact that he’s almost 40.
The right-handed version of Overbay. He’s a decent enough player, but he’s better off somewhere else.
A useful platoon hitter who is a better defender than he’s usually given credit for, but the M’s aren’t going to run a platoon at first base, and Hinske isn’t that much better than Mike Carp. Probably not a real option.
He’s just not very good, and offers way too much risk with not enough reward.
His strong performance in limited time in Seattle has probably inflated his actual value in the eyes of some fans. As a player, he’s similar to Overbay, just with less power and worse defense. He has good plate discipline, but lacks the power to be a really good hitter, and his contact skills are just fine, not exceptional. For this player type to work, you generally have to have excellent bat control and be terrific in the field, ala John Olerud or Mark Grace. Carp is not that kind of defender or contact hitter, leaving him shy of the major league skills needed to be a quality major league starter. He’s probably a +0 to +1 win player for 2010, and the upside is limited. He’d be cheap, but the team could do better.
This probably deserves it’s own post, but no, the team should not move Lopez to first base. He’s not so bad defensively that he’s killing the team at second, nor is he so good offensively that the team should be willing to make the move to keep his bat in the line-up. He’d probably be a decent defender relative to the average first baseman, but offensively, he’d be among the worst in the league. If you don’t want him playing second base, then you don’t want him on the team. And maybe you don’t, but this is a terrible market in which to try to trade a second baseman, and he has value at his production/cost level, so giving him away is pretty foolish. In reality, the M’s best option is probably to let him keep the spot warm for Dustin Ackley, hope he has a big year, and try to trade him again next winter.