Our look at the free agent class of 2009, split by position, continues as we venture over to first base, where Albert Pujols calls home. There are eight free agent first basemen available this offseason, but many more questions exist regarding these players than certainties. The only certainty, in fact, is that Mark Teixeira is the cream of the crop, and far more attractive (in a baseball sense) than any of his compadres. In fact, after him, the next youngest players are five years his senior. And of those players ranging from ages 34-38, a couple may be kept via options in their contract, and those remaining look more like backup pieces or potential new members for AARP than likely contributors to a franchise. Here is the list:
Name Age G Slash WPA/LI Mark Teixeira 29 157 .308/.410/.552 4.69 Richie Sexson 34 96 .221/.321/.382 -0.61 Sean Casey 34 69 .322/.381/.392 -0.15 Doug Mientkiewicz 35 125 .277/.374/.379 0.27 Kevin Millar 37 145 .234/.323/.394 -0.85 Carlos Delgado 37 159 .271/.353/.518 3.00 Tony Clark 37 108 .225/.359/.318 -0.18 Jason Giambi 38 145 .247/.373/.502 2.66
Giambi, the elder statesman of the group, has a 22 million dollar option on his contract for next season. The Yankees bringing him back is largely contingent on whether or not they ink Mark Teixeira to a big deal, which they can and should do. If Tex ends up in another uniform, one more year of Giambi would not really hurt anything, as he is still very productive and still hit 32 home runs with an OPS above .850 this past season. His BABIP was .257, which should call for regression, however, his BABIPs in 2006 and 2007 were .251 and .264, so perhaps this year’s number is more normal than it seems.
Teixeira, as mentioned, is the cream of the crop. His ability to get on base and hit for power are fantastic, and he is one of the best fielding first basemen in baseball. AKA, he is the total package, and at just 29 years old, looks primed for a big 5-6 year deal. Last season his OBP/SLG was .400/.563; this season, .410/.552. He hit 33 home runs and 41 doubles, was extremely durable, and his +24 at first base led the position this year in fielding.
Delgado has a 12 million dollar option on his contract that the Mets should almost certainly exercise given that he carried the team on his shoulders for the second half of the season. His 38 home runs and 32 doubles are even more impressive when it is remembered how poorly he performed early on. He takes pride in his defense, but this was a down year in that category. After posting a -4 and +1 in 2006 and 2007, he fell to -15 this year, one of the worst at the position. It is unclear whether this was a fluke or a sign of things to come, but if he can hit 35+ home runs with an OPS above .850 for the Mets next season, he will be worth all of that 12 million dollars.
Sexson is an interesting case, because his career entering 2007 looked great. He hit a ton of home runs, showed an ability to get on base despite striking out a lot, and at 32 years old, had at least a few more good seasons left in the tank. He also looked to be around the league average defensively. His 2007, however, was disastrous, as his fielding dropped to -15, and his slash line looked worse than Michael Bourn‘s from 2008. A .217 BABIP can carry most of the blame for that, but even with a regression to .275 in 2008, Sexson only managed a .221/.321/.382 line with 12 home runs in 96 games. A line like that might be okay for a defensive replacement with occasional starting duty, but not for an everyday starting first baseman. He could easily ink a 2-yr deal given his reputation from pre-2007, but a safer bet would be an incentives-laden contract.
Aside from these four, we are left with Millar, Mientkiewicz, Clark, and Casey. Clark should probably retire at this point, as even though he still possesses the ability to get on base, his power has diminished over the last couple of seasons, and he is not that big of a threat off the bench. He could provide veteran leadership for another season, but, if anything, I see him as a mid-season signing somewhere and nothing more. Mientkiewicz is still a very solid defender, but his offense is not good enough to merit a full-time starting job somewhere. In the past, the Pirates would sign a guy like him to be their starting first basemen, so hopefully they can show they have some brains now and realize he is better suited to be a late innings replacement with occasional starts, and nothing more.
Casey is only 34, but he seems like he is 38 or 39 given his position on the bench over the last couple of years. A .368 BABIP helped massage this year’s statistics, accrued in limited action, but again, he is much better suited to come off the bench at this juncture of his career. Millar seems like a great clubhouse guy, and that could earn him some money and playing time next season, but like Clark, he should be looking towards retirement. He still managed to hit 20 home runs and 25 doubles, but he should not be the starting first baseman for any team serious about contending.
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