clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2018-19 MLB free agency by position: First basemen

New, 29 comments

Who’s on First (on the free agent market)

Anthony Rizzo hits a single during the Wild Card Game
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

So, first base is one position the Cubs have covered, so who’s on first is probably a moot question at 1060 W. Addison. However it’s still worth knowing who is available on the market. After all, teams have to make decisions about where they are spending their resources. Money spent on a first baseman is money that can’t be invested somewhere else. So for today’s look at free agents I’m taking a look at the market for first base.

One note about this post, there are a lot of other players on the market who can play first base in addition to other positions. Those players are a lot more interesting for their flexibility. For the purposes of keeping this post focused I’m only looking at players who are primarily first basemen today. This has the added benefit of keeping me from pulling out my hair trying to come up with meaningful comparisons between Matt Adams and Marwin Gonzalez.

A look at the position

First base free agents 2018

Player Primary position Additional positions Age (for 2019) 2018 Salary 2018 QO 2018 Opt Out 2018 fWar 2015-18 fWar 2018 Team(s) Signed Contract Years Notes
Player Primary position Additional positions Age (for 2019) 2018 Salary 2018 QO 2018 Opt Out 2018 fWar 2015-18 fWar 2018 Team(s) Signed Contract Years Notes
Matt Adams 1B LF/RF 30 3,118,295 N 0.8 2.4 StL, Was
Jim Adduci 1B LF/RF 34 545,000 N -0.5 -0.3 Det
Lucas Duda 1B LF/RF 32 3,500,000 N 0.0 4.7 NYM, Atl
Joe Mauer 1B 36 23,000,000 N 1.0 4.5 Min Retired Nov 2018
Logan Morrison 1B LF/RF 31 6,500,000 N -0.7 3.0 Min
Steve Pearce 1B LF/RF 36 6,200,000 N 1.6 3.8 TBR, Bos Bos 11/16 6,500,000 1
Hanley Ramirez 1B 35 22,000,000 N -0.2 0.9 Bos
Mark Reynolds 1B 3B 35 1,000,000 N 0.1 1.2 Was
Salary and WAR for 1B Fangraphs and Sportrac compiled by Sara Sanchez

First base has the fewest free agents of any position in 2019. It’s also worth noting that the most interesting players on the sparse table above are already off the market for the 2019 season.

Possible Hall of Famer Joe Mauer announced his retirement on November 9. While he’s best remembered for his time behind the plate, concussions forced him to first base in 2014. The 35-year-old had a respectable 2018 with a .282/.351/.379 slash line that would represent an upgrade for most teams at first, however the St. Paul native ultimately decided to retire with his hometown team.

With Mauer off the market the next most interesting candidate in this field has to be World Series MVP Steve Pearce. Pearce will be entering his 11th season in 2019 and will have played for nine teams in that time. But the journeyman first baseman and occasional outfielder put on a show in the World Series batting .333 with three home runs and eight RBIs in the fall classic. Apparently the Red Sox agreed and they didn’t waste any time signing their new hero to a $6.5 million one year deal.

This isn’t a complicated market

Frankly, with Pearce and Mauer out of the running, this market isn’t very complicated. It’s also not very good. Pearce was the only first baseman worth more than 1.0 fWAR in 2018 on the list. Every other player on the market is barely above or barely below replacement level and all of them made more than $3 million in 2018 except for Jim Adduci and Mark Reynolds. In other words, a lot of these players are probably going to have to take a pay cut, a short term deal, or both in 2019.

Lucas Duda and Logan Morrison look like they could bounce back in 2019. While neither of them had great years in 2018 they’ve both put up a 3.2 fWAR season in the last three years. They are also both on the young side of 30, so it’s not unreasonable to expect them to have another season like that in them.

The next tier has to include Matt Adams and Mark Reynolds who have both put up seasons that were above replacement level recently and can likely be signed for a reasonably cheap contract. Adams is the younger player here at 30 but Reynolds is definitely the cheaper option at least partially because he’ll be 35 in 2019.

That leaves us with the Hanley Ramirez question. The Red Sox designated Ramirez for assignment in May. While many speculated at the time that the decision was made by the front office to avoid triggering his incentive clauses, it turned out the decision was actually made by Alex Cora to open up more playing time for Mitch Moreland.

Following the Boston Red Sox’s unexpected DFA of Hanley Ramirez Friday morning, Dave Dombrowski revealed in a news conference that it was manager Alex Cora who called for the move.

According to Dombrowski, the team’s president of baseball operations, he was prepared to explore alternative options, but Cora was sure about the decision. He added that Cora advocated for more playing time for first baseman Mitch Moreland, and did not think Ramirez would be successful coming off the bench.

Ramirez made $22 million in 2018, he’s obviously not going to sign for anything close to that, however Cora’s comments introduce a lot of questions into Ramirez’s potential comeback as MLB Trade Rumors noted last month:

Of course, it is questionable just how many opportunities Ramirez will have to choose from, and whether any will come with a 40-man roster spot. It may not help that Ramirez has not always maintained the greatest reputation for effort level, though he ought to be fairly motivated if he wants to resurrect his career. Ramirez will surely prefer to join a contending team, though relatively few figure to be in need of part-time righty first base bats. Of course, there ought to be a few lower-budget or middle-of-the-road teams that will consider taking a shot in hopes that Ramirez can add an impact bat to their lineup.

Takeaways

The first base market is full of a lot of low-cost, replacement level 30 year-olds with a coupl possible bounce back candidates. Honestly, the most interesting part of this market is probably represented by players who aren’t on this list. There are rumors that Scott Boras is shopping Bryce Harper as a potential first base option since there have been concerns about his defensive slump last season in the outfield. While Daniel Murphy has spent more time at second, there are defensive concerns there about his range. He’s spent time at first base and would also represent an upgrade over the rest of this free agent class.

Look for most of the current first basemen free agents to sign modest short term deals and a few premier bats to join their ranks as the offseason continues.