It’s a tough offseason to be a veteran free agent first baseman. Though it may normally be a difficult position to be in anyway, there are now too many lumbering older dudes looking for too few chairs and the music will eventually stop. Who will win this round of musical chairs? Will any of the bunch succeed and therefore become a fantasy value pick in 2011?
By the current count, the Cubs, Jays, Nationals, White Sox and Rays don’t have a traditional first baseman on their roster, and they probably represent the best opportunities for an every-day first base job for Adam Dunn, Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee, Paul Konerko, Carlos Pena, Adam LaRoche, and Lyle Overbay. Someone will probably be on the outside looking in.
Perhaps that is over-rating the dire state of the market. There might be a chance that the Red Sox, Rangers or Orioles buy a first baseman on the market. They have options at the position, but they could also move players around. Still, the Orioles and Rangers are more likely to solve the situation with their cheaper internal options – Luke Scott and Nolan Reimold could be good enough to man DH and first base for a rebuilding club, and Mitch Moreland and Vladimir Guerrero (provided he re-signs) could do the job for a Rangers team that might be looking to spend money on pitching.
If you drafted today, you’d have to downgrade the whole bunch – save Dunn – because of the uncertainty. But you’d also have to downgrade the older men in the crew because of their age. Only 18 firstbasemen over 35 have put up better than an .800 OPS since 1975, and only Mark McGwire, Andres Gallaraga, Jeff Bagwell and Carlos Delgado hit more than 30 home runs over that age. Most likely, only one of Lee, Berkman and Overbay will join the .800+ OPS crew – and none fit in the second group when it comes to power.
Really, the decision comes down to Lee and Berkman if you’re looking for a bounce-back value at the position at the end of your deep-league draft. Lee had back problems, and Berkman has a degenerative knee problem – neither state of health induces much hope for a clean bill of health in 2011. Berkman has said that the Cardinals, Cubs, Rockies, A’s, Pirates and Blue Jays are interested – but the NL teams on the list would most likely want him as a backup (save the Cubs), and the AL teams are rumored to be interested in him as a DH. Players often suffer worse numbers as they transition to DH, and Berkman’s .255/.358/.349 line in New York at DH doesn’t offer much hope. The market for Lee so far has been deadly quiet, which may have something to do with his offseason thumb surgery – or his age.
In any case, it’s a tough season to be a free agent first baseman, and it’s a tough time to be drafting – this is why we schedule drafts as late as we can before the season starts. Once the actual deals come through, we’ll evaluate their situations more fully, but this serves as a general warning. There’s not much upside here as history doesn’t like 35-year-old first basemen. Temper any excitement you might get when looking at their historical statistics.