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Hot Stove Preview: Top Free Agent First Basemen Available

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We continue our trek through the best available free agents on a position-by-position basis. The next up: First Basemen. It’s a list that starts strong at the top spot . . . and then hurtles down the sheer face of a 1,000 foot cliff. Figuratively speaking. It’s almost all platoon guys with power but no on-base skills. Just a wasteland, at least if you’re not a club that has roster space for a half-dimensional corner guy. Which, these days, there aren’t many of.

1. Edwin Encarnacion

Easily the best first baseman on the market, and possibly the best available bat on the market, full stop. Of course, he DH’d more than he played first base, so definitely consider the bat more than the position. As for that bat: it declined a bit over his previous four years, with his OPS+ going down to 133 from 148 the year before and his strikeout rate going up to his highest level in years. Still, a potent source of power in the middle of the lineup that any team would covet. Even if his most recent team — the Blue Jays — seems most likely to keep him.

2. Mark Trumbo

He appears as an outfielder on most free agent lists — and I’ll probably include him on the list of outfielders when I get there too, seeing as how he played that more in recent years than first — but he’s a poor outfielder and would be better cast as a first baseman or a DH. The bat, of course, is the selling point, as he hit 47 homers in 2016. He didn’t get on base much, however. Indeed, he got on base at the worst clip ever for a guy who hit 45+ homers. He was benefitted a good deal by his home park, particularly in terms of his OBP. Still: dingers.

3. Mike Napoli

A nice bounceback, 34-homer season and a World Series run for the Indians may have raised his stock some, but Napoli was in many ways a creature of Progressive Field last year (he hit just .198/.275/.367 with 12 homers on the road). And, like Trumbo and Encarnacion, he likely needs the DH as an option given his age (35) and his deteriorating defense.

4. Brandon Moss

A lot of power — 28 homers in 413 at-bats — but a sad .300 OBP and meh defense at best. As this list shows, there are a ton of left-handed corner guys like him available this year. Not many of them finished the season as poorly as Moss did, skidding into October in a hellacious slump. He can obviously play the outfield too — he played more there than at first this year, though not particularly well — and if teams see his September swoon to be less indicative of his quality than the first few months of 2016, he may stand better positioned to snag a deal before guys like Steve Pearce Adam Lind and Mitch Moreland.

5. Steve Pearce

More of a utility guy who, like many free agent first baseman, played a lot of outfield too. He also played some second base which, hey, OK, you do you, Steve, but don’t expect anyone to really value him for that in and of itself. Pearce hit .309/.388/.520 in 204 at-bats for Tampa Bay but closed cold with a .217/.329/.400 line in 60 at-bats after making his nearly annual return to Baltimore. Pearce is more of a lefty masher than a full-time player at this point. Or at least he should be. People have uses for lefty mashers, of course, and many clubs likely still see his fantastic 2014 batting line and think, “. . . well, maybe.”

6. Adam Lind

A line of only .239/.286/.431 in 2016 for the Mariners following a .291/.364/.578 line from 2013-15. A lot of people may be anticipating a bounce back year that could see him serving as a useful left-handed half of a first base platoon. Heck, he’d look good sharing time with Pearce, not that anyone is going to devote two roster spots to these types of players.

7. Mitch Moreland

He still hits 20 homers but he suffered a big falloff in his rate stats last year, making him a subpar bat at a position that, at least notionally, is still an offense-first slot. He can play better defense than most of the guys here. That’s not nothing, but he’s a guy who cleared waivers in August despite not making an utter ton of money and no contender thought he’d be useful for them, so take that for what it’s worth.

8. Justin Morneau

He hit .261/.303/.429 in 203 AB after returning from wrist surgery. If he didn’t have a famous name, one would think he’d be out of baseball by now.

9. Logan Morrison

He had a good second half, hitting .272/.348/.496 over his final 78 games. A platoon guy who only scored an OBP of .312 against righties (i.e. the guys he’s supposed to mash).

10. Ryan Howard

Not gonna lie: I’m putting him on this list solely because it seems too sad not to include him. He’s really not a first baseman anymore, though, as he can’t field the position or really run. He hit .196/.257/.453 in 362 PAs too, losing his starting job, so the notion that a team will take him as a DH seems a bit far-fetched too. A minor league contract may be as good as he does.

Others: Dae-Ho Lee, James Loney, Mark Reynolds, Sean Rodriguez, Jerry Sands, Eric Thames.

Nationals to reinstate Max Scherzer on Thursday

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Some good news for the Nationals today: All-Star hurler Max Scherzer is due back from the injured list this week, this time (hopefully) for good. He’s slated to start during Thursday’s series finale against the Pirates.

It’s been a long road back for the right-hander, who earned his seventh consecutive All-Star designation after heading into the break with a 2.30 ERA, 5.6 fWAR, and a league-leading 7.56 SO/BB rate. An untimely back injury forced him to the injured list in the days leading up to the All-Star Game, however, and he hasn’t returned in any kind of part-time or full-time capacity since.

While Scherzer was originally expected to pitch for the Nationals sometime during their weekend series versus the Brewers, manager Dave Martinez elected to push back his return date by a few days. It’s not clear whether he felt some lingering pain during his 64-pitch simulated start on Saturday or whether the Nationals simply want to play it safe with their ace, but either way, the club apparently feels like Scherzer will be back to full strength before the end of the week.

If so, his return would be a significant asset to the Nationals, who could use a sub-3.00 ERA, 5.0-fWAR starter to help bolster their standing in the NL East. Still, there’s no guarantee that the veteran righty is ready to shoulder a full-time role in Washington’s rotation, nor is it certain that he’ll be able to match his results from the first half of the season. In one start between IL stints last month, he dealt five innings of three-run, two-walk, eight-strikeout ball in an 8-7 loss to the Rockies.