Considering the circumstances, we figure to be in for an unusual free agency period in Major League Baseball next offseason. We’ve already run down the most notable catchers and shortstops who are slated to reach the open market once the winter rolls around in several months. We’ll do the same here with first basemen (players’ listed ages are for the 2021 campaign) …
Top Of The Class
- Anthony Rizzo (31): It would be a huge surprise to see Rizzo become a free agent after next season, as he’s a Cubs icon, a valuable player and someone whose 2021 club option ($14.5MM, compared to a $2MM buyout) looks very reasonable for what he’s able to produce.
- Carlos Santana (35): Santana’s future appears harder to determine than Rizzo’s. On one hand, Santana’s high-on-base ways lead to solid numbers at the plate every year. Still, it’s fair to wonder if the Indians are going to be willing to exercise his pricey option in 2021. They’re a small-market club, after all, and getting rid of Santana’s $17.5MM salary in favor of a $500K buyout would save them a substantial amount of money.
- Yuli Gurriel (37): Gurriel was tremendous last season, a 31-home run, 132 wRC+ performance, but whether it was the product of a juiced ball or a real breakthrough remains to be seen. He wasn’t an offensive dynamo in his previous three major league seasons, and the fact that he’ll be closer to 40 than 30 when he becomes a free agent won’t help his cause.
Other Regulars (based upon 2019 playing time)
- Edwin Encarnacion (38): Encarnacion remains a formidable hitter, but he’s more of a DH than a first baseman nowadays, and the White Sox will be able to keep him for a reasonable $12MM by way of a club option in 2021.
- C.J. Cron (31): While Cron packs a punch (he piled up 55 home runs from 2018-19), he has historically only been a little above average as an all-around offensive player (109 wRC+). As a first baseman, that limits his value.
- Daniel Murphy (36): At this rate, the Rockies seem likely to buy out Murphy for $6MM as opposed to keeping him for $12MM. Although Murphy has typically held his own at the plate, he was a serious disappointment in 2019 in the first season of a two-year, $24MM guarantee with the Rockies. A repeat may limit Murphy to a minor league pact.
- Justin Smoak (34): Smoak wasn’t that productive in his final Blue Jays season last year, yet he was a Statcast favorite. So, if his bottom-line numbers tick upward in 2020 (let’s assume a season actually happens), it wouldn’t be that surprising to see the Brewers keep him for $5.5MM; otherwise, they could buy the switch-hitting Smoak out for $1MM.
Top Timeshare Candidates
- Howie Kendrick (37): Kendrick can flat-out hit, and he may have been the most valuable bench player in the game last year, though age will continue to work against him next time he gets to free agency. That said, Kendrick’s 2019 heroics helped convince the Nationals to re-sign him to a $6.25MM guarantee after a brief trip to the market last offseason.
- Mitch Moreland (35): The Red Sox will be able to retain Moreland for a $3MM option or cut ties with him for $500K in the coming months. Neither outcome would come as a shock. Moreland has typically been something close to a replacement-level player in most seasons, but the Red Sox have shown under multiple administrations that they like him. Whether or not Boston keeps Moreland beyond 2020, it would make sense to largely deploy the left-hander against righties this year, considering he ha sperformed far better against them during his career.
- Todd Frazier (35): A third baseman for the vast majority of his career, Frazier hasn’t even amassed double-digit appearances at first since 2014. The power-hitting Frazier has usually produced well as a third bagger, though, so perhaps the Rangers will bring him back in 2021 on a $5.75MM salary (they could instead buy him out for $1.5MM).
- Ryan Zimmerman (36): The man known as Mr. National probably won’t ever play anywhere but D.C., where he’s an icon. Even if he does, there won’t be a sizable amount of playing time or a large payday for the once-stellar third baseman.
- Brad Miller (31): The left-handed Miller has struggled versus southpaws, and he hasn’t played first since 2018, but he’s decent against righties and has lined up at almost every position on the diamond during his career.
- Neil Walker (35): The longtime second baseman seems to be nearing the finish line, but the switch-hitting Walker has usually been at least a league-average offensive player.