By Cliff Corcoran
First base was a notably deep position in this offseason's free-agent class. Yet, as with the rest of this slow-burn offseason, there wasn't much movement on the first-base market until after the conclusion of last week's Winter Meetings. Over the past four days, two of the top 10 free-agent first basemen have come to terms for the coming season, removing one of the top players at the position and one of the most compelling teams in search of a first baseman from the market.
Both of those signings are curious in their own way. On Friday, Carlos Santana, this offseason's fifth-best free-agent hitter at any position by my rankings, came to terms on a three-year, $60 million deal (with a $17.5 million option for 2020). What made that unusual is that the deal was with the Phillies, a rebuilding team that lost 96 games last year but nonetheless appeared to be set at first base with second-year slugger Rhys Hoskins, who will now be pushed to left field. That took the second-best first baseman off the market without filling one of the obvious first-base holes around the league.
On Monday, the Red Sox agreed to bring back Mitch Moreland on a two-year deal worth $13 million. That took a team that many expected to be a major player in the first-base market out of the picture without taking another elite free agent off the board.
That leaves the Indians, Rockies, Rays and Royals as the teams with the most glaring needs at first base. The Padres, Rangers, Mets and Nationals are rumored to be interested in adding at the position, albeit possibly at the platoon or reserve level, particularly in the case of the Mets and Nats. Plus the Angels and Giants may want an upgrade; Los Angeles has Luis Valbuena set to platoon with C.J. Cron, and San Francisco may be concerned about Brandon Belt's history of concussions.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at the remaining eight top free-agent first basemen.
The youngest and arguably best of this year's first-base class, Hosmer was the player the Red Sox were expected to target, but the Moreland deal is a clear sign that Boston has shifted its focus to the best free-agent hitter, outfielder J.D. Martinez. That leaves the Royals and, surprisingly, the Padres as the teams that have shown the most interest in Hosmer. Incumbent Padres first baseman Wil Myers has reportedly already told the team that he'd be willing to move back to the outfield if they were to land Hosmer, and there's plenty of room for Myers in left field in San Diego. Still, it would be quite a shock if the top two first basemen from this offseason's free-agent class wound up with the Phillies and Padres.
The Padres should be more attractive to Hosmer than the Royals, at this point. I'm not among those who believe the Padres are on the verge of a breakthrough, but they at least have some graduated prospects in place and a strong farm system. The Royals are dealing with Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas and Mike Minor all hitting free agency (Minor has already signed elsewhere, accepting a chance to start with the Rangers). Bringing back Hosmer won't boost their outlook as much as landing Hosmer might improve the Padres.
It would feel like a missed opportunity for Hosmer not to sign with a team with a more hitter-friendly ballpark. According to the Bill James Handbook, over the past three years, only AT&T Park has been a tougher place for lefties to hit home runs than San Diego's Petco Park, while Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium has been the fifth toughest. Colorado or Cleveland would be much more welcoming to Hosmer's attempt to build on his career-best .498 slugging percentage from this past season. Given the similarities between the Indians' and Royals' aggressive, athletic style of play, Hosmer would be a particularly good fit in Cleveland, but it's unlikely that Cleveland can or would be willing to meet his asking price.
Morrison has roots in Kansas City and told MLB Network Radio last month that signing with the Royals would be "a dream come true." The Royals should take advantage of that, because there may not be many other free-agent first basemen eager to take Hosmer's place. That said, Morrison, who hit .246/.353/.516 with 38 home runs for the Rays this year and is heading into his age-30 season, might be the best remaining first baseman available for less than Hosmer's targeted nine-figure payday. The Indians are reportedly interested, and given the relative strength of their roster and the hitter-friendliness of their ballpark, they should be the preferred destination of every player on this list.
