In our tour of free agency, today we turn our attention to the not-so-hot corner and look at first basemen. We'll include DH candidates here, as well, since the 1B/DH designation fits many of the players and also because the Indians are well-set at 1B but could sign one of these guys to play DH (while occasionally spelling Carlos Santana at first base).
Before getting into the list of available players, let's take a look at what has already happened:
- Oakland Athletics sign Billy Butler for three years and $30 million
- Seattle Mariners sign Nelson Cruz for four years and $57 million
- Chicago White Sox sign Adam LaRoche for two years and $25 million
- Detroit Tigers re-sign Victor Martinez for four years and $68 million
We could add Michael Cuddyer and his two-year, $21 million deal with the Mets on this list, as he has played some 1B in the past.
From that list, you don't see much that impacts the Tribe. Sure, some of us dreamed of Victor coming home for a last hurrah with the organization that groomed him, but the Tigers (in full-on win-right-now-or-else mode) are going to pay Martinez an awful lot when he's an old man (by baseball standards). Nelson Cruz is only a year younger than Martinez, and he got almost the same money despite being a much lesser hitter. Butler and LaRoche might have been interesting, but spending $10-$13 million a year on a DH who hits only a little better than average would not have made much sense.
So if the Indians are still in the market for a DH, who is still left?
The market starts with a player who has already been connected to the Tribe: Kendry Morales. After a solid 2013 in Seattle, Morales passed on the qualifying offer in the hopes of a bigger deal, but that bigger deal never came. He ended up playing in only 98 games (split between Minnesota and Seattle), posting a brutal .218/.274/.338 line with only 8 HR. In addition to Cleveland, Kansas City and Texas have been linked with Morales, and seeing as Seattle has signed him, made him a QO, and traded for him during the last two years, maybe don't count them out either. Morales is expected to land a deal in the range of $5-$7 million for one year. I could see a team being willing to go 2 years at a similar average value, but Morales is likely hoping for a 2015 rebound followed by a multi-year deal with bigger bucks attached.
If Morales isn't your style, perhaps you prefer Michael Morse? Morse had a strong season at the plate for the Giants, putting up a .279/.336/.475 line in 482 PA, with 16 HR. Morse is a decent source of right-handed power, though he walks very little and strikes out a lot. He will be 33 by Opening Day and when you combine his more advanced age with his somewhat better stats, he's likely looking at roughly the same deal Morales will command, probably one year for something like $7 million.
How about a reunion with Mark Reynolds? The 31-year-old strikeout machine just posted the worst year of his career, with an ugly .196/.287/.394 line, but he smacked 22 HR in 433 PA, which is not bad. He might come dirt cheap. He was paid $2 million by the Brewers last year, and probably signs for $3-$5 million) this time around.
Beyond this, things get ugly. Ryan Doumit, Juan Francisco, and Raul Ibanez may play somewhere, but none are exciting. Jason Giambi still wants to play, but he fits better as a coach. (That was true 12 months ago too though, yet...)
How are the Indians set up here, and what should they do?
First base is covered. Carlos Santana migrated around the diamond last year, moving from C to 3B/backup C to 1B/DH (but mostly 1B), and going into 2015, he seems like a close-to-full-time first basemen. His bat was excellent last year (much like it was in 2010, and 2011, and 2012, and 2013), and as he settles in at his new position there is reason to expect him to be at least an average defender.
DH is less clear. If the roster doesn't change, your DH is likely Nick Swisher (though there is talk that he could play some RF again). For our purposes today, let's assume DH is available, because Swisher is moving either to RF or another team, or he;s injured. Under those circumstances, the interest in Morales makes a ton of sense.
If you write off his painful 2014 as a result of the shortened season, lack of spring training, etc., you have a guy whose wOBAs the past few years from 2009 forward have been .387, .360, .339, and .342 (with 2011 lost to injury). As a point of comparison, the lowest of those numbers (.339) is almost exactly the same as what Lonnie Chisenhall and Yan Gomes posted in 2014 (.340) and they were tied for third on the team. A bounce-back year (say .275/.325/.435 with 20-25 HR) is a pretty reasonable projection if you assume health and a full-time job. For the projected salary, this would be a steal. FanGraphs pegged his 2013 season, with roughly those numbers, as worth $7.2 million. If he can be signed for $5 or $6 million, I think you have to jump at it.
But, again, this totally depends on having a full-time job for him. If Swisher is staying put, this is not a great use of resources. If there isn't a full-time job available, spending half that money on Mark Reynolds (yeah, I remember his last trip to Cleveland) wouldn't be the worst idea, particularly if you can get him on a non-guaranteed camp invite.