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.

7 Comments

  • Steve Alex says:

    The Indians burned their bridge with Kotchman, stating publicly that he won’t be back. Washington won’t let LaRoche get away. Napoli is the best choice among the free agents you listed, but will be pricey. Aguilar is just breaking out of the low minors, but Chun Chen might be an option sooner. He moved to 1B at Akron this year and hit .308/.394/.426 with a .995 fielding pct. He only hit 5 HRs but did have 30 doubles. However, he hasn’t played at AAA yet. Terry Francona might push for Kevin Youkilis if Chicago declines his option. He’d be a good fit as a right-handed bat with some power and a good glove with positional flexibility. And then there’s Matt LaPorta.

  • Susan Petrone says:

    I hadn’t seen the public statement about Kotchman not returning. I won’t shed any tears if he doesn’t come back. I like what I know of Chen, but I don’t know that he’s ready either. Texas paid Napoli $9.4 million last year. Youkili’s contract w/ Chicago for 2013 is for $13 million w/ $1 million buyout. So yeah, Napoli would be pricey but he’d be cheaper than Youkilis (whom I dislike for irrational reasons). I’m hoping one of the home-grown options breaks out next year.

  • Jeremy C says:

    After last year Youk will not be getting payed that much $. His past two years have been a discouraging trend though

  • Steve Alex says:

    If Chicago declines the $13M option on Youkilis, he could sign with any team as a free agent for any amount. I’m guessing it would be half what Napoli would get, maybe for two years. That assumes that our front office isn’t too “risk averse” to sign somebody for two years.

  • Keith says:

    It’s always fun to play this game – dream about what big bat or ace could be donning the tribe colors during the offseason. But… it’s just not gonna happen. Sure they may take a flier on an incentive laden deal for an older player as they did with Lowe last year, but check out the thinking at the top of the organization in this Q&A w/ Shapiro:

    http://www.foxsportsohio.com/10/24/12/A-conversation-with-the-Indians-Mark-Sha/landing_indians1.html?blockID=809163&feedID=3652

    Fascinating read, but if you don’t want to take the time to read it all, scroll down to the part where he talks about increased attendance, and how the front office translates that into dollars, and what little those dollars – in their minds – mean to the end of season outcome (very little). My prediction is that they trade both Chris Perez and Choo and it probably won’t be for Major League-ready talent, though maybe a #4-type of starter. I doubt they’ll sign any free agent to a contract of more than 1-year, $5M. Sorry to be so pessimistic….

  • Glenn says:

    I watched Chen all season at Akron. He definitely has the potential to be a good line drive type hitter but not a power hitter. He will need one more season to continue learning first base. He seems to have a great make-up. Aguilar played for Akron just a couple weeks at the end of the season. He does definitely look like a power hitter, but he is probably two years away. Both guys are definite possibilities for the future, just not in 2013.

  • tom trull says:

    i had been a red sox fan for over 60 years that all stopped after Sept of 2011. Additionally the way Francona and Epstein were run out of Boston was a crime and added to my dislike for the organization. They should have left as hero’s. They brought the magic to Boston, the players individually were minor parts of the puzzle. I will root for the Indians mainly on account of Francona being the manager. Do not be surprised at how many Sox players may end up with the Indians. Youk for one maybe Elsbery for another. I think Pedroia would like to go but he is still under contract and i don’t think they could afford him.

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