At the top, it's perhaps the greatest first base class of free agents ever. The big markets (Dodgers, Cardinals, Angels and perhaps the Rangers), middle markets (Blue Jays, Orioles, Nationals) and small markets (Rays, Indians, Pirates, Mariners) should all be kicking the tires, as quite a few teams need a first baseman. But after the top, it gets pretty thin. It's a group that really only goes six deep. A look at the top six:
1. Albert Pujols: Can you picture him in another jersey? Like Derek Jeter's free agency last year, it's really hard to see Pujols leaving St. Louis, especially after their improbable World Series championship. The future Hall of Famer had his worst season at age 31, hitting .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBI. And that was his worst season. The big question is how he'll hold up, especially in a long-term contract. He's a great fielder at first base as well. Back up the Brinks truck.
2. Prince Fielder: The only detriment to a long-term deal for Fielder is concern about his weight. There's no question about his production. He hits for power, takes some walks. He's not great defensively, but he's a guy you can plug into the cleanup spot and watch him hit for years to come, and that makes him not only the No. 2 first baseman on this list, but the No. 2 free agent in this class overall, behind Pujols.
3. Michael Cuddyer: The most versatile player in this group, as he could be a fit as a corner outfielder for somebody as well. He's a steady hitter, always in the .270 range with some power. On a bad team he drove in 70 in 2011, down from his previous two seasons of 94 and 81 RBI. He's played his entire career in Minnesota, and the Twins are probably the favorite to retain him as a cornerstone to their rebuilding effort. His versatility comes in handy because of Justin Morneau's lingering concussion symptoms.
4. Casey Kotchman: He's really bounced around in the last three years, from the Angels to the Braves to the Red Sox to the Mariners and last season with the Rays, where he had his best year, batting .306 with 10 homers for a playoff team. That likely made him some money this offseason, and he'll only be 29. Still, it's easy to look at his 2011 as an outlier season, as he batted .217 in 2010.
5. Derrek Lee: It looked like he was going to a contender when he was dealt from Baltimore to Pittsburgh in July. And then the Pirates went into the tank, leaving Lee to play out the string. He's 36 and not the player he once was, but for a team that wants a steady veteran who can hold the fort while a young player gets seasoning in Triple-A, Lee can be a good stop-gap.
5. Carlos Pena: He raised his average 29 points with the Cubs last season. Unfortunately, that got him to just .225. The .239 career hitter hit 28 homers for the second consecutive season. But at this point he's just a platoon first baseman - his next team will need a right-handed complement, and be willing to be patient on a guy who strikes out way too much. He does play decent defense.
Others at other positions: Josh Willingham (OF), Raul Ibanez (OF), Ryan Doumit (C), Eric Hinske (OF), Carlos Guillen (2B), Juan Rivera (OF) and even Jorge Posada (DH) can play some first base as well and could be a fit for somebody.
Ages are as of Opening Day 2012.
Free Agent First Basemen
|Name||Age||2011 team||2011 stats||2012 team||Contract|
|Russell Branyan||36||Angels||.197, 5 HR, 14 RBI||Yankees||minors|
|Jorge Cantu||30||Padres||.194, 3 HR, 16 RBI||Angels||minors|
|Michael Cuddyer||33||Twins||.284, 20 HR, 70 RBI||Rockies||3 yrs, $31.5M|
|Prince Fielder||27||Brewers||.299, 38 HR, 120 RBI||Tigers||9 yrs, $214M|
|Jason Giambi||41||Rockies||.260, 13 HR, 32 RBI||Rockies||1 yr, $1M|
|Ross Gload||35||Phillies||.257, 0 HR, 8 RBI||not signed|
|Brad Hawpe||32||Padres||.231, 4 HR, 19 RBI||Rangers||minors|
|Conor Jackson||29||Red Sox||.244, 5 HR, 43 RBI||Rangers||minors|
|Casey Kotchman||28||Rays||.306, 10 HR, 48 RBI||Indians||1 yr, $3M|
|Derrek Lee||36||Pirates||.267, 19 HR, 59 RBI||not signed|
|Xavier Nady||32||D'backs||.248, 4 HR, 35 RBI||not signed|
|Lyle Overbay||35||D'Backs||.286, 1 HR, 10 RBI||D'Backs||1 yr, $1M|
|Carlos Pena||33||Cubs||.225, 28 HR, 80 RBI||Rays||1 yr, $7.25M|
|Albert Pujols||32||Cardinals||.299, 37 HR, 99 RBI||Angels||10 yrs, $254M|