Alonso hit .266/.365/.501 with 28 home runs in his age-30 season last year for the A's and Mariners, but the A's replaced him with Matt Olson, the Mariners replaced him with a trade for the A's Ryon Healy and the rumor mill is avoiding his name like he's a Harry Potter villain. That's evidence of just how smart front offices have become around the league. Alonso may be a relatively young free agent coming off a breakout year, but he did nearly all of his breaking out in May. He hit just .251/.348/.414 from June 4 through the end of the season, a line that looks a lot more like his under-powered pre-2017 form. I suppose the Rockies could hope that he could repeat his launch-angle-propelled power-burst in Denver's thinner air, but Alonso feels like a player destined for the Rays.
In his last three healthy seasons, Duda has hit .239/.342/.487, twice reaching 30 home runs (he has averaged 28 homers per 162 games in his career) and drawing at least 60 walks each season. That's better production than Moreland, who is five months older. Yet, despite some early interest, the Red Sox chose the latter. The Mariners and Angels also reportedly checked in with Duda early on, but the M's went with Healy and the Angels upgraded elsewhere, making Valbuena the lefty in their first-base platoon. It would be fun to see Duda take his hacks in Colorado, hitting behind Nolan Arenado.
Reynolds has been a fine placeholder in Colorado for the last two seasons, but he'll be 35 in August and his primary selling point in this group is that he's the younger and healthier of the two right-handed hitters. The Rockies have shown some interest in bringing him back, while the Royals and Rangers have also been interested, but he might fit better in a part-time role. Texas might make sense for that reason. Reynolds could relieve Joey Gallo at first or Shin-Soo Choo at designated hitter against a particularly tough lefty and otherwise pad out the DH at-bats. He might also fit on the Mets to guide along sophomore Dominic Smith. Reynolds would be best advised to avoid Kansas City, however. Per James, Kansas City has been neck-and-neck with San Francisco as the toughest place for right-handed power hitters over the past three years.
Traded by the Cardinals in late May and non-tendered by the Braves earlier this month, Adams deserves more respect than he has been given this year. Sure, he's a platoon bat who doesn't walk often, but he has a ton of left-handed power. He hit .295/.342/.554 against righties in 2017 and has hit .286/.333/.495 against them in his career. He's also just 29 and acquitted himself well in his first professional exposure in the outfield this past season (18 starts in left). The Nationals have interest in using him in the Adam Lind role. The Royals and Indians, who have also checked in, could offer him more playing time, perhaps in conjunction with someone like Reynolds, or ...
The other right-handed hitter on this list, Napoli is 36 and had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right hand last month. However, the ligament tear, which Napoli played through in 2017, gives teams a reason to look past his rough 2017 season in which he still mashed 29 home runs. Napoli has long made up for low batting averages with power and patience, and he could do so again if fully healthy, provided he also avoids Kansas City. A tremendously popular player with the Rangers and in his lone season in Cleveland (which ended in Game 7 of the World Series), Napoli has drawn interest from the Mets, now managed by former Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway, as a potential caddy for Smith. The Twins, run by former Indians assistant GM Derek Falvey and Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine, have also checked in.
Lind's success in a reserve role in 2017 is a model that Reynolds, Adams and possibly even Napoli could aspire to for the coming season. The Nationals aren't against bringing Lind back in the same role, but it's worth noting that they declined his $5 million mutual option for 2018, leading to the assumption that he would have to come cheaper to return to D.C. Lind needn't limit himself so much. Over the past five seasons, he has hit .282/.348/.473 (122 OPS+). Maybe 20-homer power doesn't mean much coming off 2017's league-wide power outburst, but Lind also offers patience and, as a career .288/.348/.504 hitter against righties, could carry the strong side of a platoon. As such, he could be worth more than $5 million, but the team that decides to spend, say, $10-15 million on a platoon of Lind and Napoli is likely to get far more from their first basemen in 2018 than a team betting on a repeat from Alonso or Moreland.
Other right-handed options: Danny Valencia, Chris Carter, Tyler Moore, Ryan Raburn and Matt Holliday, the last of whom has played just 16 games at first base over the past two years and will turn 38 in January.
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Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.