Trade Market For First Basemen

Last year’s first base market was a quiet one, with Justin Morneau the only true full-time option to change hands. Of course, he was not dealt until the end of August. Several other players that have logged some innings at first also were swapped, including Michael Morse, Alberto Callaspo, and Michael Young, but none spent significant time at the position for their new clubs in 2013.

Will this year see more sluggers join contenders? Classifying the potentially available first baggers poses something of a challenge, but let’s see who might be available:

Current Starters

Justin Morneau (Rockies), Allen Craig and Matt Adams (Cardinals), James Loney Rays), Garrett Jones (Marlins), Ryan Howard (Phillies), Carlos Pena (Rangers), Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez (Pirates), Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison (Mariners), Yonder Alonso (Padres)

  • Morneau could well become the most impactful first bagger to be dealt for a second consecutive year — if, that is, the Rockies are willing to move him. Owner Dick Monfort has expressed a general unwillingness to part with the club’s veterans, though the recently-signed Morneau has not been singled out as being off limits. The veteran owns an .846 OPS, by far his best mark since a concussion derailed his run as one of the game’s premier hitters back in 2010. He is only owed the remainder of a $5MM salary this year, and comes with a $6.75MM guarantee for 2015 along with a $9MM mutual buyout ($750K buyout) for 2016.
  • Speculation has it that the Cardinals might consider moving one of the team’s two cost-controlled first base bats, owing in part to something of a roster logjam. Trouble is, Craig has stopped hitting (.648 OPS on the year) and the $26.5MM he is owed from 2015-18 (including a buyout of a $13MM option in the last season) no longer looks terribly appealing. The opposite is true of Adams, who owns an .876 OPS and will not even be arb-eligible until 2016, but surely St. Louis would hesitate to deal him for anything less than an impactful return in the midst of a pennant chase.
  • Loney, who owns a .275/.333/.372 line midway through the first season of a three-year, $21MM pact, seems fairly unlikely to be dealt by the Rays. That is especially true given that the club is said to be disinclined to conduct a sell-off that might prevent it from contending next year (if not this season as well). On the other hand, if things go south over the next two weeks and the demand is there — or, perhaps, if the Rays add a younger, MLB-ready replacement through some other moves — a Loney deal is not out of the question.
  • Even if the Marlins’ contention hopes appear to be fading somewhat, the club seems inclined to keep a competitive product on the field. That could make Jones unavailable, and he would generate limited interest regardless. Jones has been useful at the plate this year against righties (.806 OPS), though he hovers at replacement level as a full-time first baseman. He is owed $5MM next year, as well.
  • Howard, meanwhile, has continued to fall off and now owns a .220/.300/.381 triple-slash that is by far the worst mark of his career. Though he could have some appeal as a platoon partner and bench bat, he is actually performing worse against righties than lefties at this point (.671 OPS vs. .711 OPS). More importantly, the $60MM guarantee left on his contract after this season serves as something of a deterrent, to say the least. Odds remain low that he will be dealt, for that reason, but surely Philadelphia would listen if any other club showed any interest in taking any part of that deal.
  • Pena has been poor in his first 16 games with Texas (.136/.190/.237) after inking a mid-season minor league deal to fill in for the injured Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland. But surely the Rangers would be willing to move him as a bench piece if he can elicit interest with a turnaround.
  • Thus begins the slippery slope in identifying possible first base trade targets. (“Well, if we include him, then surely … .”) Not one of the remaining names listed carries an OPS of above .700, and none appear particularly likely to be dealt as things stand. But all have shown promise at times in the past, and depending upon how their teams proceed and view these players’ future prospects, it is not inconceivable that they could be moved.

DH/Nominal First Basemen

Adam Dunn (White Sox), Kendrys Morales (Twins), Billy Butler (Royals), Chris Carter (Astros)

While each of these players could conceivably take the field at first, any club acquiring them would hope to keep them in batting gloves. The first three all appear somewhat over-paid for their current production levels, though Dunn (.798 OPS, $15MM annual salary) has at least been hitting, Morales (.582, $12MM) could be expected to improve after his late start to the year, and Butler (.679, $8MM plus $1MM buyout for 2015) is the cheapest of the trio and might offer a hint of upside through his deal’s $12.5MM club option if he has a big second half. (Of course, it remains to be seen whether Kansas City will be interested in dealing a one-time core player, but otherwise the price should be low to acquire one of these established bats.) Then, there is Carter, set to qualify for Super Two in his age-28 season, whose immense power (.465 slugging, 18 home runs) is as tantalizing as his whiff rate is discouraging (.281 OBP, 32.7% K%).

Buy-Low Candidates/Reserves/Bench Bats

Jesus Montero (Mariners), Mike Carp (Red Sox), Chris Colabello (Twins), Chris Parmelee (Twins), John Mayberry Jr. (Phillies), Tyler Moore (Nationals)

As with several players bunched at the end of the “current starters” category, many of these players fall in a grey area between intriguing former prospect and decent bench bat. Those currently playing on winning clubs might conceivably be included in a minor deal for a contender looking to add a reliever or more versatile bench piece, or as part of a larger swap. The others could present some appeal for teams hoping to add pop off the bench or take a chance on a future turnaround. (All the players listed here have multiple seasons of control remaining, though Carp, Parmelee, and Mayberry are already out of options.)

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