When I was growing up, my favorite player was Indians first baseman Andre Thornton. A four-time All-Star, he had the big bat, he had good defense, and was just a calm, reliable presence at first base. I haven’t felt that confident in the Indians first basemen for a while–certainly not since Jim Thome left in 2002. And yeah, that was 10 years ago. Since then we’ve had a trail of potential first basemen, most notably Ben Broussard, Ryan Garko, Matt LaPorta, and Casey Kotchman, but none of them have been able to provide the combination of a big bat and solid defense you need from that position.
So who could we possibly get to play first? Here’s the list potential free agents at first base (courtesy of MLB trade rumors). Player’s age is in parentheses:
Lance Berkman (36)
Jason Giambi (42)
Eric Hinske (35)
Aubrey Huff (36) – $10MM club option with a $2MM buyout
Casey Kotchman (30)
Adam LaRoche (33) – $10MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout
Carlos Lee (37)
James Loney (29)
Xavier Nady (34)
Mike Napoli (31)
Lyle Overbay (36)
Carlos Pena (35)
Ty Wigginton (35) – $4MM club option with a $500K buyout
Some enticing options are Adam LaRoche, Carlos Lee, Mike Napoli, and Carlos Pena. Here are their 2012 batting numbers:
LaRoche: .271 AVG/.343 OBP/.510 SLG
Lee: 264 AVG/.332 OBP/.365 SLG.
Pena: .197 AVG/.330 OBP/.354 SLG
LaRoche’s on base percentage was 8th among all qualifying MLB first basemen. By comparison, Carlos Lee and Carlos Pena were 13th and 14th in OBP among first basemen in both leagues. LaRoche also had a .995 fielding percentage at first, as did Pena and Lee (and our own Casey Kotchman).
Mike Napoli would be an interesting signing because he fills the same role as Carlos Santana, alternating between first (28 games in 2012), catcher (72 games in 2012), and DH (9 games in 2012). I have nothing against Lou Marson, but he’s not exactly versatile. Santana and Napoli could both alternate between catcher duties and first base, saving their knees and extending their careers. It’ll never happen, but a girl can dream, right?
While the free agency shopping list looks a bit pricey, we have a couple of first base prospects in the pipeline. The Indians traded pitcher Steve Wright to Boston on July 31 for minor league first baseman Lars Anderson, who was drafted out of high school by the Red Sox in the 18th round of the 2006 June Amateur Draft. Over six minor league seasons, his career batting numbers are: .272 AVG/.369 OBP/.432 SLG. He only played about 30 games for Boston at the major league level, with some unimpressive numbers: .167 AVG/.268 OBP/.188 SLG. After the trade, Anderson only had 69 plate appearances for the AAA Columbus Clippers in 2012, going .196 AVG/.319 OBP/.286 SLG.
I’m more intrigued by 22-year-old Jesus Aguilar, who went .292 AVG/.402 OBP/.500 SlG for the AA Akron Aeros last season. He was also selected for the All-Star Futures Game. His minor league career numbers (over 5 seasons): .269 AVG/.350 OBP/.446 SLG. As far as minor league career numbers, Anderson and Aguilar seem fairly interchangeable. Aguilar has made steady progress through the Indians system, starting in the Dominican Summer League as an 18-year-old and moving up a level each year. Anderson seemed to stall at the AAA for Boston. He just turned 25, so he’s still relatively young.
If we don’t make some surprise free agent signing or major trade for a first baseman, I could see the Indians signing Kotchman to another one-year contract and letting him battle it out for the first base job against Spring Training invitees. Anderson will probably get an invite to Spring Training; I just hope they give one to Aguilar too.