Thursday, November 02, 2006

Baseball Free Agents – First Base

This will be the first of a series of posts where I take a look at this winter’s free agent market and try to figure out who needs what and who could be going where. Today I’ll start with first base.

When looking at the available first basemen – they seem to divide themselves up into Nomar Garciaparra and three distinct groups; A: Twilight’s Last Gleaming, B: Just as Easily Could Play Third and C: Really a DH but Could Also Play First.

Nomar is the big name so far. The Dodgers probably won’t bring him back because they have James Loney and options such as Jeff Kent or 3rd base prospect Andy LaRoche (the brother of Braves 1st baseman Adam LaRoche). My guess is that Nomar winds up with the Angels because the Angels are weak at 1st and Nomar provides them with a marquee name they can market (the only real “name” on the Angels is Vlade Guerrerro and he’s a marketers nightmare). Nomar is also coming off a good season for the cross-town Dodgers (or same metropolitan area Dodgers – it’s so confusing). Signing Nomar would be a swipe at the Dodgers and the Angels love to do that.

A potential roadblock to this scenario is Angels’ 1st base prospects Robb Quinlan and Kendry Morales. The Angels may decide to take a risk with either youngster and go after pitching (Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt) instead of the oft-injured Garciaparra. If this is the case – I would not be surprised to see Garciaparra sign with the Giants who also need a 1st baseman and who have shown no reluctance to signing aging veterans.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming

These are the guys who when you see their name may make you say, “Are they still playing?” It would not surprise anyone if these guys did not receive any contract offers or retired during spring training. This group includes - Kevin Millar, Sean Casey, Doug Mientkiewicz, Phil Nevin, John Mabry, Ryan Klesko and Robert Fick.

Of this group – I think only Sean Casey has anything left in the tank. I would predict that Casey either signs with the Tigers (he was after all the only hitter who bothered showing up for the World Series) or the Reds (where the move would be more to sell tickets than to field a winning team).

Just as Easily Could Play Third

This group includes - Scott Spiezio, Wes Helms, Aubrey Huff, Shea Hillenbrand and Joe Randa. Maybe Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay takes a flier on one of these guys at 1st base. Hillenbrand or Huff would be the highest priced of the group.

Really a DH but Could Also Play First

This group includes Matt Stairs, Frank Thomas and Mike Piazza. I think Thomas re-signs to DH with the A’s as a discount. He’s made his money and I think he just wants to solidify his Hall of Fame numbers at a place where he has a chance to win it all. It would not surprise me if Piazza either signed with the Orioles to play 1st or retired and signed with Fox sports to replace Tim McCarver as lead baseball analyst on their broadcasts.

Two Wildcard Outfielders

Gary Sheffield is on the trade block – that’s no secret. I don’t think it would be a wise move but would it surprise anyone if he was traded to a team that needed a 1st baseman? The other wildcard scenario that makes sense in my twisted mind would be for Trot Nixon to sign with the Tigers as a 1st baseman.

The Tigers need a 1st baseman and they need a left-handed bat. How about signing free agent Trot Nixon and moving him from being an outfielder to being a 1st baseman? Nixon absolutely kills the ball at Comerica:

Trot Nixon - 87 AB/ 36 H / 7 HR / 21 RBI / .414 BA / 1.220 OPS

Nixon is injury prone but moving to 1st could help that and he could be relatively cheap - say $10 million for 2-years. I ran this idea past some people and to say that response was tepid would be putting it kindly. Still – what is this blog for if not for floating half-baked ideas?

One last factor bears mentioning – the youngsters. There are a number of teams that will be going with a young player at 1st. These teams include the Indians (Ryan Garko), Braves (Adam LaRoche), Diamondbacks (Conor Jackson), and Padres (Adrian Gonzalez). Teams that could forgo signing a free agent to try to go with a rookie include the A’s (Daric Barton), Dodgers (Andy LaRoche – actually a 3rd baseman) and Angels (Robb quinlan or Kendry Morales). The Royals have two youngsters at first (Ryan Shealy and Justin Huber) and a trade of either one of them could complicate the free agent situation at first base.

Of the teams that need a 1st baseman – it will probably be most interesting to see what the Orioles do. They could trade for a Sheffield, sign a Nomar or Piazza or go for a retread. Who knows what the Orioles will do?

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