James Loney is off the market, and the Pittsburgh Pirates are still looking for a first baseman. Fortunately for the Pirates, the Milwaukee Brewers are the only real competition. There are several first base options on the trade market who could fill a need. Here is a quick rundown of the remaining players.
Ike Davis – He’s estimated to make $3.5 M in 2014 through arbitration. The Mets have been talking with the Brewers and asking for Tyler Thornburg. I’m not sure what the equivalent would be for the Pirates, but they want a young, controllable starting pitcher it seems. Davis makes sense in a platoon, with an .827 career OPS against right-handers. His numbers were down last year, with a .727 OPS against right-handers. He had great defense his first year, but he hasn’t been able to repeat that the last two years.
Mitch Moreland – I haven’t really seen what the Rangers are asking for with Moreland. In his career he has a .788 OPS against right-handers. He has spent his entire career in Texas, so there would be concern that his performance would drop after he leaves. That said, he doesn’t have drastic home/road splits. He does have good defense at first. It’s not James Loney good. I’ve never really been a fan of Moreland.
Justin Smoak – He has a career .720 OPS against right-handers, although that improved to an .839 OPS in 2013. Seattle just added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, although they have said they will use both in the outfield and keep Smoak. That could be a negotiation ploy. Smoak’s defense isn’t bad, but also isn’t exactly good. It ranks between Davis and Moreland.
Adam Lind – The last thing we heard on Lind was that the Blue Jays asked for Neil Walker in return. If that’s still the price, then he’s not worth it. He had a good year in 2013, but the previous years have been poor, he’s making a lot of money, and he’s worth less than Walker.
Mike Carp – I’ve seen mixed things on whether he’s available, and I haven’t seen the Pirates connected to him. He has a career .779 OPS against right-handers, and has been better against left-handers. However, in 2013 he had a .904 OPS against right-handers in a limited sample of 190 at-bats.
The only other free agent would be Kendrys Morales, who is more of a designated hitter, would cost a ton, and cost a draft pick.
All five of the above players would be under control for three more years. Lind is under contract with two option years beyond 2014. The other three are first-year arbitration eligible. My preference, if you have to pick one from the group, would be Smoak.
The Pirates have also been connected to Eric Chavez. He has played first base, and has the platoon split numbers. My concern there would be that he was never healthy when he was a starter. Now he’s older, and health would be a bigger risk. He could put up the same numbers as the above guys for less money and no prospects, but the health is a red flag.
With only the Pirates and Brewers looking, and so many guys available, that could keep trade prices modest. Of course, the teams could opt to keep those players. The Mets have been trying hard to move Davis, but I could see the other four staying with their original team.
The worst case scenario would be for the Pirates to turn to Andrew Lambo as their first baseman against right-handers. Lambo is coming off a season where he hit 32 home runs in the minors between Double-A and Triple-A. If you think about it, the background with Loney and the above players is similar. All were once top prospects. All have seen their stock fall. The key difference is that Lambo doesn’t have any major league track record, while the above players have bits and pieces of success to point to, which suggests they might be safer.
One thing the above trade options have in common is that none of their teams were comfortable with them. The Red Sox brought back Mike Napoli. The Rangers traded for Prince Fielder. The Mariners added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. The Mets are turning to Lucas Duda. The Blue Jays would only really need a different first baseman if they traded Lind. So none of the above guys are must-have. I don’t think any of them are considerably better than going to Lambo. The one benefit you have with the above options is that if they don’t work, you can turn to Lambo. If you go with Lambo from day one and he doesn’t make the jump to the majors, you don’t have a backup. Of course, if the Pirates signed Eric Chavez as a bench bat, he could also serve as the Plan B if Lambo struggles.
The best option on the trade market looks like Smoak. But I don’t think Lambo would be that bad of an alternative. He would just come with less comfort. And if Eric Chavez was signed, that would add some security and depth, while also adding a good bench bat in the event that first base works out with another option.