MLBTR’s Connor Byrne recently previewed the upcoming offseason market for catchers, highlighting that there’s effectively one star option, a series of potential regulars and several backups/role players who could still help in the latter stages of their respective careers. The market for first basemen is even thinner, though there are still some intriguing names for clubs seeking a veteran to fill that role.
A Free-Agent in Name Only?
- Jose Abreu: The 32-year-old Abreu would be the top first base option on the open market — if anyone believes he’s actually going to explore offers from all 30 teams. The mutual admiration between Abreu and the organization has been covered ad nauseum throughout years of him being listed as a potential trade candidate. Both White Sox GM Rick Hahn and Abreu himself have spoken frequently about the desire to work out an extension, with Abreu making his most emphatic statement to date just last week. “Like I said before, if the team doesn’t sign me, I’m going to sign myself here,” Abreu told Daryl Van-Schouwen of the Sun-Times. Abreu later added that owner Jerry Reinsdorf has strongly suggested to him that he’ll be with the Sox beyond 2019. The big man is hitting .284/.323/.503 with 28 homers, but the smart money is on him staying with the South Siders.
The Top Option
- Justin Smoak: With Abreu not likely to change uniforms, the switch-hitting Smoak becomes the best bet on the open market. Traditionalists will bristle at Smoak’s paltry .216 batting average, but he’s in the midst of a third straight season with a .350 OBP or better. He’s homered 20-plus times in each of those seasons and posted an ISO (slugging minus batting average) above .200 four times in the past five years (including this year’s even .200 mark). Smoak is sitting on a career-high 16.6 percent walk rate and has cut his strikeout rate to 20.4 percent. Smoak may never match 2017’s total of 38 big flies, but he’s a switch-hitting on-base threat with above-average pop who can play a respectable first base.
- David Freese: Turning to the short side of the platoon, the 36-year-old Freese (37 next April) has never had a below-average offensive season by measure of wRC+. He’s long tormented left-handed pitching (.301/.380/.468 in 1180 PAs) and has more than held his own against same-handed opponents over the past couple seasons. Freese’s role with the Dodgers has been extremely limited in 2019 (163 PAs), but there’s little indication that his offensive capabilities are eroding. His age and part-time role in recent seasons will probably prevent him from getting a full-time gig in the offseason, but Freese would be a terrific veteran addition to the bench of many contenders.
- Mitch Moreland: Soon to turn 34, Moreland has drawn consistently positive reviews for his defense at first base. It’s a big reason that Boston has deployed him at the position over the past three seasons, most recently inking him to a two-year deal prior to the 2018 season. Moreland has all of 36 plate appearances against left-handed pitching in 2019 — spoiler alert: they haven’t gone well — but he’s clobbered righties at a .265/.341/.556 line through 189 plate appearances. He’s missed time due to back and quad injuries this season, and it’s possible that those maladies have contributed to his uncharacteristically below-average defensive ratings. Moreland’s history of plus glovework and still-potent bat against righties should land him a big league pact.
- Steve Pearce: A postseason hero in 2018, Pearce has had an utterly miserable season. A back injury has limited him to 99 plate appearances, during which time he’s posted a putrid .180/.245/.258 output. Pearce doesn’t look healthy and, heading into his age-37 season, will almost certainly need to settle for a minor league deal. His outstanding 2018 showing and lifetime .264/.347/.491 line against right-handed pitching are points in his favor.
- Neil Walker: As of this writing, Walker’s batting line is effectively league average (100 wRC+, 96 OPS+), making last year’s season with the Yankees the lone aberration on an otherwise strong track record. He’s no longer an everyday option at second base, but Walker can handle first, second, third and some corner outfield work while giving professional at-bats from both sides of the dish. He had to settle for a $2MM guarantee on a non-contender this season, but a better showing at the plate in 2019 (.267/.344/.394 with a pitcher-friendly home park in Miami) should convince clubs he has some mileage left.
- Martin Prado: Walker’s teammate, Prado will soon turn 36 and is coming off several seasons ruined by hamstring and quadriceps injuries. Those issues have relegated him primarily to first base duties. The fact that each of his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all check in south of .300 doesn’t bode well for Prado. But, in 81 trips to the plate against lefties, he’s hit .311/.346/.378 with an eight percent strikeout rate. Prado is, by all accounts, a boon to any clubhouse into which he steps foot, but interest is going to be limited.
Veterans with Club Options
- Anthony Rizzo: Dream on. Rizzo’s $14.5MM club option is among the easiest calls in the game. He won’t sniff the open market.
- Eric Thames: The $7.5MM option on Thames’ contract comes with a $1MM buyout — making him a $6.5MM decision for the Brewers. The former KBO superstar’s bat looked to be on the downswing in 2018, but he’s bounced back in 2019 and is currently sporting a haughty .256/.355/.508 slash with 19 dingers and doubles apiece in 379 plate appearances (plus a couple of triples). Thames is best paired with a right-handed-hitting platoon partner, but his production against righties looks to be worth this modest price.
- Ryan Zimmerman: Nationals icon or not, Zimmerman won’t have his $18MM club option exercised on the heels of an injury-shortened year that has currently consisted of a .246/.311/.390 output through 132 plate appearances. It’s possible that the Nats will bring him back at a (much) lower rate, but Zimmerman will turn 35 years old next month. He’ll have to earn his way back into a full-time role regardless of where he’s playing.
- Matt Adams: Another Washington first baseman, Adams has a $4MM mutual option (or a $1MM buyout) for next season. It’s safe to assume at this point that Adams is never going to be much of a threat against opposing lefties, but he’s hit righties at a .243/.300/.514 clip this year. This is his third straight 20-homer season, although that mark is accompanied by heretofore unseen contact issues (33.1 percent strikeout rate). Adams will turn 31 on Saturday, which, paired with his platoon issues, could well keep him from signing a multi-year deal if he returns to free agency. But he’s an established bat against righties who can probably be had on an affordable one-year offer this winter.
Yonder Alonso, Mark Reynolds, Lucas Duda and Hanley Ramirez were all released this season. Alonso is hitting well as a Rockie. Ramirez underwent shoulder surgery. Reynolds has yet to latch on elsewhere. Duda was cut loose for a second time earlier this week.
The Phillies have a trio of options who can handle first base in Brad Miller, Sean Rodriguez and Logan Morrison. Of the bunch, Morrison is the wild card who could be of the greatest intrigue. A torn labrum in his hip ruined LoMo’s 2018 season, but he decimated Triple-A pitching this season to earn another look in the big leagues and has hit well through a tiny sample of 15 PAs in Philly. Morrison belted 38 home runs as recently as 2017 with Tampa Bay.
Logan Forsythe had a hot start with the Rangers but has seen his bat tail off in recent months. He’s not a prototypical first baseman but can play all over the infield and has generally handled lefties well. Gerardo Parra isn’t a first baseman by nature, either, but he’s seen some time there with the Nats this season and been reasonably productive in a limited role.