In recent days, MLBTR has taken a position-by-position look at the remaining free agent class (catchers, shortstops, center fielders). We’ll turn now to first base. There’s some overlap at the very top of the market.
- Cody Bellinger: Bellinger is more of a center fielder, but he logged over 400 innings at first base for the Cubs last season. Playing him there regularly isn’t ideal — a good portion of his value lies in his ability to play an above-average center field — but a signing team could rotate him through first base on occasion. Bellinger, 28, is coming off his best season since his 2019 MVP campaign. He hit .307/.356/.525 with 26 home runs across 556 plate appearances. His batted ball metrics (a 31.4% hard contact rate, 87.9 MPH average exit velocity) aren’t as impressive as one might assume from his 25+ homers and early-career power impact. Yet his 15.6% strikeout rate last season was a career low, a marked improvement after he fanned in a quarter of his plate appearances between 2020-22. Bellinger declined a qualifying offer from the Cubs. Chicago has been linked to him throughout the offseason, while he’s been tied to the Blue Jays, Giants and (more loosely) Angels as well.
- Carlos Santana: Santana remains a capable veteran option even as he approaches his 38th birthday. He has posted roughly league-average offensive numbers in each of the last two seasons. Santana split the 2023 campaign between Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, running a combined .240/.318/.429 slash with 23 home runs through 619 plate appearances. He has walked in over 10% of his plate appearances in every season of his career. It’s not eye-popping offense for a first baseman, but Santana continues to play strong defense. Defensive Runs Saved graded him 11 runs above average in more than 1100 innings last season; Statcast put him two runs above par. Santana is also a respected clubhouse presence, evidenced by reported interest from his former teams in Seattle and Pittsburgh. The Brewers had also kept in touch with him this offseason but agreed to a two-year deal with Rhys Hoskins this week.
- Brandon Belt: As he has been for most of his career, Belt was a very productive hitter against right-handed pitching last season. He signed a $9.3MM contract with the Blue Jays and turned in a .254/.369/.490 slash with 19 home runs through 404 plate appearances. While he struck out at a career-high 34.9% clip, he also drew a walk more than 15% of the time. Toronto used him almost exclusively in favorable platoon situations. That helps the overall batting line, but Belt remains effective in the role he was asked to play. He’ll be 36 in April and has battled knee injuries throughout his career. He’s likely to take one-year deals at this stage. His camp should look to beat last year’s salary, perhaps seeking something in the $12.5MM range which Joc Pederson recently landed from the Diamondbacks.
- Joey Votto: After 17 seasons with the Reds, Votto will soon join the second organization of his career. Cincinnati has sufficient infield depth to move on from the former MVP, and president of baseball operations Nick Krall has publicly confirmed that as of now, the team plans to do just that. Votto wants to continue playing as he enters his age-40 season. He has been a replacement level performer over the past two years, hitting .204/.317/.394 since the start of 2022. That’s at least partially related to shoulder injuries, as he underwent rotator cuff surgery in ’22 and missed time last summer with shoulder discomfort. Votto still has excellent awareness of the strike zone. He won’t break the bank, but he could find a major league offer to mix in at first base and serve as a veteran clubhouse voice. The Blue Jays have been tied to the Toronto native, as have the Angels.
- Garrett Cooper: A right-handed hitter, Cooper is a first-time free agent. He’d been a quietly productive offensive player for a few seasons with the Marlins. He was amidst an uncharacteristically middling season (.256/.296/.426) when Miami shipped him to the Padres at the deadline. The 33-year-old hit .239/.323/.402 over 41 contests in San Diego. His .251/.304/.419 platform showing wasn’t particularly impressive, but he ran a .274/.350/.444 slash between 2019-22. While Cooper drew reported interest from the Brewers last week, that’s probably off the table with Milwaukee signing Hoskins.